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Obstruction of justice is a broad term that refers to any act which interferes with the judicial process. At its core, it encompasses behaviors that corruptly influence, obstruct, or impede the due administration of justice.

Understanding Obstruction of Justice

It is a criminal offense that can undermine the fundamental principles of the legal system, which relies on the availability of evidence, witness testimonies, and the impartiality of jurors and court officials to ensure fair outcomes in legal proceedings.

There are many ways in which an individual can obstruct justice. These include, but are not limited to, influencing or threatening a juror or court officer, tampering with evidence, retaliating against a witness, or lying to investigators. Obstruction can occur in any type of legal case, whether it’s civil, criminal, or administrative. The key aspect of this crime is the intent to disrupt the proceedings or the gathering of evidence, which is why this crime is taken very seriously.

Who Investigates Obstruction of Justice

Obstruction of justice is typically investigated by law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or local police departments. These agencies have the jurisdiction to investigate these offenses, collect evidence, and make arrests when they have probable cause to believe that an individual has committed an obstruction offense. Once an investigation is concluded, the case is typically forwarded to a prosecutor who decides whether or not to file charges.

Federal obstruction of justice laws are primarily found in Title 18 of the United States Code, Sections 1501-1521. These statutes cover a wide range of behaviors that can be considered obstructive, including obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees (18 U.S.C. § 1505), tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant (18 U.S.C. § 1512), or obstructing the examination of a financial institution (18 U.S.C. § 1517). Penalties for obstructing justice can be severe, ranging from fines to imprisonment, depending on the specific statute, the nature of the obstruction, and the circumstances of the case. This complexity emphasizes the importance of having legal representation if one is accused of such offens

Obstruction of Justice Penalties

The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) provide a framework for sentencing federal offenses, including obstruction of justice. The baseline offense level for obstruction of justice is established in Section 2J1.2 of the USSG. According to these guidelines, the base offense level for obstruction of justice is 14.

Possible Enhancements

There are a few specific offense characteristics that could lead to enhancements in the sentencing level for obstruction of justice:

  • Role in the Offense: If the defendant played a significant role in the obstruction, such as being an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor, the offense level may be increased by 2 to 4 levels.

  • Use of Special Skill: If the defendant used a special skill, or used a position of trust in a manner that significantly facilitated the commission or concealment of the offense, the offense level may be increased by 2.

  • Significant Disruption of Government Function: If the offense resulted in a significant disruption of a governmental function, the offense level may be increased by 3.

Potential Sentence

Once the total offense level has been determined, including any enhancements, the sentencing table provided in the USSG is used to determine the potential sentence. For instance, if we consider an offense level of 14 (the base level for obstruction of justice) for a defendant with no prior criminal history (Criminal History Category I), the guideline range is 15 to 21 months of imprisonment.

However, if there are enhancements – let’s say a 2-level increase for a significant role in the offense and another 2-level increase for use of a special skill, the total offense level becomes 18. For a defendant in Criminal History Category I with an offense level of 18, the guideline range is 27 to 33 months of imprisonment.

It’s important to note that the USSG are advisory, not mandatory, and the actual sentence can be influenced by various factors and is ultimately at the discretion of the court. Additionally, fines can also be imposed. For the most accurate information, it is recommended to consult the USSG directly or seek legal advice.

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