In the United States, obstruction of justice is a crime that arises when someone tries to prevent, impede, or influence the administration of justice. Examples of actions that could result in a prosecution for such an offense include bribing a juror, threatening a judge, or encouraging false testimony.
Unimpeded justice is considered to be an essential part of American society. If agents of the law are prevented from performing their duties, many of the securities and principles people believe in could be seriously jeopardized. To prevent this from happening, obstruction of justice is codified into federal and state laws. These laws also serve as a measure of protection for those who are involved in executing justice.
There are many actions that can be considered obstruction of justice, including verbal actions, such as threatening a judge or encouraging a witness to give a false testimony, and physical actions, like destroying evidence and intimidating a juror. The federal law, and many state laws, regarding this crime is relatively broad. In most cases, the law does not specifically outline which actions qualify and which do not. This means it is generally a matter of court decision.
There are many false assumptions about the crime of obstructing justice. For example, it may be assumed that once a case is closed, obstruction cannot occur, but this is not true. Retaliation can also be classified as obstructing justice. It is unlawful for a person to harass, inflict fear, or harm someone, such as a judge, investigator, or witness, who has acted against his interest.
Obstruction of justice is not limited to judicial proceedings. A person can be found guilty of such a crime for actions committed during an investigation. This is true even when the individual accused of obstruction is not the subject of investigation. There is also a common misconception that the charge is limited to criminal cases. A person who attempts to prevent the execution of civil justice may also be charged with this crime.
Charges of obstruction can also be brought against public officials and their affiliates. Judges, prosecutors, and political aides have been known to face such charges. Judicial officials may be charged for deliberately failing to carry out some duty in the course of legal proceedings. Political aides may find themselves with such charges when a politician is under investigation and they act to prevent the disclosure of accurate information.