In the legal realm, one term often discussed but perhaps not fully understood is "Obstruction of Justice." This term is frequently in media headlines and courtroom dramas, but what does it mean in the eyes of the law? And more crucially, how does it play out in actual courtroom cases?
The simple answer is that obstruction of justice refers to any act that hinders, impedes, or in any way obstructs the due and proper administration of justice. But as with most legal matters, the simple answer must cover this crime's depth and scope.
In this article, we'll discuss the following topics:
- What is Obstruction of Justice?
- Understanding Obstruction of Justice: Federal and Arizona State Perspectives
- Examples of Obstruction of Justice in Federal and Arizona Courts
- Common Types of Obstruction of Justice Offenses and Their Penalties
- The Penalties for Obstruction of Justice- Arizona Laws
- Defense Strategies for Obstruction of Justice Charges
- How to Navigate a Case Involving Obstruction of Justice: Tips from a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney
Believe it or not, the U.S. sees approximately 2,000 federal obstructions of justice cases yearly, which means understanding this crime is more vital than ever.
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What is Obstruction of Justice?
Obstruction of justice in the federal sphere is commonly associated with deliberate actions taken to disrupt a government inquiry or legal proceedings. A person can be charged with this crime when they intentionally meddle with the due course of justice, proving that often, "hiding the crime can be worse than the crime itself."
The term "obstruction of justice" encapsulates a wide range of actions aimed at inhibiting the lawful process or the administration of justice, applicable to criminal and civil matters.
Specific obstruction statutes are in place to safeguard the integrity of legal proceedings and protect individuals participating in them.
Understanding Obstruction of Justice: Federal and Arizona State Perspectives
When understanding Obstruction of Justice, a good starting point is comparing and contrasting federal and Arizona state laws.
At the federal level, obstruction statutes are found within 18 U.S.C. § 1501-1521. These laws encompass a broad range of activities that could interfere with the administration of justice, including but not limited to influencing a juror outside of the courtroom, resisting a federal officer, or tampering with a witness.
The following list provides some examples of how one could potentially obstruct justice:
- Hindering a federal process server or writ server.
- Resisting an extradition agent or creating obstructions for them.
- Attempting to affect or harm a court officer or juror.
- Influencing a juror through written communication.
- Obstructing proceedings in front of departments, agencies, or committees.
- Theft or modification of court records.
- Holding demonstrations or parades to hinder the administration of justice.
- Creating obstructions for court orders.
- Interfering with criminal investigations.
- Tampering with witnesses, victims, or informants.
- Retaliating against a witness, victim, or informant.
Arizona State Law
In contrast to federal law, Arizona addresses the issue of obstructing justice under Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-2409 and § 13-2810. Although the language and specifics of these state statutes differ somewhat, their intent aligns closely with their federal counterparts—aiming to deter and penalize anyone from purposefully obstructing the course of justice.
Arizona Revised Statute § 13-2409 primarily focuses on "Obstructing criminal investigations or prosecutions." This statute targets actions that interfere with ongoing criminal investigations or proceedings, encompassing behaviors such as tampering with evidence, intimidating witnesses, or giving false information to impede an investigation or prosecution.
Examples of Obstruction of Justice in Federal and Arizona Courts
So, what does obstruction look like in practice? Obstructing justice can take many forms, and these examples can provide a clearer picture.
Consider a case where an individual knowingly destroys evidence relevant to an ongoing investigation. This could be considered obstruction under both federal and Arizona laws.
Additionally, imagine a scenario in which a person intimidates or threatens a potential witness to prevent them from testifying—this, too, falls under the umbrella of obstructing justice.
Importantly, even seemingly minor acts can be construed as obstruction. For instance, knowingly providing a law enforcement officer with incorrect information during a criminal investigation may be seen as an attempt to obstruct justice.
The truth is, obstruction isn't limited to grand, cinematic gestures—it's often far more subtle, making it a challenging and multifaceted issue in criminal defense law.
Common Types of Obstruction of Justice Offenses and Their Penalties
Obstruction of justice can take many forms under federal law, and each has its own set of penalties.
Some common types of offenses include falsification of records, witness tampering, and obstruction by force or threat of force.
18 U.S. Code § 1512
This statute criminalizes witness tampering, hindering or preventing communication or cooperation with law enforcement. Penalties for this crime depend on the severity of the tampering and can range from three years to 30 years in prison.
It is important to note that obstruction of justice offenses are taken seriously by the federal government, and if charged, individuals could face significant prison time and fines.
The Penalties for Obstruction of Justice- Arizona Laws
Contrastingly, under Arizona law, obstruction of justice is typically treated as a Class 5 felony, with penalties including up to two and a half years in prison for a first-time felony offender and a fine of up to $150,000.
Defense Strategies for Obstruction of Justice Charges
If you find yourself charged with obstruction of justice, it's crucial to understand the potential defense strategies at your disposal. Remember, every case is unique, and the most effective defense will be tailored to your specific circumstances.
The following list describes some common defense strategies:
Questioning the Intent
Since obstruction requires proof that the accused intentionally sought to interfere with the administration of justice, demonstrating that the alleged actions were inadvertent, misunderstood, or not intended to obstruct can be a powerful defense.
Challenging the Evidence
Did the prosecution obtain their evidence legally? Is the evidence sufficient to prove obstruction beyond a reasonable doubt? If the answer to either question is 'no,' the charges might be dismissed.
Invoking Your Constitutional Rights
For instance, you might argue that an illegal search and seizure violated your Fourth Amendment rights.
How to Navigate a Case Involving Obstruction of Justice: Tips from a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney
Navigating a case involving obstruction of justice can feel like navigating a minefield, but it doesn't have to be.
Here are some tips from a federal criminal defense attorney perspective:
Firstly, secure knowledgeable legal counsel. The complexities of obstruction cases necessitate an experienced attorney who understands the intricacies of federal and state laws.
Secondly, be proactive in understanding your rights and the charges against you. The more you comprehend the allegations and your available defenses, the better positioned you will be to participate in your defense actively.
Lastly, maintain clear and open communication with your attorney. Your attorney is your greatest ally in the fight against obstruction charges. Providing them with all the necessary information and updates enables them to build the most robust defense possible.
Charged with Obstruction of Justice? The Kolrud Law Office is Here to Defend You.
The Kolsrud Law Office, with its team of expert federal criminal defense attorneys, stands ready to defend individuals charged with obstruction of justice.
Our team has the necessary knowledge of federal and Arizona laws to provide a rigorous defense. We understand the severity of obstruction charges and are committed to advocating for our clients.
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Josh is an expert in both Arizona and federal criminal law, and is ready to put that expertise to work for you.
As a prosecutor, Josh saw far too many defendants lose their livelihood due to poor representation. Josh will always give every client his complete attention and effort