I have been a certified police officer since 1993 and have a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice Administration. I also have obtained my Master's degree in Criminal Behavior Analysis from the University of Cincinnati.
Obstruction of Justice-Definition
In order for there to be a claim of obstruction of justice, a legal proceeding has to be underway. The legal proceeding can be an investigation, a trial, or an inquiry in the pursuit of justice. To obstruct justice, a person must knowingly and/or willfully interfere with the pursuit of justice. This interference could be in the form of a threat to a witness, juror, or other legal officials. Interference could also be in the form of physical harm, undue influence or even hindering in the discovery or apprehension of a suspect for a crime. A person who provides information that they know to be false in the course of an investigation or legal process may also be accused of obstruction of justice.
Obstruction of Justice-Examples
The crime of obstruction of justice can carry a variety of penalties including jail time and/or fines. The punishment, in most cases, will mirror the act that hindered or obstructed. For example, suppose a personal friend is wanted for the misdemeanor crime of larceny. If you did an act which hindered in the discovery or apprehension of your friend, you would be guilty of obstruction of justice. The penalty would be a misdemeanor since your friend was wanted for a misdemeanor crime. Conversely, if your friend was being prosecuted for a felony crime of aggravated assault and you threatened one of the members of the jury, you would be guilty of obstruction of justice as a felony offense.
To provide additional context for the above scenario, in Ohio, for example, the crime of obstruction of justice as a first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. Obstruction of justice as a felony of the fourth degree, such as an aggravated assault in the previous example, is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
As mentioned earlier, there must be a legal proceeding underway before someone can be accused of obstructing justice. The crime could occur even in the early stages of a legal proceeding. Local criminal Steve Lawless is driving while impaired and strikes a pedestrian on a bicycle, killing him. Steve, fearing his impending arrest, flees the scene and drives straight to your house. Since Steve is family, you agree to let him park his car in your barn in the back of the property and you allow him to hide in the loft above the barn until he sobers up. During the investigation of the crime, the police show up at your house and ask if you have seen Mr. Lawless. You lie and say that you have not, and you do not give them permission to search your property. When the police leave, you help Steve remove evidence from the car that was part of the crime, such as blood and debris from the crash.
In the above example, a legal proceeding was underway because the police were investigating the crime of hit and run. You would have known that there was a crime when Steve came to you looking for a place to hide. Furthermore, you would know that a legal proceeding was underway when the police showed up at your house. The fact that you lied, hid Steve in the barn, and began to erase evidence makes you guilty of obstruction of justice. Since the pedestrian on the bicycle died as a result of the crash, this would be a felony offense. Since you obstructed justice in a felony crime, obstruction of justice, in this case, would be punishable as a felony as well.
To take this example a step further, suppose Steve Lawless was arrested and on trial for killing the pedestrian. Wanting to get Steve out of trouble, you mail a threatening letter to the judge that is presiding over the case, threatening his life. This act would qualify as obstruction of justice since you threatened a legal official during the course of the administration of justice.
For there to be a crime of obstruction of justice, a legal proceeding must be started. The proceeding could be an investigation, a trial, or an inquiry into some matter. In order to be charged with this crime, someone must interfere with the proceeding in one way or another. This could be done by threatening a witness or a juror, causing physical harm to another, or hindering the discovery of a wanted person. The punishment for the crime of obstruction of justice usually carries the same penalty as the offense for which the legal proceeding is underway. If a person does an act that obstructs justice during the course of a misdemeanor investigation, obstruction of justice is also a misdemeanor. If someone obstructs justice in the investigation of a felony matter, obstruction is then a felony crime. Each of these offenses carries possible jail time and fines. The greater the level of offense, the greater the amount of jail time and the amount of the fine.
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