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Obstruction of Justice - General Obstruction Provision, Witness Tampering And Retaliation, Obstruction Of Agency Proceedings And Congressional Inquiries, Other Obstruction Provisions

section felony criminal misdemeanor

What brought down President Richard Nixon was not any involvement in planning the burglary of the Democrat National Committee's Watergate offices but his efforts, while president, to obstruct the investigation of that crime. In this instance, as in many others, Nixon's effort to cover up the burglary was not merely a separate criminal offense but an offense arguably even more serious than the crime he sought to cover up.

Obstruction of justice is a broad concept that extends to any effort to prevent the execution of lawful process or the administration of justice in either a criminal or civil matter. Obstructive conduct may include the destruction of evidence, the intimidation of potential witnesses or retaliation against actual witnesses, the preparation of false testimony or other evidence, or the interference with jurors or other court personnel. The purpose of criminal obstruction statutes—which every jurisdiction has, in one form or another—is thus to help protect the integrity of legal proceedings and, at the same time, protect those individuals who participate in such proceedings. Indeed, one of the earliest congressional enactments was a 1790 criminal statute that, among other things, established a number of obstruction offenses.

In keeping with the seriousness of the threat that obstructive conduct poses, and the myriad forms that obstruction takes, a broad array of federal criminal provisions (many overlapping) now target such activity. The principal statutes in this area are contained in chapter 73 of United States Code, Title 18. They are: section 1501 (misdemeanor to obstruct a federal process or writ server); section 1502 (misdemeanor to obstruct or resist an extradition agent); section 1503 (felony provision that targets efforts to influence or injure a court officer or juror, as well as other obstructionary efforts); section 1504 (misdemeanor to influence a juror by writing); section 1505 (felony to obstruct proceedings before departments, agencies, committees); section 1506 (felony to steal or alter a court record or provide a phony bail surety); section 1507 (misdemeanor to picket or parade with the intent of impeding or obstructing the administration of justice); section 1508 (misdemeanor to record or observe proceedings of grand or petit juries while deliberating or voting); section 1509 (misdemeanor to obstruct court orders); section 1510 (felony to obstruct criminal investigations); section 1511 (felony to obstruct state or local law enforcement with the intent to facilitate an illegal gambling business); section 1512 (felony to tamper with a witness, victim, or informant); section 1513 (felony to retaliate against a witness, victim, or informant); section 1516 (felony to obstruct a federal audit); section 1517 (felony to obstruct the examination of a financial institution); and section 1518 (felony to obstruct a criminal investigation of health care offenses).

DANIEL C. RICHMAN

CASES

United States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593 (1995).

United States v. Brenson, 104 F.3d 1267 (11th Cir. 1997).

United States v. Poindexter, 951 F.2d 369 (D.C.Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1021 (1992).

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Obstruction of Justice - General Obstruction Provision, Witness Tampering And Retaliation, Obstruction Of Agency Proceedings And Congressional Inquiries, Other Obstruction Provisions

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