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What is the crime of “Obstruction of Justice”?
Obstruction of justice is an intentional act carried out with the intent to obstruct the legislative or judicial process. This charge seeks to protect legislative, judicial, and administrative proceedings.
Discussion: How do you feel about charging a friend or family member of an accused individual for harboring (hiding) that individual to prevent her arrest? What if a friend or family member withholds or fails to give to authorities any information that implicates a family member in a crime? What if a friend or family member specifically lies when questioned by authorities to prevent an arrest?
- Some might feel hesitant to charge a family member with obstruction of justice for not turning them into the law. The same goes for not supplying information to officials that would facilitate their search for or investigation into the suspect. The opinions may change, however, when family members affirmatively lie or make up information to thwart an investigation.
Practice Question: Barry witnesses a masked individual pull a pistol on two unsuspecting tourists and demand their valuables. He then watches the perpetrator run away down the street. At the end of the street, the perpetrator throws his weapon in the trashcan and continues to flee. Barry walks to the end of the street and removes the robber’s weapon from the trashcan. He likes the gun and decides to keep it for himself. When the police arrive on the scene, they question everyone in the area, including Barry. Barry refuses to answer the police questions and does not mention the weapon he found. Has Barry committed a crime?
- Yes. Barry has likely obstructed justice by removing evidence and failing to answer police questions. Obstruction of justice is defined by federal statute as any “any interference with the orderly administration of law and justice”. The crime can take any number of forms, whether it is bribery, tampering with evidence, lying to investigators, abusing one’s power, or some other act intended to impede a criminal investigation. Other ways an individual may commit this offense include, but not limited to, the following acts:
- Influencing or injuring an officer or juror generally
- Obstruction of criminal investigations
- Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant
- Retaliating against a witness, victim or an informant
- Destruction of corporate records.
Hemel, Daniel Jacob and Posner, Eric A., Presidential Obstruction of Justice (July 18, 2017). 106 California Law Review 1277 (2018); U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 647. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3004876 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3004876
Vandervort, Lucinda, Mistake of Law and Obstruction of Justice: A ‘Bad Excuse’ … Even for a Lawyer! (2001). University of New Brunswick Law Journal, Vol. 50, pp. 171-186, 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1518689