What Does it Mean to Obstruct Justice?

What Does it Mean to Obstruct Justice?

When someone obstructs justice, it means they have acted in a way that prevented law enforcement from gathering information about a suspected crime. This behavior delays the administration of justice. A significant number of actions can qualify as obstructing justice and it can take place at any level of the justice process, from the initial arrest to the trial. The consequences for obstructing justice vary depending on the severity of the crime.

Examples of Obstructing Justice

A person can obstruct justice in numerous ways, but some situations happen much more frequently than others. In some of these examples, a person may not even realize they’re obstructing justice.

  • Resisting a police officer: Anyone who intentionally resists, opposes, or obstructs law enforcement officers or other legal entities executing any part of the legal process could be charged with obstructing justice.
  • Aiding in an escape: Intentionally helping someone escape or try to escape from a police officer or other member of law enforcement is a third-degree felony offense.
  • Intimidating witnesses: Anyone who intimidates a witness while they are giving a testimony or prevents a witness from being able to cooperate with law enforcement could be charged with obstructing justice. Some examples of this behavior include trying to make a witness lie to law enforcement, offering them a bribe, and/or threatening them with violence.
  • Leaking a police officer’s information: If someone were to leak a police officer’s home address or other private information with the goal of retaliation, they may be obstructing justice. Such behavior obstructs justice by making it more difficult for the officer to perform their job duties. For example, an officer may not feel safe if people are showing up to their home or otherwise interfering with their lives.

Other examples of obstructing justice include:

  • Refusing to aid law enforcement when asked
  • Impersonating law enforcement
  • Providing incarcerated people with tools to aid in their escape
  • Failing to appear at a court date after being released on bail
  • Endangering police animals, such as search dogs
  • Using police communications in an unlawful manner
  • Preventing someone who was injured due to a crime from receiving medical care

What Constitutes Resisting Arrest?

Resisting arrest is one of the most common forms of obstruction of justice. Anyone who obstructs or resists a law enforcement officer trying to perform their duties has technically resisted arrest. The severity of the punishment depends on whether the person used violence in their resistance. Examples of resisting arrest without violence include:

  • Struggling and trying to escape while an officer is trying to make an arrest
  • Running away or trying to evade an officer while they are asking questions
  • Impersonating someone or providing a false identity to an officer
  • Talking over an officer, yelling at them, or making it otherwise difficult to perform the arrest
  • Refusing to follow orders from an officer, such as getting on the ground, leaning against a vehicle, or turning around

Anyone who resists arrest without using violence may be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. This conviction can result in up to 1 year in jail as well as a fee of up to $1,000.

Resisting an arrest using violence is a much more serious crime and can lead to more severe penalties. Examples of resisting arrest using violence include:

  • Hitting or kicking an officer trying to make an arrest
  • Pulling out a gun, knife, or other weapon during an arrest
  • Throwing a blunt or hard object at an officer during an arrest
  • Spitting on an officer during an arrest

Anyone who violently resists an arrest in Florida will be charged with a third-degree felony, which is punishable by a prison sentence up to 5 years and a fine up to $5,000.

Consequences for Obstruction of Justice

For other forms of obstructing justice, the consequences depend on how the crime is legally classified. Here are some examples of obstruction crimes as well as their consequences:

  • Failure to aid an officer, aiding in a juvenile’s escape from a correctional facility: Classified as a second-degree misdemeanor, which can result in 60 days in jail and a fine of $500
  • Using a police badge unlawfully: Classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, which can result in 1 year in jail and a fine of $1,000
  • Harming a police dog intentionally: Classified as a third-degree felony, which can result in 5 years in prison and a fine of $5,000
  • Providing tools for a prison escape, impersonating a police officer in commission of a felony: Classified as a second-degree felony, which can result in a 15-year prison sentence and a fine of $10,000
  • Impersonating an officer while committing a felony that kills someone: Classified as a first-degree felony, which can result in a 30-year prison sentence and a fine of $10,000

Federal Obstruction of Justice

Someone can be charged with obstruction of justice at the federal level if they interfere with a government investigation or if their obstruction happens across state lines (over the internet, for example). Witness tampering, bribing juries, and destroying evidence are examples of obstructions at the federal level. Anyone who tampers with evidence with the intent to obstruct justice in a federal court case may face upwards of 20 years in prison. If someone interferes with a witness in a federal trial, they may face upwards of 5 years in prison.

Proving Obstruction of Justice

Multiple elements must be proven for someone to be convicted of obstructing justice. In many cases, the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to prove the necessary elements, such as intent and knowledge. Prosecutors need to prove that someone accused of obstructing justice did so intentionally and with knowledge.

Intent

In order to prove obstruction of justice, there must be intent. This can be difficult to prove, as the prosecution needs to find evidence to back up their claim. If someone sent a text message saying they were wiping their hard drives to delete potentially incriminating files, that could be used as evidence against them in an obstruction of justice case.

Knowledge

The prosecution must also prove that the defendant had knowledge that their actions would obstruct justice. For example, if someone deletes an email related to an ongoing court case, they can only be convicted of obstructing justice if they knew that email was tied to the court case.

Defending Against an Obstruction of Justice Charge

Defending against a charge of obstructing justice can be just as difficult as proving one. However, there are some legal strategies that are commonly used to defend people against such charges.

No Intent

If the defendant and their legal counsel can prove that they did not intend to obstruct justice, the defendant cannot be convicted. However, proving a lack of intent can be difficult, and can only be done with sufficient evidence. For example, if someone is being accused of aiding in an escape but did so under duress, they may be able to have their charges lowered or dropped.

Money

Some obstruction of justice crimes can only lead to a conviction if a certain amount of money is involved. For example, if someone is accused of obstructing a federal audit, they can only be convicted if the amount being audited is more than $100,000.

No Evidence

If a defendant can provide more evidence to support their innocence than the prosecution can to support the accusation, charges may be dropped.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you are being accused of obstructing justice and need legal advice, contact the Law Office of Armando J. Hernandez, P.A. today. With over 19 years of experience litigating criminal cases, our defense attorney will fight tirelessly on your behalf. We will use all of the resources at our disposal to work towards getting your charges reduced or dismissed. Contact us today for a free consultation at (305) 400-0074 or via our online contact form.

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