Obstruction of justice
The crime of obstruction of justice, in United States jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility...

s, refers to the crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 of interfering with the work of police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

, investigator
A detective is an investigator, either a member of a police agency or a private person. The latter may be known as private investigators or "private eyes"...

s, regulatory agencies, prosecutor
The prosecutor is the chief legal representative of the prosecution in countries with either the common law adversarial system, or the civil law inquisitorial system...

s, or other (usually government) officials. Common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 jurisdictions other than the United States tend to use the wider offense of Perverting the course of justice
Perverting the course of justice
Perverting the course of justice, in English, Canadian , and Irish law, is a criminal offence in which someone prevents justice from being served on himself or on another party...


Generally, obstruction charges are laid when it is discovered that a person questioned in an investigation, other than a suspect
In the parlance of criminal justice, a suspect is a known person suspected of committing a crime.Police and reporters often incorrectly use the word suspect when referring to the...

, has lied to the investigating officers. However, in most common law jurisdictions, the right to remain silent allows any person questioned by police merely to refuse to answer questions posed by an investigator without giving any reason for doing so. (In such a case, the investigators may subpoena
A subpoena is a writ by a government agency, most often a court, that has authority to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for failure. There are two common types of subpoena:...

 the witness to give testimony
In law and in religion, testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter. All testimonies should be well thought out and truthful. It was the custom in Ancient Rome for the men to place their right hand on a Bible when taking an oath...

 under oath
An oath is either a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow...

 in court, though the witness may then exercise their Fifth Amendment
Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. Its guarantees stem from English common law which traces back to the Magna Carta in 1215...

 rights if they believe their answer may serve to incriminate themselves). If the person lied to protect a suspect (such as by providing a false alibi, even if the suspect is in fact innocent) or to hide from investigation their own activities (such as to hide his involvement in another crime), this may leave them liable to prosecution. Obstruction charges can also be laid if a person alters or destroys physical evidence, even if he was under no compulsion at any time to produce such evidence. Often, no actual investigation or substantiated suspicion
Suspicion may refer to:*Suspicion , a feeling of distrust or perceived guilt for someone or something-Music:* "Suspicion" , recorded by Elvis Presley and Terry Stafford* "Suspicion" , a song by R.E.M....

 of a specific incident need exist to support a charge of obstruction of justice.

Obstruction can include crimes committed by judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

s, prosecutor
The prosecutor is the chief legal representative of the prosecution in countries with either the common law adversarial system, or the civil law inquisitorial system...

s, attorneys general
Attorney General
In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.The term is used to refer to any person...

, and elected officials in general. It is misfeasance, malfeasance
The expressions misfeasance and nonfeasance, and occasionally malfeasance, are used in English law with reference to the discharge of public obligations existing by common law, custom or statute.-Definition and relevant rules of law:...

 or nonfeasance in the conduct of the office. Most commonly it is prosecuted as a crime for perjury
Perjury, also known as forswearing, is the willful act of swearing a false oath or affirmation to tell the truth, whether spoken or in writing, concerning matters material to a judicial proceeding. That is, the witness falsely promises to tell the truth about matters which affect the outcome of the...

 by a non governmental official primarily because of prosecutorial discretion.

Modern obstruction of justice:

In United States v. Binion
United States v. Binion
United States v. Binion, 132 F. App'x 89 , is a case in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit applied two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions United States v. Binion, 132 F. App'x 89 (8th Cir. 2005), is a case in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth...

, malingering or feigning illness during a competency evaluation was held to be obstruction of justice and led to an enhanced sentence.

Notable examples

  • President Bill Clinton
    Bill Clinton
    William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

     was impeached
    Impeachment of Bill Clinton
    Bill Clinton, President of the United States, was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice on December 19, 1998, but acquitted by the Senate on February 12, 1999. Two other impeachment articles, a second perjury charge and a charge of abuse of...

     by the United States House of Representatives
    United States House of Representatives
    The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

     in 1998 for obstruction of justice charges based on allegations Clinton lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky
    Monica Lewinsky
    Monica Samille Lewinsky is an American woman with whom United States President Bill Clinton admitted to having had an "improper relationship" while she worked at the White House in 1995 and 1996...

     in a sworn deposition
    Deposition (law)
    In the law of the United States, a deposition is the out-of-court oral testimony of a witness that is reduced to writing for later use in court or for discovery purposes. It is commonly used in litigation in the United States and Canada and is almost always conducted outside of court by the...

     in the Paula Jones
    Paula Jones
    Paula Corbin Jones is a former Arkansas state employee who sued U.S. President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. The lawsuit was dismissed before trial on the grounds that Jones failed to demonstrate any damages...

     lawsuit. This made Clinton only the second U.S. president to be impeached after Andrew Johnson
    Andrew Johnson
    Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

    . He was later acquitted by the Senate.

  • President Richard Nixon
    Richard Nixon
    Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

     was being investigated for obstruction of justice for his alleged role in the cover-up of the break-in at the Watergate
    Watergate complex
    The Watergate complex is a group of five buildings next to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. in the United States. The site contains an office building, three apartment buildings, and a hotel-office building...

     hotel during his 1972 re-election campaign. Although it is widely believed that Nixon had no foreknowledge of his re-election committee's "dirty tricks
    Dirty tricks
    Dirty tricks are unethical, duplicitous, slanderous or illegal tactics employed to destroy or diminish the effectiveness of political or business opponents...

    " campaign against Democratic
    Democratic Party (United States)
    The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

     presidential candidates that led to the break-in, he was aware of it after the fact and paid money to keep the participants quiet.

  • Former Vice-Presidential adviser I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice in March 2007 for his role in the investigation of a leak to reporters that named a CIA agent, Valerie Plame
    Valerie Plame
    Valerie Elise Plame Wilson , known as Valerie Plame, Valerie E. Wilson, and Valerie Plame Wilson, is a former United States CIA Operations Officer and the author of a memoir detailing her career and the events leading up to her resignation from the CIA.-Early life :Valerie Elise Plame was born on...

    . His prison sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush in July 2007, just before Libby was about to serve a two and a half year prison sentence.

  • Conrad Black
    Conrad Black
    Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, OC, KCSG, PC is a Canadian-born member of the British House of Lords, and a historian, columnist and publisher, who was for a time the third largest newspaper magnate in the world. Lord Black controlled Hollinger International, Inc...

     was convicted of obstruction of justice in July 2007 for removing 13 boxes containing financial records from his office in Toronto after they had been sealed by a court order, returning the boxes a few days later.

  • Barry Bonds
    Barry Bonds
    Barry Lamar Bonds is an American former Major League Baseball outfielder. Bonds played from 1986 to 2007, for the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. He is the son of former major league All-Star Bobby Bonds...

     was convicted of obstruction of justice on April 13, 2011 for his testimony in front of the grand jury
    Grand jury
    A grand jury is a type of jury that determines whether a criminal indictment will issue. Currently, only the United States retains grand juries, although some other common law jurisdictions formerly employed them, and most other jurisdictions employ some other type of preliminary hearing...

     during the BALCO
    Balco can refer to:* the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative - a controversial sports medicine/nutrition centre in Burlingame, California.* Balco balcony systems who develops, designs and manufactures balcony systems and glazing solutions....

     steroid scandal.

Obstruction Trends

"Anticipatory obstruction of justice" has recently appeared on the horizon in cases such as US v. Wolff. That said, the operative section, 1519, passed in 2002, has thus far languished in quasi-obscurity. Titled “Destruction, Alteration or Falsification of Records in Federal Investigations and Bankruptcy,” the provision was passed under Section 802 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

The text of the statute is relatively straightforward:

"Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsified, or
makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent
to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of
any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United
States or any case filed under Title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any
such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than
20 years, or both."

Aside from Section 1519’s 20-year maximum prison sentence (no small benefit to the government in big-dollar fraud loss cases such as Wolff), its primary appeal is that it uniquely removes certain key proof burdens from prosecutors’ collective shoulders.

Prosecutors charging violations of Section 1519 must still establish both of the following:
  • The accused knowingly directed the obstructive act to affect an issue or matter within the jurisdiction of any U.S. department or agency.
  • The accused acted at least “in relation to” or “in contemplation’” of such issue or matter.

Not on the list, however, is the requirement that prosecutors demonstrate to the finder of fact which specific “pending proceeding” the accused attempted to obstruct. That is a significant benefit to the government.

See also

  • Perverting the course of justice
    Perverting the course of justice
    Perverting the course of justice, in English, Canadian , and Irish law, is a criminal offence in which someone prevents justice from being served on himself or on another party...

  • Jury tampering
    Jury tampering
    Jury tampering is the crime of unduly attempting to influence the composition and/or decisions of a jury during the course of a trial.The means by which this crime could be perpetrated can include attempting to discredit potential jurors to ensure they will not be selected for duty. Once selected,...

  • Witness tampering
    Witness tampering
    Witness tampering is harming or otherwise threatening a witness, hoping to influence his or her testimony.-Witness tampering in the USA:In the United States, the crime of witness tampering in federal cases is defined by statute at , "Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant"...

  • Custody fraud
  • Spoliation of evidence
    Spoliation of evidence
    In law, spoliation of evidence is the intentional or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding...

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.