Obstruction of Justice: Definition & Penalties – Explained

Ever wondered what happens when someone tries to obstruct justice with a Boston criminal defense attorney? It’s a serious offense that can have severe consequences. Obstruction of justice occurs when someone interferes with the legal process, whether it’s during investigations, trials, or any other stage of a criminal case. This act undermines the fairness and integrity of our justice system. From impeding judicial proceedings to tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice is a grave offense that carries penalties in line with its gravity.

Definition and Elements of Obstruction of Justice

Obstruction of justice, as the name suggests, involves obstructive acts that impede or hinder law enforcement officials in carrying out their duties. It is a serious offense that can result in severe penalties.

Elements Required for Obstruction Charges

To establish a case of obstruction of justice, several elements must be present:

  1. Intent: The individual must have the intention to obstruct or interfere with an ongoing proceeding or investigation. This means they knowingly engage in conduct with the purpose of hindering the administration of justice.
  2. Ongoing Proceeding: There must be an existing legal proceeding, such as a criminal investigation, trial, or grand jury hearing. Obstructive acts are typically committed to disrupt or influence these proceedings.
  3. Obstructive Conduct: The individual’s actions must constitute obstructive conduct. This can include various behaviors such as lying to investigators, destroying evidence, tampering with witnesses, providing false information, or attempting to intimidate potential witnesses.
Examples of Obstructive Conduct

Obstructive conduct can take many forms and may vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. Here are some common examples:

  • Lying to investigators about relevant facts or events.
  • Destroying or altering documents that are essential to an investigation.
  • Intimidating witnesses by threatening them physically or psychologically.
  • Tampering with evidence by hiding it or manipulating it in some way.
  • Providing false alibis or misleading information to divert attention from oneself.

It is important to note that obstruction charges can be brought against individuals who attempt to obstruct justice even if they are not successful in their efforts.

Federal Laws and Statutes on Obstruction of Justice

In the United States, there are several federal laws that address obstruction of justice offenses. These laws provide a framework for prosecuting individuals who interfere with federal investigations or court proceedings. The most commonly used statutes in these cases are 18 U.S.C. § 1503 and 18 U.S.C. § 1512.

Obstruction through Corrupt Persuasion

One of the key statutes related to obstruction of justice with a Boston criminal defense lawyer is 18 U.S.C. § 1503, which deals with obstruction through corrupt persuasion. This law makes it illegal to corruptly influence, intimidate, or impede any officer or juror in connection with a federal trial or proceeding.

Some important points to note about this statute include:

  • It applies to both criminal and civil actions.
  • The term “corruptly” implies acting knowingly and dishonestly.
  • The offense can be committed by attempting to obstruct justice, even if the attempt is unsuccessful.
Witness Tampering

Another significant statute related to obstruction of justice is 18 U.S.C. § 1512, which specifically addresses witness tampering. This law prohibits anyone from knowingly engaging in conduct that intends to influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of a witness in an official proceeding.

Here are some key details about this statute:

  • It covers various forms of witness tampering, such as intimidation, threats, bribery, or misleading conduct.
  • The offense can be committed against witnesses involved in both pending and future proceedings.
  • Penalties for witness tampering can range from fines to imprisonment depending on the severity of the offense.

These federal laws play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of our legal system by ensuring that individuals cannot obstruct justice without facing consequences.

Penalties for Obstruction of Justice Offenses

Obstruction of justice is a serious crime that can result in severe penalties if convicted. The specific offense committed and any aggravating factors play a significant role in determining the punishment. Here are some key points to consider regarding the penalties for obstruction convictions:

Varying Penalties

The penalties for obstruction crimes with a criminal defense lawyer Boston can vary depending on the nature and severity of the offense. Offenders may face imprisonment, fines, probation, or a combination of these consequences. The duration of imprisonment can range from several months to several years, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.

Aggravating Factors

Aggravating factors such as violence or threats against officials can lead to more severe punishments. If an individual obstructs justice through acts of harassment or intimidation towards law enforcement officers or other individuals involved in the legal process, they may face enhanced penalties. These aggravating factors demonstrate a disregard for the integrity of the legal system and can result in harsher sentences.

Felony Offense

Obstruction of justice is typically classified as a felony offense. Felonies are considered more serious crimes than misdemeanors and carry more significant consequences upon conviction. It’s crucial to understand that obstructing justice is not taken lightly by law enforcement agencies and judicial systems.

Violation of Grand Jury Subpoena

One common form of obstruction involves interfering with grand jury proceedings by refusing to comply with subpoenas or providing false information. Violating a grand jury subpoena is a serious offense that can lead to criminal charges and potential penalties if found guilty.

Notable Examples of Obstruction of Justice Cases

In understanding the concept of obstruction of justice, it can be helpful to examine some real-life examples where this offense played a significant role. These cases shed light on the consequences individuals face when they obstruct justice during investigations or legal proceedings.

The Watergate Scandal Involving President Richard Nixon

One infamous example that comes to mind is the Watergate scandal, which unfolded in the 1970s and involved President Richard Nixon. During this time, several individuals associated with Nixon’s administration were implicated in a series of illegal activities, including the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

As investigations progressed, it became evident that attempts were made to cover up the truth and hinder law enforcement efforts. This obstruction of justice ultimately led to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

Martha Stewart’s Case Highlighting False Statements

Another notable case with a criminal defense attorney Boston is that of Martha Stewart, a well-known businesswoman and television personality. In 2004, she faced charges related to insider trading. However, what brought attention to her case was not just the initial charges but also her false statements made during an investigation into those charges.

Stewart’s false statements were deemed as obstructing justice by impeding the investigation process. As a result, she was convicted not only for securities fraud but also for obstruction of justice.

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling’s Conviction

The collapse of energy company Enron in 2001 remains one of the most significant corporate scandals in history. Amidst investigations into Enron’s fraudulent practices, former CEO Jeffrey Skilling was found guilty on multiple counts, including conspiracy and securities fraud.

One aspect contributing to Skilling’s conviction was his involvement in obstructing justice during these investigations. His actions included concealing critical information from regulators and misleading authorities about Enron’s financial state.

These examples illustrate how obstruction of justice can have severe consequences for individuals involved in illegal activities. Whether it involves covering up the truth, making false statements, or hindering investigations, obstructing justice is a serious offense that undermines the integrity of the legal system.

Impact of Obstruction of Justice in Criminal Investigations

Obstructing justice can have severe consequences on criminal investigations. It hampers the ability of law enforcement to gather crucial evidence and uncover the truth, which is essential for a fair and just legal system. Here are some key points to consider regarding the impact of obstruction of justice:

Hampers Investigation Progress

When individuals engage in obstructive behavior, such as withholding information or tampering with evidence, it can significantly delay or even derail ongoing investigations. This obstruction makes it difficult for criminal investigators to piece together the puzzle and build a solid case against the guilty parties.

Allows Guilty Parties to Escape Accountability

By impeding the investigation process, those involved in obstruction may create opportunities for guilty parties to escape accountability. This can be extremely frustrating for victims seeking justice and can undermine public trust in the effectiveness of our legal system.

Erodes Public Trust

Obstruction of justice has broader implications beyond individual cases. It erodes public trust in the justice system as a whole. When people witness instances where obstruction goes unpunished or unaddressed, they may lose faith in the fairness and integrity of our legal institutions.

The effective date of laws surrounding obstruction varies depending on jurisdiction, but regardless of when these laws were established, their purpose remains consistent: to ensure that investigations are conducted fairly and without interference.

Understanding the Consequences of Obstructing Justice

Now that we have explored the definition and penalties with a Boston criminal lawyer of obstruction of justice, it is crucial to understand the gravity of such actions. Obstructing justice not only undermines the integrity of our legal system but also hampers the pursuit of truth and justice. By impeding investigations or tampering with evidence, individuals jeopardize the fair administration of law and hinder the efforts to hold wrongdoers accountable.

It is essential for all citizens to recognize the impact that obstruction of justice can have on society as a whole. By actively engaging in lawful conduct and promoting transparency, we can contribute to a just and equitable society where everyone is held responsible for their actions. Remember, your commitment to upholding justice does not go unnoticed – it plays a vital role in preserving trust in our legal institutions.


Can obstruction of justice charges be dropped if there was no underlying crime committed?

No, obstruction of justice charges can still be pursued even if there was no underlying crime committed. The act itself involves interfering with an ongoing investigation or obstructing the due course of justice, regardless of whether a separate offense has occurred.

What are some common examples of obstruction of justice?

Common examples include witness tampering, destruction or alteration of evidence, providing false information to law enforcement officials, and intimidating witnesses or investigators involved in a case.

Are there different penalties for obstructing federal investigations compared to state investigations?

Yes, there are different penalties for obstructing federal investigations compared to state investigations. Federal offenses often carry more severe consequences due to their impact on national security or public interest.

Can someone be charged with obstruction if they were unaware they were obstructing an investigation?

Yes, someone can still be charged with obstruction even if they were unaware they were obstructing an investigation. Ignorance or lack of intent is generally not considered a valid defense in obstruction of justice cases.

How can I report suspected obstruction of justice?

If you have reason to believe that someone is obstructing justice, you should contact your local law enforcement agency or the appropriate authorities responsible for investigating such matters. It is important to provide any relevant information or evidence you may have to support your claim.