What Is Federal Obstruction Of Justice?

In its most basic definition, obstruction of justice occurs when someone prevents a part of the legal system from proceeding by interfering with government investigations or processes or the people involved, such as investigators, prosecutors, judges, jurors, victims, or witnesses. Federal obstruction of justice covers many potential offenses and is often described as a crime against the justice system itself.

Misleading or lying to investigators is a typical example of federal obstruction of justice. Bribing a government official, destroying evidence, or giving a false alibi to protect a friend or family member are also classic examples of obstruction of justice.

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Federal Obstruction Of Justice

Obstruction of justice has been a hot topic in the news for years, with a government official or celebrity being accused seemingly every other month.

This federal offense can be complicated to understand because obstruction of justice covers a wide range of different actions. It’s also a charge that often stems from an investigation for a separate, original crime.

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Remember Martha Stewart going to prison? It was for obstruction of justice – not her original crime – which was insider trading and securities fraud. She served 10 months in prison for lying to investigators, not for financial crimes.

The complexity of this offense illustrates why it’s imperative to hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney if you or a loved one has been contacted by investigators, whether they’re investigating you or someone you know.

In this article, we’ll explain what obstruction of justice means, the potential punishment for a conviction, and give examples of real federal obstruction accusations.

What constitutes federal obstruction of justice?

There are 21 specific types of obstruction of justice listed in Title 18, Chapter 73 of the U.S. Code, including:

  • Assault on a process server (1501)
  • Resistance to an extradition agent (1502)
  • Influencing or injuring an officer or juror (1503)
  • Influencing a juror by writing (1504)
  • Obstruction of proceedings before department, agencies and committees (1505)
  • Theft or alteration of record or process (1506)
  • Picketing or parading (1507)
  • Recording, listening to or observing proceeding or grand juries while deliberating or voting (1508)
  • Obstruction of court orders (1509)
  • Obstruction of criminal investigations (1510)
  • Obstruction of state or local law enforcement (1511)
  • Tampering with a witness, victim, or informant (1512)
  • Retaliating against a witness, victim or informant (1513)
  • Civil action to restrain harassment of a victim or witness (1514)
  • Civil action to protect against retaliation in fraud cases (1514A)
  • Definitions for certain provisions (1515)
  • Obstruction of a federal audit (1516)
  • Obstructing examination of a financial institution (1517)
  • Obstruction of criminal investigations of health care crimes (1518)
  • Destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations and bankruptcy (1519)
  • Destruction of corporate audit records (1520)
  • Retaliating against a federal judge or law enforcement by false claim or slander (1521)

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What is the punishment for obstruction?

Because the types of obstruction of justice vary, so does the range in punishment. A federal conviction for obstruction of justice is generally punishable by steep fines and up to five years in federal prison, but there are other punishments on both ends of the range.

For example, under  18 U.S. Code 1512, a person who attempts to kill someone to keep them from testifying in court faces up to 30 years in federal prison. Likewise, a group that pickets outside a courthouse in an attempt to disrupt a trial is punishable by a fine and not more than a year in federal prison, under 18 U.S. Code 1507.

To determine the potential punishment range, it’s important to contact an experienced federal attorney.

Can obstruction of justice be prosecuted by state prosecutors?

Yes, Texas has its own version of obstruction of justice, which is called “obstruction or retaliation.”  However, it focuses more on the acts that interfere with local law enforcement. Obstruction or retaliation is generally a third-degree felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Learn more about obstruction and retaliation in Texas.

What are some real examples of federal obstruction of justice charges?

Over the decades, federal authorities have used obstruction of justice charges to try bring down politicians, public officials, and celebrities. Here’s a look at a few famous defendants who have been charged with this federal offense and why:

  • Richard Nixon, accused of covering up the Watergate scandal.
  • Bill Clinton, accused of lying under oath to the grand jury about sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky
  • Martha Stewart, accused of hiding evidence from authorities during her insider-trading investigation
  • Barry Bonds, accused of lying to a grand jury about whether his trainer had given him steroids
  • R. Kelly, accused of conspiring to ensure key witnesses would lie about his alleged sexual abuse of girls and refuse to testify.

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What should I do if I’ve been accused of federal obstruction of justice?

The federal system is much different than the state system. As a result, it’s imperative to hire a seasoned federal defense attorney who has expensive experience defending federal charges. The government can often overreach with these charges, so it’s important to have someone in your corner who understands each stage of a federal criminal case and how to respond appropriately on your behalf. This is not the time to cut corners or leave anything to chance.

Charged with federal obstruction of justice? Contact Us.

Obstruction of justice can be an extremely serious federal charge. If you have been accused of federal obstruction of justice, it’s imperative to contact there an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as possible. Our team has extensive knowledge and experience defending federal crimes. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with a federal lawyer in North Texas.

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