Obstruction of Justice Charges
Obstruction of justice, in the most general terms is the act of willfully interfering with the process of justice and law. This includes any act that involves influencing, threatening, harming, or impeding a potential witness, juror, legal officer, law enforcement or anybody otherwise involved in the administration of justice. Obstructing justice is a crime in both federal and all state laws in the United States, and can carry severe penalties
As you may expect with such a broad definition, there are many types of crimes that constitute an obstruction of justice. While we often hear of these charges in cases where a person is already facing criminal charges and behaves wrongfully in court, anybody can face these charges for alleged illegal acts when involved with law enforcement or criminal court proceedings. If you are facing charges for obstruction of justice, whether it is in federal or state court, you should seek representation from an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
What Crimes Constitute Obstruction of Justice?
Due to the broad nature of this crime, there are many acts that can result in charges for obstruction of justice. Some of these actions are specific to obstruction of justice, while others are crimes regardless of whether their purpose is to obstruct justice. This means that depending on the act, a person may face obstruction of justice related charges alone, or alongside other criminal charges stemming from the same act.
As there are many ways a person can be guilty of obstructing justice, North Carolina has both specific laws addressing certain forms of obstruction, as well as a single broader law criminalizing obstruction of justice. A person punished under the broader law for unlawfully and willfully obstructing justice will be convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor generally, or a class H felony if they also acted with deceit or intent to defraud the justice system. More specific forms of obstruction of justice and their respective laws and penalties are described below.
Witness Interference and Intimidation
Witnesses are an important part of the legal process and can serve either the interests of the defense and prosecution. Witnesses are not only expected but required to answer questions honestly, and in some cases can be punished if they deliberately answer dishonestly. The court looks at witness testimonies with great scrutiny, so if they uncover evidence that a witness was interfered with or intimidated in any way by either side in the court, the interfering party can face criminal charges. A person is guilty of interfering or intimidating with a witness if they:
Threatens, menaces, or in any other manner:
- Intimidates or attempts to intimidate a person who is summoned or acting as a witness in North Carolina state court; or
- Prevents, deters, or attempts to prevent or deter a person who is summoned or acting as a witness from attendance in any North Carolina state court.
In essence, threatening or intimidating a witness or interfering with them in a way that prevents or deters them from testifying is a crime, as well as attempting to do either act. If convicted, the crime is punished as a class G felony.
Additionally, North Carolina has a specific subsection of this law which declares that if the defendant threatens the witness with denial of parental rights, the defendant will be guilty of intimidating the witness. This typically pertains to cases involving domestic violence or child abuse.
Perjury is the crime of willfully and knowingly lying while under oath. Generally, you are considered to be “under oath” any time you repeat the statement that you swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, or something to that effect. This oath is not just a formality, it is legally binding, and you can face harsh consequences for being dishonest after repeating such a statement.
In North Carolina, the crime of perjury is specifically defined as when a person:
Willfully and corruptly, while under oath or affirmation, gives testimony or makes a statement that is false and that is material.
Essentially, to commit perjury a person must intentionally give a statement, whether written or orally, that they know to be false, and that is related directly to the matter at issue in the legal proceedings. This means that giving an answer that is false but thought to be true, or intentionally being dishonest about a subject that had no impact on legal proceedings, is not perjury.
A conviction of perjury is punished as a class F felony. If a person induces another person to commit perjury, and that other person does so, the inducing person will be guilty of “subornation of perjury”, which is a class I felony.
In simple terms, a bribe is a gift or other incentive to persuade someone to act in the briber’s favor, typically through illegal or dishonest means. In North Carolina, bribes that interfere with justice are prosecuted by going after the person bribing and the person taking or agreeing to take a bribe.
When it comes to taking a bribe in the context of the justice system, the law prosecutes state officials who accept or agree to accept bribes in return for using their authority in a way that obstructs or undermines justice. A person is guilty of the offense of taking or agreeing to take a bribe when they do the following:
- Hold an office under the laws of the state, has filed notice of candidacy or such an office, or has been nominated for such an office.
- Receive or agree to receive something or value or personal advantage or a promise of something or value or personal advantage, other than payment for legal salary, fees, or perquisites.
- Agree to perform an act or omit an act within the scope of their official duties and authority.
- With the expressed or implied understanding that such an act or omission was influenced by the thing of value or personal advantage.
A conviction of the above is punished as a class F felony. The person offering the bribe to the public official would also be guilty of a class F felony, so long as they knew the person they were bribing was a public official, and offered the bribe with intent to influence them in performing an official act.
The investigation itself is a serious matter that should urge you to immediately seek legal representation. Most federal bank fraud cases are investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) along with the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) or another federal law enforcement agency, all of which have a great deal of resources and take these allegations very seriously.
Resisting, Delaying, or Obstructiong an Officer
A person is guilty of this offense when they willfully and unlawfully resist, delay or obstruct a public officer, knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe the victim is a public officer while the officer is performing their official duties.
This offense covers resisting arrest as well as other forms of conduct that obstruct officers when performing duties such as:
- Executing a search warrant
- Conducting an investigatory stop
- Investigating a crime
To be guilty of this crime, it is not necessary that the defendant’s conduct permanently delays or obstructs the officer, and the conduct does not need to be violent or forceful. Even so much as delaying or hindering the officer’s duties can make a person guilty of this crime.
This law is rather complicated and there are many cases where exceptions are made, and actions are not considered obstruction. Exercising your rights when interacting with an officer, such as remaining silent, demanding a lawyer, or not complying if the officer does not present a warrant or probably cause, are all legal. While these acts would delay the officer from performing their duties, these are delays an officer can expect to encounter when a person is exercising their rights.
A conviction of this offense is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor.
False Report to Law Enforcement Agencies or Officers
A person is guilty of this offense if they willfully make a false or misleading statement to a law enforcement agency or officer for the purpose of interfering with the agency or officer’s operations or hindering their official duties.
Willfully here means that the act of lying or causing others to lie was committed on purpose without a legal justification. This means that even if a false report misled law enforcement, the defendant is only guilty if they purposely gave the false report to mislead them. This also means that providing law enforcement with false information that is not relevant to their operations should not result in charges and will not justify a conviction.
A conviction of this offense is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor.
Interfering with Emergency Communication
A person is guilty of this crime when they intentionally interfere with an emergency communication, knowing that it is an emergency communication, while not trying to make an emergency communication themselves.
Emergency communication includes law enforcement, emergency medical responders, fire fighters and any other emergency service available to the public, though in the context of obstructing justice the key focus is on disrupting law enforcement. To be guilty of this crime, one has to engage in “intentional interference” which includes:
- Destroying, disconnecting, hiding, or removing a communications instrument or other emergency equipment or its connections.
- Disabling a theft-prevention alarm system.
- Providing false information to cancel an earlier call or otherwise falsely indicating that emergency assistance is no longer needed.
- Any other false interference that makes it difficult or impossible to make emergency communication or that conveys a false impression that emergency assistance is unnecessary when it is in fact needed.
While this law does not explicitly address prank calling an emergency hotline, doing so can entail various crimes of obstructing justice including this one. For example, if a prank call involves providing false information to the law enforcement agency that results in them wasting their time, the prank could be punished under the previous false report offense.
A conviction of interfering with emergency communication is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor.
Concealing a Death
A person is guilty of this offense when they, with the intent of concealing a death, either:
- Fail to notify law enforcement of the death
- Secretly buries or otherwise disposes of the human body.
A conviction of this crime is punished as a class I felony if committed directly by the defendant, or a class A1 misdemeanor if the defendant aided, abetted, or counseled another person to commit the act.
This law does not require that the defendant be guilty of the death itself, simply concealing the death with the intent to do so is enough to convict. Intention is also important here, so if a person failed to notify law enforcement immediately out of shock of grief, they would not be guilty of this offense.
Failure to Appear
A person is guilty of this offense when they are released on bail and willfully fail to appear before any court or judicial court as required. If the violator was released in connection to a felony, they will face a class I felony if convicted of this crime. If the underlying crime is a misdemeanor, the violator will face a class 2 misdemeanor if convicted. As this offense must be committed “willfully”, if the defendant had a legal or otherwise excusable reason to fail to appear and their actions showed no deliberate attempt to obstruct justice, they may not be guilty of this crime.
Escaping prison is also considered a form of obstructing justice. To be guilty of escaping prison, one must already be in the lawful custody of the state or a county or municipal confinement facility. Punishment for this crime is largely based on the underlying offense the defendant is in lawful custody for. If the defendant was in custody for a misdemeanor, they will be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor for a conviction of escaping prison. If the defendant was convicted or serving time for a felony, they will be guilty of a class H felony if convicted.
Obstruction of Justice in Federal Law
Federal laws for perjury are much like the state laws but pertain to interactions with the federal justice system and federal law enforcement agencies. Where federal law differs is that it covers some more broad and serious criminal cases, and therefore can and will go after obstruction of justice in these cases with greater resources and force, with harsher penalties.
Additionally, as many white-collar crimes like bank fraud or wire fraud and immigration crimes like visa fraud or marriage fraud are handled by federal law enforcement, they have specific laws addressing obstruction of justice in relation to such crimes. For example, federal law has specific sections addressing actions such as:
- Destruction of corporate audit records
- Obstruction of federal audit
- Retaliation against a federal judge or federal law enforcement officer
Penalties for any of these crimes under federal law vary greatly, but generally entail a fine, prison term, or both. If facing any federal charge related to obstruction of justice, it is necessary to contact an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Defending Against Obstruction of Justice Charges
Defending obstruction of justice charges requires a thorough review of the case and all related charges you may be facing, which is why it is imperative that you hire an experienced white-collar state or federal defense attorney. There are several defenses that can be used depending on the case to either completely avoid liability, or significantly reduce charges. Some defense approaches that can be used are:
- You did not act willfully or intentionally to obstruct justice.
- The elements of obstruction are not material or had no bearing on how justice was carried out.
- You acted well within your constitutional rights.
Which defense approach works depends on the charges you are facing and the specific facts of the case, so you will need an experienced attorney to fight these charges. Our lawyers have successfully represented clients in such cases at state and federal levels and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used by prosecutors that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.