What is Obstruction of Justice? - Definition, Punishment & Examples

Instructor: Ken Klamar

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.

This lesson will give you an understanding of the crime of obstruction of justice. You will learn the definition, understand the punishment for the crime, and read examples from a law enforcement perspective as well as a judicial perspective.

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.

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