Obstruction of justice is broadly defined as any attempt to wrongfully interfere, coerce, corrupt or impede with the due administration of justice.
The U.S. Code defines obstruction of justice at the federal level, as concerning federal bodies and crimes, but several state statutes also define the offense in similar terms.
Destroying evidence, bribing or intimidating witnesses or jurors, physically assaulting officers of the law or agents of the government during proceedings, falsification of records or files material to the case, undue civil actions to prolong or mislead due process and other actions which impede the due administration of justice all qualify as examples of obstruction.
Obstruction of justice is a felony under U.S. federal law, however, as mentioned above, an obstruction charge filed at the state level may be categorized as a felony, a misdemeanor or a petty offense depending on the jurisdiction and the details.
Obstruction of justice is an offense which is considered severe at the federal level, and so punishments are typically harsh in response.
The harshest punishment of a term leading up to life imprisonment can be invoked under obstruction of justice statutes if you engage in severe witness tampering such as murdering a witness in order to prevent them from delivering material testimony in court.
Simple tampering of evidence such as burning, deleting or altering files with material evidence, for example, results in a punishment of up to 20 years imprisonment. Bribing a witness, likewise, carries a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years under federal law.
Things may be a bit more complicated in cases involving state authorities and judiciaries. In some states, obstruction of justice falls under a broader category of simple obstruction charges. Most obstruction charges are misdemeanors rather than felonies, with some exceptions. If you are charged with obstructing the performance of a government agent or official with threats of force, as an example, this crime could be classified as a Class 3 misdemeanor.
The punishment for such an offense is up to six months in jail, as well as a fine ranging from $50 to $750. Directly resisting lawful arrest, however, is termed a Class 2 misdemeanor. The penalty for this offense is a jail term of between three months to one year, as well as a potential fine of between $250 and $1,000.
There are several common defenses deployed by experienced criminal defense attorneys specializing in cases related to obstruction of justice.
One such defense is that of simple innocence. Relying on a lack of strong or convincing evidence provided by the prosecution, as well as the opposite situation in terms of the defense’s case, simple innocence is often a viable and basic defense in many criminal proceedings.
Lack of intent, material knowledge or the notion of an “honest mistake” may be a convincing defense depending upon the mood of the judge or jury, as well as based upon the evidence provided and the particulars of the alleged act involving obstruction of justice.
Finally, as concerning state-level obstruction charges such as resisting arrest, a wrongful arrest defense (perhaps involving self-defense if the arresting officer was unnecessarily violent and provocative) could be a successful defense, depending on the video evidence, medical evidence or eyewitness testimony at hand.
There is no statute allowing for expungement of federal felony charges (barring minor drug offenses, so any conviction on charges related to obstruction of justice at this level are not able to be expunged.
Expungement processes at the state level vary widely. In the state of Illinois, for example, obstruction of justice is classified as either a Class 4 or Class 3 felony, depending on whether the obstruction offense was related to gang activity. Illinois does not allow for the expungement of felony convictions.
Given the variety of legal remedies which may or may not be available to you if previously convicted of obstruction of justice, it is advised that you secure experienced legal counsel in order to navigate these options.
Your attorney will listen carefully to you as you explain what happened leading up to being investigated or charged with a crime. Your lawyer will ask questions to learn information you might not have considered relevant. He or she will explain to you what the law says, what the prosecution must prove and how the criminal justice system works.
At trial, your attorney will challenge the prosecution’s theory of the case, challenge the credibility of witnesses and may be able to prevent certain evidence from being used against you.
In presenting your defense, your attorney may call witnesses on your behalf and present evidence.
Should you decide to make a deal with the prosecution, your attorney will negotiate with the prosecution to obtain the best possible arrangement in reducing your time in confinement and any fine that may be imposed.