Criminal Law - Federal

Federal Obstruction of Justice Charges

Obstruction of justice is a vague term that most people understand to mean you’re interfering with the police or courts. Federal obstruction of justice charges can be more serious because it means the possibility of federal prison.

If you are facing federal criminal charges for obstruction of justice, talk to a criminal defense lawyer for advice as soon as possible. Federal criminal charges are extremely serious, and you should build the strongest possible defense.

What Is Federal Obstruction of Justice?

Obstruction of justice is the specific intent to interfere with criminal court proceedings, a criminal investigation, or some of the people involved in the criminal justice system, like witnesses or jurors. Types of obstruction of justice usually include:

  • Interfering with law enforcement’s investigations of a crime
  • Destroying or concealing evidence
  • Interfering with the grand jury or court process

Obstruction charges aren’t just for defendants. Professionals, like attorneys, judges, and law enforcement can face federal obstruction of justice charges. Witnesses in an official court proceeding can also face charges for impeding an investigation, judicial proceeding, or the due administration of justice.

Attorneys or judges who are charged with obstruction of justice can also face professional ethical violations and risk losing their professional licenses.

Some examples of obstruction of justice can include:

  • A witness lying about a suspect’s whereabouts to protect or hide them
  • A defendant in a criminal case threatening to injure a witness unless they testify a certain way
  • An attorney in a criminal trial failing to disclose evidence of a key witness

Federal law outlines 21 types of behavior that can be charged as federal obstruction of justice, including:

  • Assaulting a process server
  • Resisting an extradition agent
  • Influencing or injuring an officer or juror
  • Obstruction of proceedings
  • Recording, listening to, or observing jury proceedings
  • Obstruction of criminal investigations
  • Obstruction of state or local law enforcement
  • Witness tampering or retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant
  • Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records
  • Retaliating against a federal judge or federal law enforcement officer by false claim or slander

Federal obstruction of justice can be charged as a felony, meaning you can face penalties like heavy fines and time in federal prison for a conviction. If you are charged with a federal obstruction of justice charge, before appearing in court, you should ensure that you know how to protect your rights and seek out an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who understands what consequences you are facing.

How Is Federal Obstruction of Justice Different From State Charges?

You can also be charged with obstruction charges under state law. State statutes differ from federal charges in that they tend to be narrower and focus on behavior that prevents law enforcement from doing their job, like hindering a criminal investigation.

Typically, obstruction charges in state court are felonies punishable by more than a year in prison and fines. However, the punishments can even be higher if you cause serious bodily harm or death.

One of the most common related crimes involves using physically unreasonable force to avoid arrest or harming an officer in the process of making an arrest. Another related charge involves threatening bodily harm to try to get a victim to testify a certain way. Obstruction can also include when a witness lies to a police officer or federal agent who is investigating a crime.

Witnesses can also be charged with contempt of court for disobeying a subpoena or an order of the judge affecting the jury trial process.

Other charges can be charged if you are facing a federal obstruction charge, including:

  • Contempt of court (failing to obey court orders)
  • Making false statements and concealing facts to federal departments and agencies
  • Influencing an officer or juror
  • Tampering with a witness, or an informant (can occur if anyone kills or attempts to kill another person or uses force or threats to prevent them from testifying in a criminal proceeding)
  • Concealing a person from arrest (if you knew a person had a warrant and took acts to help hide them from the police)

What Are the Penalties for Obstruction of Justice?

Under federal law, sentencing guidelines for charges like obstruction of court orders can include a minimum of one year and a day in federal prison. On the more serious end, for killing a witness or judge, you can face up to life in prison. In general, if you are charged under federal law, you can face greater charges or penalties than if you were charged under state law.

For instance, under federal law, a witness tampering conviction can mean up to 20 years in prison.

What Are Defenses to Federal Obstruction of Justice?

Common defenses involve showing that you did not have the intent to obstruct the process. Your defense attorney can also cast reasonable doubt by showing that you were not around at the time of any investigation or trial. Additionally, for some of the more common subcategories of obstruction charged, like witness tampering, you may be able to show:

  • No physical force or threats were used or made
  • You have an alibi
  • You were a victim of entrapment
  • The witness who said you threatened someone or used force is not trustworthy

If you are charged, the consequences can affect your job and your future. Seek out a federal criminal defense attorney who has many years of experience defending individuals in the federal court system.

Was this helpful?