|Scope of criminal liability|
|Severity of offense|
|Offense against the person|
|Crimes against property|
|Crimes against justice|
|Crimes against the public|
|Crimes against animals|
|Crimes against the state|
|Defenses to liability|
|Other common-law areas|
Obstruction of justice, in United States jurisdictions, is an act that involves unduly influencing, impeding, or otherwise interfering with the justice system, especially the legal and procedural tasks of prosecutors, investigators, or other government officials. Common law jurisdictions other than the United States tend to use the wider offense of perverting the course of justice.
Obstruction is a broad crime that may include acts such as perjury, making false statements to officials, witness tampering, jury tampering, destruction of evidence, and many others. Obstruction also applies to overt coercion of court or government officials via the means of threats or actual physical harm, and also applying to deliberate sedition against a court official to undermine the appearance of legitimate authority.
Obstruction of justice is an umbrella term covering a variety of specific crimes. Black's Law Dictionary defines it as any "interference with the orderly administration of law and justice". Obstruction has been categorized by various sources as a process crime, a public-order crime, or a white-collar crime.
Obstruction can include crimes committed by judges, prosecutors, attorneys general, and elected officials in general.
In federal law, crimes constituting obstruction of justice are defined primarily in Chapter 73 of Title 18 of the United States Code. This chapter contains provisions covering various specific crimes such as witness tampering and retaliation, jury tampering, destruction of evidence, assault on a process server, and theft of court records. It also includes more general sections covering obstruction of proceedings in federal courts, Congress, and federal executive agencies. One of the broadest provisions in the chapter, known as the Omnibus Clause, states that anyone who "corruptly... endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice" in connection with a pending court proceeding is subject to punishment.
Statistics regarding the frequency of obstruction of justice prosecutions are unclear. In 2004, federal agencies arrested 446 people for obstruction, representing 0.3 percent of all federal arrests. This does not include, however, people who were charged with obstruction in addition to a more serious underlying crime.
Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a defendant convicted of any crime is subject to a more severe sentence if they are found to have obstructed justice by impeding the investigation or prosecution of their crimes. While a separate conviction for the crime of obstruction would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a finding of obstruction for sentencing purposes only needs to meet the looser standard of "a preponderance of the evidence" (unless the enhanced sentence would exceed the statutory maximum sentence for the underlying crime).
An obstruction finding adds two levels to the offender's sentence, which can result in as much as an additional 68 months of prison. In 2017, the obstruction enhancement was applied in 1,319 cases, representing 2.1 percent of all sentences issued in federal courts.
State laws regarding obstruction of justice vary widely. A 2004 survey found that 24 states and the District of Columbia had a general statute criminalizing obstruction of justice or obstruction of government functions in broad terms, similar to those found in federal law. All states have laws prohibiting some specific types of obstruction, such as witness tampering, jury tampering, or destruction of evidence.
From the creation of the federal courts by the Judiciary Act of 1789, judges had the power to summarily punish those who obstructed justice by holding them in contempt of court.
A scandal in 1830 led to reform of the contempt law and the creation of obstruction of justice as a separate offense. Federal judge James H. Peck imprisoned a lawyer for contempt for publishing a letter criticizing one of Peck's opinions. In an effort to prevent such abuses, Congress passed a law in 1831 limiting the application of the summary contempt procedures to offenses committed in or near the court. A new section, which survives today as the Omnibus Clause, was added to punish contempts committed outside of the court, but only after indictment and trial by jury.
In 1982, in response to concerns that the obstruction law did not provide adequate protection to crime victims and other witnesses, Congress broadened the law against witness tampering and criminalized retaliation against witnesses, as part of the Victim and Witness Protection Act.
The Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 strengthened the obstruction laws regarding destruction of evidence before an investigation or proceeding has begun, in response to accounting firm Arthur Andersen's widely reported shredding of documents related to the Enron scandal.
In sum, we affirm appellants' convictions of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1505 because the evidence at trial supported the jury's verdict that they corruptly endeavored to influence a House investigation