You’re probably familiar with the term obstruction of justice, but do you actually know what it means?
Cornell Law School defines obstruction of justice as:
“Obstruction of justice broadly refers to actions by individuals that illegally prevent or influence the outcome of a government proceeding. While the quintessential example of obstruction of justice involves tampering in a judicial proceeding, there are numerous laws on obstruction of justice, covering all branches of government and targeting different kinds of obstruction. Instead of one law, law on obstruction of justice is located in multiple federal and state statutes, given the numerous methods in which obstruction can be carried out.”
In California, you can be charged with obstruction of justice on a federal level but not the state level. The reason for this is simple. California doesn’t have an obstruction of justice penal code. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about potentially obstructing a state or local case. While the state doesn’t have a specific obstruction of justice law, several crimes fall under what is considered obstruction of justice.
Examples of California laws that could be considered obstruction of justice crimes include the following:
- Destroying evidence
- Offering false evidence
- Preparing false evidence
- Resisting arrest/obstructing a police officer
- Tampering or intimidating witnesses
These crimes are wobblers which means you could be charged and convicted with either a misdemeanor or a felony. How you are charged depends on whether you obstructed a felony or misdemeanor case. For example, if you simply provided false information on a relatively minor car accident, you’ll likely only face misdemeanor offering false evidence charges. However, if you’re caught misdirecting the police in a murder investigation, you’ll likely face felony charges.
Examples of obstruction of justice charges that are dealt with at a federal level include:
- Destruction of corporate audit reports
- Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy proceedings
- Obstruction of Congressional and Agency Proceedings
- Obstructing a criminal investigation
- Obstruction of Jurors and Court Officers
- Obstructing Witnesses and Evidence
- Retaliating against a judge or federal officer by false claim or slander of title
The most extreme sentence for a federal obstruction of justice conviction is a fine and/or up to 20 years in federal prison.