Obstruction of Justice charges relate to interference, through words or actions, with the work of courts, police, investigators, regulators, or Congressional committees. While often charged under state law, anytime federal courts or the federal government is involved it becomes a federal offense. Obstruction of justice is a felony under federal law.

Obstruction of Justice Statutes

Typical cases of obstruction will involve actions like threatening or bribing witnesses, judges or jurors. It could also include interfering with police actions, and altering or destroying evidence. In federal law, obstruction of justice is dealt with in 18 U.S.C. § 1501-§ 1521. This means there are 21 separate provisions covering obstruction of justice offenses.

The most commonly charged provision is 18 U.S.C. §1503, which concerns influencing or injuring officers or jurors. This section spells out different prohibited means of intimidation or influence over jurors and other officers of the court. The section which makes this provision the most commonly charged deals with the prohibition of anything that "corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice shall be punished..." This broad language makes it useful for prosecutors, as there could be any number of cases in which someone can be charged with obstruction of the due administration of justice.

Obstruction of Justice Penalties

18 U.S.C. § 1503 is punishable with 10 years in prison. However, the penalty can be raised to exceed the maximum sentence of whatever charge the obstruction interfered with, if the means involved violence or threat of violence. In addition, murder charges or attempted murder charges associated with the obstruction would be charged to the maximum of those respective statutes. Other obstruction provisions carry penalties ranging from six months to eight years in prison, in addition to charges involving physical force or threats of violence as part of the obstruction.

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