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A process crime is any crime that is committed through direct or indirect interference with the investigation of another crime. Generally, process crimes involve some sort of misrepresentation or failure to tell the truth with the intention and effect of hampering a criminal investigation. Common examples of such crimes are obstruction of justice and perjury, both of which entail lying to governmental officials in the process of bringing a criminal to justice. The only defense to a process crime is that the actor honestly believed that he or she was telling the truth when the untrue statements were made.
Obstruction of justice occurs when a person who is questioned during a criminal investigation by someone working in an official government capacity and deliberately misleads the investigator. In most jurisdictions, a charge of obstruction of justice requires that the accused party actually tell the official a deliberate lie, as in many situations a person has a right not to speak to investigators who are questioning him or her. For example, an officer may appear at a home to question two individuals about a crime they committed. If one makes several untrue statements while the other simply refuses to talk, it is likely that the only one who may be charged with the process crime of obstruction of justice is the one who made the untrue statements.
Perjury is a process crime that could be classified as a particular type of obstruction of justice because of the clear similarities between the respective elements of the crimes. When a person who is testifying under oath at a court proceeding deliberately lies during his or her testimony, perjury occurs. Perjury is typically considered more serious of an offense than obstruction of justice because of its direct interference on a court hearing. Therefore, the penalties for perjury are generally more severe than other process crimes.
The only defense to a process crime is for the charged party to assert that untrue statements he or she made to the governmental officials conducting the criminal investigation were unintentionally false. The nature of this defense requires the prosecution to prove the state of mind of the party who allegedly committed the process crime at the time they made the misstatements. As a result, it is hard for prosecutors to obtain convictions for process crimes such as obstruction of justice and perjury.
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