Obstruction of Justice Charges & Penalties by State

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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:

  1. There was a proceeding that could be obstructed.
  2. There is a clear link between the defendant’s attempts to obstruct and the proceedings.
  3. 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

Obstruction of justice laws aim to prevent interference with the administration of justice, including actions that impede investigations, court proceedings, or the legal process. The specifics and penalties for obstruction of justice vary by state:

AlabamaHawaiiMassachusettsNew MexicoSouth Dakota
AlaskaIdahoMichiganNew YorkTennessee
ArizonaIllinoisMinnesotaNorth CarolinaTexas
ArkansasIndianaMississippiNorth DakotaUtah
CaliforniaIowaMissouriOhioVermont
ColoradoKansasMontanaOklahomaVirginia
ConnecticutKentuckyNebraskaOregonWashington
DelawareLouisianaNevadaPennsylvaniaWest Virginia
FloridaMaineNew HampshireRhode IslandWisconsin
GeorgiaMarylandNew JerseySouth CarolinaWyoming

Alabama

Under Code of Alabama Section 13A-10-2:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class C felony, punishable by imprisonment for 1 to 10 years and fines up to $15,000.

Alaska

Under Alaska Stat. Section 11.56.610:

  • Obstruction of justice can lead to imprisonment for up to 5 years and fines up to $50,000.

Arizona

Under A.R.S. Section 13-2402:

  • Obstruction of justice is classified as a Class 5 felony with penalties including imprisonment for 1 to 2.5 years and fines up to $150,000.

Arkansas

Under Ark. Code Ann. Section 5-54-102:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class D felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 6 years and fines up to $10,000.

California

Under California Penal Code Section 148:

  • Obstruction of justice can result in imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $1,000.

Colorado

Under Colo. Rev. Stat. Section 18-8-104:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class 2 misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $1,000.

Connecticut

Under Connecticut General Statutes Section 53a-167a:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class A misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $2,000.

Delaware

Under Title 11, Section 1245:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class G felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 2 years and fines determined by the court.

Florida

Under Florida Statutes Section 843.02:

  • Obstruction of justice can lead to imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $1,000.

Georgia

Under Georgia Code Section 16-10-24:

  • Obstruction of justice can result in imprisonment for 1 to 5 years and fines determined by the court.

Hawaii

Under Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 710-1071:

  • Obstruction of justice is a misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $2,000.

Idaho

Under Idaho Code Section 18-705:

  • Obstruction of justice is a misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $1,000.

Illinois

Under Illinois Compiled Statutes 720 ILCS 5/31-4:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class 4 felony with penalties including imprisonment for 1 to 3 years and fines up to $25,000.

Indiana

Under Indiana Code Section 35-44.1-2-2:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Level 6 felony with penalties including imprisonment for 6 months to 2.5 years and fines up to $10,000.

Iowa

Under Iowa Code Section 719.1:

  • Obstruction of justice can lead to imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $1,875.

Kansas

Under Kansas Statutes Section 21-5904:

  • Obstruction of justice is a severity level 9 nonperson felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 17 months and fines determined by the court.

Kentucky

Under Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 524.020:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class D felony with penalties including imprisonment for 1 to 5 years and fines up to $10,000.

Louisiana

Under Louisiana Revised Statutes Section 14:130.1:

  • Obstruction of justice can lead to imprisonment for up to 5 years and fines up to $10,000.

Maine

Under Maine Revised Statutes Title 17-A, Section 455:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class D crime with penalties including imprisonment for up to 364 days and fines up to $2,000.

Maryland

Under Maryland Code Section 9-306:

  • Obstruction of justice can result in imprisonment for up to 5 years and fines up to $10,000.

Massachusetts

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 268, Section 13B:

  • Obstruction of justice can lead to imprisonment for up to 10 years and fines up to $10,000.

Michigan

Under Michigan Compiled Laws Section 750.505:

  • Obstruction of justice can result in imprisonment for up to 5 years and fines determined by the court.

Minnesota

Under Minnesota Statutes Section 609.50:

  • Obstruction of justice is a gross misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $3,000.

Mississippi

Under Mississippi Code Section 97-9-55:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 5 years and fines up to $10,000.

Missouri

Under Missouri Revised Statutes Section 575.040:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class E felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 4 years and fines determined by the court.

Montana

Under Montana Code Annotated Section 45-7-207:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 10 years and fines up to $50,000.

Nebraska

Under Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 28-922:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class IV felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 2 years and fines up to $10,000.

Nevada

Under Nevada Revised Statutes Section 199.280:

  • Obstruction of justice is a gross misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $2,000.

New Hampshire

Under New Hampshire Revised Statutes Section 642:3:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class B felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 7 years and fines determined by the court.

New Jersey

Under New Jersey Statutes Section 2C:29-1:

  • Obstruction of justice is a crime of the fourth degree with penalties including imprisonment for up to 18 months and fines up to $10,000.

New Mexico

Under New Mexico Statutes Section 30-22-5:

  • Obstruction of justice is a misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 364 days and fines up to $1,000.

New York

Under New York Penal Law Section 195.05:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class A misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $1,000.

North Carolina

Under North Carolina General Statutes Section 14-223:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class 1 misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 120 days and fines determined by the court.

North Dakota

Under North Dakota Century Code Section 12.1-08-03:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class A misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $3,000.

Ohio

Under Ohio Revised Code Section 2921.32:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony of the third degree with penalties including imprisonment for 1 to 5 years and fines up to $10,000.

Oklahoma

Under Oklahoma Statutes Section 21-540:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 5 years and fines determined by the court.

Oregon

Under Oregon Revised Statutes Section 162.247:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class A misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $6,250.

Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Section 5101:

  • Obstruction of justice is a misdemeanor of the second degree with penalties including imprisonment for up to 2 years and fines up to $5,000.

Rhode Island

Under Rhode Island General Laws Section 11-32-1:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 5 years and fines up to $5,000.

South Carolina

Under South Carolina Code Section 16-9-320:

  • Obstruction of justice is a misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 3 years and fines up to $1,000.

South Dakota

Under South Dakota Codified Laws Section 22-11-3:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class 1 misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $2,000.

Tennessee

Under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-16-602:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class E felony with penalties including imprisonment for 1 to 6 years and fines up to $3,000.

Texas

Under Texas Penal Code Section 38.15:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class A misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 1 year and fines up to $4,000.

Utah

Under Utah Code Section 76-8-306:

  • Obstruction of justice is a second-degree felony with penalties including imprisonment for 1 to 15 years and fines up to $10,000.

Vermont

Under Vermont Statutes Title 13, Section 3015:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 10 years and fines up to $5,000.

Virginia

Under Virginia Code Section 18.2-460:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class 1 misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 12 months and fines up to $2,500.

Washington

Under Revised Code of Washington Section 9A.76.020:

  • Obstruction of justice is a gross misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment for up to 364 days and fines up to $5,000.

West Virginia

Under West Virginia Code Section 61-5-27:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony with penalties including imprisonment for 1 to 10 years and fines up to $10,000.

Wisconsin

Under Wisconsin Statutes Section 946.65:

  • Obstruction of justice is a Class H felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 6 years and fines up to $10,000.

Wyoming

Under Wyoming Statutes Section 6-5-204:

  • Obstruction of justice is a felony with penalties including imprisonment for up to 10 years and fines determined by the court.