The alleged victim of most crimes is an individual or legal entity. Crimes like assault and battery target specific people while bank fraud impacts financial institutions. The crime of obstruction of justice, on the other hand, is a crime against the justice system itself.
Obstructing justice can take many forms. In general, this crime involves taking active steps to disrupt the government's ability to investigate crimes and prosecute offenders.
The federal statutes that cover obstruction of justice crimes carry severe penalties. If you face investigation or arrest for the charge of obstruction of justice, it is critical that you seek legal counsel right away. Attorney Doug Murphy is an experienced defense attorney that knows how to take on federal crimes. Call now to discuss your case in detail.
Federal Obstruction of Justice Charges
The federal government does not rely on a single statute when it comes to obstruction of justice cases. Instead, a United States Attorney has 21 individual statutes to choose from. Each of these violations is considered an obstruction of justice crime under federal law. That said, the elements to prove each one can vary significantly.
All federal obstruction of justice statutes are located at Title 18, Chapter 73 of the U.S. Code. These offenses include:
- § 1501. Assault on process server
- § 1502. Resistance to extradition agent
- § 1503. Influencing or injuring officer or juror generally
- § 1504. Influencing juror by writing
- § 1505. Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees
- § 1506. Theft or alteration of record or process; false bail
- § 1507. Picketing or parading
- § 1508. Recording, listening to, or observing proceedings of grand or petit juries while deliberating or voting
- § 1509. Obstruction of court orders
- § 1510. Obstruction of criminal investigations
- § 1511. Obstruction of State or local law enforcement
- § 1512. Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant
- § 1513. Retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant
- § 1514. Civil action to restrain harassment of a victim or witness
- § 1514A. Civil action to protect against retaliation in fraud cases
- § 1515. Definitions for certain provisions; general provision
- § 1516. Obstruction of Federal audit
- § 1517. Obstructing examination of financial institution
- § 1518. Obstruction of criminal investigations of health care offenses
- § 1519. Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy
- § 1520. Destruction of corporate audit records
- § 1521. Retaliating against a Federal judge or Federal law enforcement officer by false claim or slander of title
Examples of Obstruction of Justice
Given the broad array of potential obstruction of justice crimes, examples could act as a useful tool for understanding these offenses. Consider the examples below.
Dave is facing trial for charges of drug trafficking. Ed is a key witness against Dave. When Dave learns Ed plans on testifying, he decides to murder him to ensure his silence. Dave lies in wait outside of Ed's home. When Ed walks out of the front door, Dave jumps out and shoots him before fleeing. Ed is shot, but survives.
Dave is guilty of 18 U.S. Code Section 1512, tampering with a witness. Any attempt to kill another person with the intent to prevent them from testifying at an official proceeding is guilty of witness tampering. This is true even though Ed survived the attack. If convicted, Dave faces up to 30 years in prison.
Jake owns a company that is a front for criminal activity. Jake used fraud to obtain funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to purchase a warehouse for the company. Finding the transaction to be suspicious, a federal audit is launched to investigate the company. Fearing exposure, Jake tracks down the person in charge of the audit and threatens them with violence if they do not shut the audit down. This conduct likely violates 18 U.S. Code Section 1516, obstruction of a federal audit.
Penalties & Obstruction of Justice Convictions in Houston
Much like with the facts of each obstruction case, the potential penalties also vary dramatically. These offenses range from relatively minor misdemeanors to felony convictions that could lead to a decade or more in prison.
For example, a conviction for resisting an extradition agent under U.S. Code Section 1502 could lead to a maximum jail term of one year in federal prison. Other individual statutes carry much steeper penalties. U.S. Code Section 1520, which covers the destruction of corporate audit records, can lead to a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
Regardless of the specific statute that applies in your case, a conviction could result in significant jail time and fines. These penalties only take effect upon conviction, which makes your choice of a Houston obstruction of justice lawyer so important.
Collateral Consequences of an Obstruction of Justice Conviction in Houston, TX
Fines and prison time are not the only effect an obstruction of justice conviction could have on your. In addition to the statutory penalties that come with a conviction, could also face collateral consequences.
If convicted of a felony, you could miss out on a number of constitutional rights. These include your right to vote or own firearms. Any federal criminal conviction could also haunt you over the long-term, as a conviction will remain on your permanent record. Any prospective employer or landlord could hold a criminal conviction against you should they run a criminal background check.
Other aspects of federal law could also indirectly impact your life. If you are convicted of a crime, it can dramatically impact you during the immigration process. This is true regardless of where you are in the application process.
What's more, there are also consequences if you are a contractor with the federal government. You can expect to no longer take part in any form of bid process for government contracts after a conviction.
Defenses & Obstruction of Justice
The potential defenses available in obstruction of justice charges differ from one charge to another. Some common defenses to these crimes are briefly described below.
Lack of Intent
One potential defense that cuts across all obstruction of justice charges is the lack of intent. It is impossible to unknowingly obstruct justice. If an act or its consequences are unintended, it should not lead to a conviction. The problem is that the jury cannot see inside your mind to determine your intent. It is possible that the prosecutor could misconstrue an honest mistake or misunderstanding into an intentional criminal act.
Amount in Question
Some obstruction of justice charges only apply when a certain amount of money is involved. For example, the crime of obstruction of a federal audit only applies to contracts worth more than $100,000 annually. A defendant who can show the value of a contract is less than $100,000 could be acquitted. There could be other criminal statutes that might still apply, however.
Lack of Evidence
The most basic defense is often the strongest. It is the burden of the United States Attorney to establish your guilt in federal court. If they fail to provide enough evidence to do so, the law requires your acquittal. Doug Murphy will strategically challenge the U.S. Attorney's case and highlight insufficient evidence or call into question evidence admitted to the court.
Working with a Houston Obstruction of Justice Attorney
From relatively minor misdemeanors to felonies that carry decades of prison time, an obstruction of justice conviction is always significant. The good news is that these charges are defensible. With the right defense and a skilled attorney, you can prevail at trial and leave court free of an Obstruction of Justice conviction. To get started with a skilled Houston obstruction of justice lawyer, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.