Obstruction of justice is a crime that is different from the norm because it does not involve harm to a person or to property. It does, however, describe a huge range of crimes, but these are committed against justice administration. Statutes at both state and federal level cover these crimes, and laws have been in place against it for hundreds of years.
Obstruction of Justice Laws
Obstruction of justice is covered under chapter 73 of the U.S. Code Title 18. A number of articles are of particular relevance, with 1503 being the most common one. This dictates that those who use corrupt threats of force, or actual force against the due justice administration are guilty of such an offense. It essentially means that it is alleged that a person tried to interfere with the process of official duties, including destroying evidence.
To be convicted, prosecution must demonstrate three things:
- There was a proceeding that could be obstructed.
- There is a clear link between the defendant’s attempts to obstruct and the proceedings.
- The defendant must have been aware of this link.
One of the most complex elements of obstruction of justice charges is that a defendant can always plead the Fifth Amendment. This is a constitutional right to not answer questions if the answer could demonstrate criminal liability.
Obstruction of Justice Crimes & Charges
Usually, obstruction of justice is committed by elected officials, attorneys general, prosecutors, and judges. It can be classed as nonfeasance, malfeasance, or misfeasance. However, the charge can also be brought against non-official individuals if it has been shown that they prevented justice to be served in either criminal or civil courts. This includes witness intimidation or retaliation, false testimony, falsifying evidence, interfering with court personnel, and more. The laws are in place to protect legal proceedings’ integrity, as well as to protect those taking part in the proceedings.
Obstruction of Justice Punishment
For those found guilty of obstruction of justice, their penalty will depend on the law under which they were convicted. Different states have different requirements, and federal charges can also be brought against the individual. As such, the crime can be anything from a misdemeanor to a penalty. Most of the time, punishment includes time in penitentiary and/or a fine. A maximum sentence of 20 years can be imposed.
Obstruction of Justice Sentencing Guidelines
Those who are found guilty of obstruction of justice can be sentenced up to 20 years in prison, if it is demonstrated that they knowingly engaged in obstruction. Prosecutors will have to be able to demonstrate that the accused engaged in an obstructive act, and that they were aware of the fact that this was an obstruction of the course of justice.
Obstruction of Justice Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for obstruction of justice usually starts from the date that the crime actually started. The exact statute of limitations will vary depending on the type of crime in which the obstruction took place. Usually, the statute is six years in state courts, and five years in federal courts, with the exception of crimes against children, sex offenses, certain violent crimes, and murder. In these cases, no statute of limitations exists. Additionally, the statute can be tolled if the defendant leaves the state.
Obstruction of Justice Cases
- Martha Stewart was accused and convicted of obstruction of justice because she was found to have made misleading and false statements to the SEC. She was convicted of this in 2004, as well as for lying to federal investigators. This means she didn’t just fail to assist the proceedings, she actually tried to lead federal investigators astray. (CNN)
- Richard Nixon had to resign from his presidency when he was investigated for obstruction of justice, which is known as the Watergate Scandal. Here, it was alleged that Nixon provided financial compensations to witnesses in return for them hiding the break-in at the Watergate. (Watergate)
- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged and convicted of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing. Tsarnaev was accused of removing a number of items from the rooms of Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, the Boston Bombers, whose actions killed three people and injured a further 200. The backpack with items removed by Tsarnaev was eventually found on a landfill site. Another person in the case provided false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for which he was convicted.( FBI)
- I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby was a former vice-presidential advisor. In March 2007, he was convicted of obstruction of justice as he played a part in the leak to reporters that named Valerie Plame, a CIA agent. George W. Bush, who was president at the time, commuted his sentence, meaning that Scooter only paid the $250,000 fine. However, he did have to meet the terms of his probation and was recorded as a convicted felon. (NBC News)
- In 2007, Conrad Black was convicted of obstruction of justice. He removed 13 boxes of evidence, which contained financial records, from his Toronto office. This happened after a court order sealed the boxes. Black did return the boxes after a few days. CCTV images proved that Black had removed the boxes together with his assistant Joan Maida and his chauffeur John Hillier. (Heritage Institute)
Obstruction of Justice Quick Links & References
Obstruction of Justice Laws by State
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming