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Obstruction of Justice

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What Is Obstruction of Justice?

Obstruction of justice is the crime of interfering with the administration and due process of the law, including any criminal proceeding or investigation. Obstruction can be either a federal crime or a state crime, depending on the type of proceeding interfered with. To be guilty of obstruction of justice, a person must have knowledge of an investigation or proceeding and attempt to influence it.  

What Are Common Examples of Obstruction of Justice?

The definition of obstruction is very broad and includes any interference with the application of the law, so there are many offenses that can be considered obstruction of justice. Some examples include:

  • Lying to police during questioning;
  • Falsifying or destroying documents sought by the police during an investigation;
  • Attempting to influence a jury or witness. 

The right of individuals to remain silent only allows them to refuse to answer police questions. If they answer and lie, this is not protected and is obstruction.

What Is the Penalty for Obstruction of Justice?

Since there are so many offenses that can constitute obstruction of justice, the penalty will vary based on the severity of the offense. Penalties can range from simple fines to jail time of up to ten years.

Can Obstruction of Justice Be Applied Outside of Criminal Investigations?

Yes. Although obstruction is a crime and is thus tried in criminal court, obstruction can be committed outside of criminal law. Obstructing a civil law case will thus yield the same results as obstructing a criminal proceeding.
Also note that obstruction can be charged outside of trial. If evidence of obstruction is found before or after the trial, the person interfering with the investigation can be charged. The person or party need not be a party to the case to be charged with obstruction.

What Is the Penalty for Obstruction of Justice?

Since there are so many offenses that can constitute obstruction of justice, the penalty will vary based on the severity of the offense.

Obstruction of justice can be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the state, the court, and the offense committed. Lying to a local police officer about your name at a traffic stop is typically a misdemeanor; theft of a document in a federal court case is a felony.

Penalties for misdemeanor are typically simple fines while felony charges can yield jail time of up to ten years.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have been accused of any crime, you should speak to a criminal defense lawyer immediately. A lawyer can advise you of your rights and defenses under the law and represent you in court.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 09-04-2017 11:52 PM PDT

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