What are the Penalties for Obstruction of Justice?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 31 January 2020
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Obstruction of justice is typically defined as interfering with the due process of the law, whether it involves local or federal proceedings. The penalties for this crime tend to vary widely, as there are various ways to obstruct justice. In most cases, the minimum penalty is a fine and a misdemeanor on the record, but some acts are considered felonies, and are punished with jail time. Obstructing a federal case, for example, is often a felony, while interfering with a case that involves a local jurisdiction is usually a misdemeanor.

There are several ways to obstruct justice, with most of them resulting in a fine, especially when they involve only local authorities. For instance, not allowing a judge, police officer, or juror to do his job without interruption is usually considered a misdemeanor, as is making false statements to those in these professions. Trying to influence a jury or judge during a trial that involves state law is also considered obstruction of justice. The typical penalty for such actions is a fine, as well as the addition of a misdemeanor to the criminal record, unless, of course, a person does this repeatedly, in which case the penalty could rapidly escalate.


Some cases of obstruction of justice are considered felonies, typically when they involve federal cases. For example, tampering with or retaliating against a witness in a federal case is a common form of this crime, as is stopping a process server from doing his job. Attempting to help someone who is charged with a federal crime, such as by letting them know ahead of time to expect a subpoena, is also often considered a felony count of obstruction of justice. In general, interfering with the punishment of a guilty party can have serious consequences when it comes to federal court, and is typically punished by up to about ten years in jail.

Of course, the penalties vary widely depending on the actual crime. For instance, while threatening a juror, judge, or police officer can result in ten years in jail, actually harming one can lead to 20 years of incarceration. In fact, even attempting to hurt an official involved with a court case can result in 20 years of jail time. Other factors may also affect the outcome, such as whether the person accused of obstructing justice already has a criminal record. Additionally, the use of lawyer can have an impact on the penalties involved, as can the laws in the area where the obstruction of justice takes place.


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Post 4

@jmc88 - Sometimes the media can blow those types of cases out of proportion and distort the facts. What happened in Ray Lewis's case was something that happens with a lot of murder cases.

They could not connect him to the murder so they did the best they could, made him a witness. Even though they could not connect him, they could put him at the scene and by giving him a plea agreement he could get past felony charges and become a star witness for the prosecution.

It is not unusual for people to testify in these types of cases and receive an obstruction of justice charge. Some legal theorists see this as them knowing something about what happened, but

they cannot be proven to commit the act. Usually this shows an admission of guilt they did something wrong but cannot be prosecuted for some reason.

Ray Lewis's case was not unusual and is something that occurs very often and shows how obstruction of justice charges can occur for someone that may have known more then they were letting on.

Post 3

@JimmyT - Sometimes common sense dictates that it is relatively true. I doubt there are many people that believe his fame did not have something to do with him receiving only an obstruction of justice charge and not charged with a felony.

I know that he was given a plea deal to only receive a misdemeanor, but tell me how someone could receive such a plea deal when it involved the murder of not one but two people?

I find this to be a very odd case that just does not past the smell test. It could be that the prosecutors saw that all they could get was an obstruction of justice charge, so that's what they got, but something sounded really fishy with this case.

Post 2

@titans62 - You are absolutely correct. I would like to say that obstruction of justice charges vary depending on the situation and degree, but I cannot even say that this is the case.

I remember once hearing of NFL linebacker Ray Lewis being arrested for obstruction of justice revolving around a murder one of his friends committed. For anyone else they would have been thrown in prison for a lengthy time simply because they were connected to the murder. However, in his case he was not even charged with a felony and I do not believe he even had to serve jail time.

Ray Lewis and his obstruction of justice charge is a famous and notable example of obstruction of justice to a high degree and he was only let go with a misdemeanor. I would think his fame had something to do with it, but that is only conjecture.

Post 1

I have heard stories about people being arrested and prosecuted for obstruction of justice and just like the article says the penalties vary.

I have heard of people receiving long prison sentences for obstructing the judicial process and I have also heard of people being let go with minimal punishment.

Some of the people that got away with minimal punishment became witnesses for the prosecution and I am sure that there were deals made that allowed them to escape an obstruction of justice charge.

I truly believe that it totally depends on the extent of the charge and there are a lot of intangibles involved in an obstruction of justice charge.

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