25 Jun 20

Obstruction Of Justice + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Last Updated on: 2nd October 2023, 05:31 pm

Though most crimes involve a person causing harm to another individual or their property, obstruction of justice is an exception. Encompassing an array of crimes, it focuses on those committed specifically against justice administration. Covered by statutes at both the state and federal levels, obstruction of justice is a complex criminal charge that not only should be taken very seriously by a defendant, but also vigorously defended by criminal defense attorneys.

Threats of Force or Actual Force
In many cases where obstruction of justice charges are levied against a person, authorities focus on a defendant’s corrupt threat of force or the actual use of force against justice administration. In essence, this means if a person attempts to interfere with official duties by destroying evidence or other related acts, they can be found guilty of obstruction of justice. To gain a conviction in these cases, prosecutors must show an official proceeding that could have been obstructed, a link between the defendant’s actions and the proceeding, and that the defendant was aware they were trying to obstruct justice by their actions.

Pleading the Fifth
In most cases where a defendant is charged with obstruction of justice, their defense centers on the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment, which gives a person the right to not answer questions if the answers provided could prove to be incriminating and link them to criminal liability, is often viewed by defense attorneys as the best avenue for clients to take in these matters. By doing so, lawyers are given time to examine evidence and formulate legal strategies to combat the obstruction of justice charges.

Who Commits Obstruction of Justice?
While technically any person can commit obstruction of justice under the right circumstances, most of the time these charges are brought against elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and attorneys general. Commonly referred to as malfeasance, it can involve such acts as witness intimidation, giving false testimony, falsifying or destroying evidence, interfering with members of the court, and many other acts.

Punishments for Obstruction of Justice
Since statutes are in place at both the state and federal levels for this crime, punishments for obstruction of justice can vary depending on each individual case. As various states have requirements that differ greatly, there is also the chance federal charges can also be combined with state charges in these cases. Since obstruction of justice can be either a misdemeanor or felony, punishments can be small fines and limited jail sentences or large fines and as much as 20 years in prison.

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Sentencing Guidelines
When an individual is facing obstruction of justice charges, many factors will go into how the court arrives at an appropriate sentence. Since prosecutors must show that the defendant both engaged in an obstructive act and were aware they were doing so at the time, defense lawyers can use the Fifth Amendment and other evidence to their advantage. By cross-examining witnesses, having their clients say as little as possible during the trial, and placing doubt in the minds of jury members that the defendant was intentionally trying to mislead others, it is possible to beat these charges.

Statute of Limitations
Starting from the date the actual crime is alleged to have taken place, lawyers and defendants must be keenly aware of the statute of limitations pertaining to their case. Often varying depending on the type of crime involved, the statute of limitations is generally six years in state courts and five years in federal courts. However, exceptions do exist when the crimes in question involve children, murder, specific violent crimes, and sexual offenses. In these situations, no statute of limitations exists. Additionally, should a person leave the state where their alleged crimes took place, the statue of limitations for obstruction of justice charges can be tolled.

Due to the serious nature an obstruction of justice case can take on as it progresses, defendants should never take these charges lightly. Instead, they should immediately hire a skilled criminal defense attorney to help them fight these charges. By doing so, they can gain important legal advice regarding the use of the Fifth Amendment and other legal tactics that may enable them to walk out of court a winner.