On the federal level, the crime of obstruction of justice is unique. While offenses like murder or fraud target specific individuals, obstruction of justice is a crime against the justice system itself.
Obstruction of justice is a felony under federal law. These federal crimes vary in form, but in substance, they involve an intentional effort to impede or obstruct the government's ability to administer justice. These cases are often difficult to prove, as determining your motivations can be challenging. If you are accused of obstructing justice in a Texas federal court, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is ready to help.
To understand why you have been accused of obstruction of justice, you must be aware of the different obstruction statutes that exist in federal law. In total, there are 20 different types of obstruction, each one requiring different elements to prove. Below, we review the types of obstruction charges and what might lead you to be indicted for them.
18 USC 1501 – Assault on a Process Server
The title of this subsection – assault on a process server – is fairly self-explanatory. An assault is defined as an act that resists, obstructs or opposes a process server. This statute applies only to the service of papers involving proceedings before a United States federal judge or magistrate. Interfering with anyone serving process in a state case is not covered, although state statutes likely apply.
This statute covers interfering with any aspect of service, from actively executing service to merely attempting to do so. If you face charges pursuant to section 1501, it likely relates to some form of interaction you had with a federal agent attempting to serve process. This could be in your own case or in a proceeding that has nothing to do with you.
18 USC 1503 – Influencing or injuring officer or juror generally
The attempt to influence or intimidate a juror during a federal trial is one of the most severely punished forms of obstruction of justice. This statute applies to any effort to influence, impede, or intimidate a juror in a federal case. This includes both grand jurors and trial jurors. The statute applies to more than just jurors. Any attempt to intimidate or influence a court officer is also covered.
The methods of influencing or intimidating a juror or court officer are broad. The statute outlaws the use of any threatening letter or form of communication. Obstruction is a crime of intent, meaning the effort to intimidate must be willful. The effort to obstruct does not have to be successful, either. The mere attempt to influence or intimidate a juror is treated as harshly as successfully completing the act.
The potential penalty for this crime is inherently steep. That said, the judge is empowered to sentence you above the maximum if you are found to have influenced a juror in a criminal trial through force or threat of violence.
If you are facing charges under 18 USC 1503, it is likely as the result of some form of interaction you are alleged to have had with a juror or court official. While this crime can involve the use or threat of physical violence, even the mere suggestion of undue influence is enough to violate the statute.
18 USC 1505 – Obstruction of Proceedings before Departments, Agencies, and Committees
Much of the attention to obstruction of justice offenses focus on the attempt to obstruct a criminal trial or proceeding. However, this section of the federal code specifically outlaws attempts to interfere with hearings or other proceedings in front of various parts of the executive branch of government.
This statute broadly applies to any potential proceeding in front of a department or agency of the federal government. There is an important distinction between the two. Departments are enumerated by Section 1Title 5 of the Code. Department heads are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. An agency is a broader term that applies to any group, administration, or commission operated by the U.S. Government.
Obstruction under this statute occurs under the same terms as Section 1503. Any use of force or threat with the intent to obstruct, impede, or influence a decision of a department or agency will qualify. Instead of a trial setting, however, these proceedings are often regulatory in nature. Facing a charge of obstruction under Section 1505 must relate to contact you have had with the participants of a specific department or agency proceeding.
18 USC 1506 – Theft or Alteration of Record or Process
Not all types of obstruction involve pressuring or threatening another person. Section 1506 of the U.S. Code targets efforts to tamper with official orders or records issued by a federal court.
This offense covers any attempt to steal, alter, falsify, remove, or void any judgment or writ issued by a federal court. These efforts could involve fraudulently attempting to alter an order or judgment issued by the court before it is filed for the record. It could also involve tampering with an issued writ or order in the attempt to defraud someone.
18 USC 1507 – Picketing or Parading
Some obstruction charges have the potential to clash with a defendant's rights under the First Amendment. Section 1507 of the federal code limits a party's right to picket or parade. While this speech is generally protected by the First Amendment, this statute outlaws certain pickets or demonstrations that are designed to obstruction justice.
Under this statute, obstruction of justice means interfering, impeding, or attempting to influence court officials, witnesses, jurors, or judges in the course of discharging their duty in the justice system. While threats of violence are not required to build a case under this statute, there must be some form of undue influence.
The statute spells out a number of ways that you could face obstruction charges under this section. Demonstrating outside or inside a federal courthouse with the intent to interfere with a judicial proceeding can qualify. The same is true for the use of trucks with large loudspeakers. These demonstrations can also occur outside of the business or residence of any of the people protected by statute.
The critical part of these cases is intent. Merely demonstrating in a criminal case is protected by the Constitution. But demonstrating with a message that is clearly trying to scare or intimidate someone involved in the process could be a crime.
18 USC 1512 – Tampering with a Witness
Witness tampering may be the most well-known form of obstruction of justice at the federal level. Instead of interfering with the inner workings of a judicial proceeding or attempting to influence the outcome directly, witness tampering instead targets a person intending to testify during a criminal proceeding.
Tampering with a witness can involve three types of conduct:
- Killing a person to prevent them from testifying
- Inducing a person not to testify or to provide physical evidence
- Hinder a person from reporting a federal crime
While all of these options are serious, any attempt to kill a person in an effort to prevent them from testifying carries the stiffest penalties. It is also important to note that while the name of the statute mentions witnesses, it covers other individuals as well. Any action taken against court officials or process servers could also count if the goal is to prevent a witness from testifying.
18 USC 1519 – Destruction, Alteration, or Falsification of Records in Federal Investigations and Bankruptcy
Section 1519 applies specifically to the destruction of important records during the course of a bankruptcy proceeding. This crime relates not only to court filings, but any type of document, record, or object in an effort to obstruct the bankruptcy process. These actions include efforts to alter, mutilate, destroy, conceal, falsify, cover-up, or create a false entry in a formal record.
This section could involve tampering with documents that are filed during the bankruptcy process, like petitions or schedules. However, it also applies much more broadly than that. You could face allegations of obstruction of justice for the alteration or destruction of business records, tax records, or even tangible assets that are held by the bankruptcy estate.
Let a Houston Federal Defense Lawyer Help
The specific statutes listed above provide only a few of the ways you could be accused of obstructing justice. Each of these statutes is different, and many are difficult to prove. That does not mean an obstruction case should ever be taken lightly, however. In some cases, the penalty for a conviction can be steep. To avoid these penalties, you may need to guidance of a skilled federal defense lawyer.
If you face federal charges of obstruction of justice in Houston, attorney Doug Murphy stands ready to help. A fierce advocate of the accused in federal court, Doug Murphy understands what is at stake when it comes to obstruction charges. His extensive experience taking on the federal government could provide you with the defense you need to beat the charges against you. To learn more about your options, schedule a free consultation with the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.