Obstruction of Justice

Federal charges involving the obstruction of justice should be taken extremely seriously. As it "seriously undermine[s] respect for the system of justice," (United States v. Blackwell, 459 F.3d 739, 774 (6th Cir. 2006)) and "strikes at the heart of the integrity" of the courts, judges take considerable offense to such conduct and commonly dole out harsh punishments upon conviction.

United States v. Kiszewski, 877 F.2d 210, 214 (2d Cir. 1989). While obstructive activities are proscribed by a number of federal statutes, a conviction for any will likely result in a lengthy prison sentence - and even if the obstruction is not charged as a separate crime, it may be the basis for a lengthy sentence enhancement pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Further, offenses involving the obstruction of justice are frequently deemed crimes of moral turpitude - and a conviction may therefore result in an individual's deportation from the United States, or the loss of a professional license or employment. See, e.g., Abdelqadar v. Gonzales, 413 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 2005) ("Crimes entailing deceit or false statement are within the core ... understanding of moral turpitude"). Given the grave consequences of a conviction, an individual accused of obstructing justice should immediately retain a skilled, New York criminal attorney who has experience defending against these charges.

As noted, obstructive conduct may be charged by a number of different statutes. For example, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1503, whoever corruptly endeavors, by threats or force, to influence or impede any juror or officer in any court of the United States, or the due administration of justice in any case, shall be imprisoned by up to 10 years - or 20 years where murder is attempted as part of the obstruction. Where the victim of such obstruction is ultimately killed, the punishment becomes mandatory life imprisonment or the death penalty. Notably, this statute has an extremely broad reach - the phrase "due administration of justice," has been defined by the United States Supreme Court as an "[o]mnibus [c]ause," which "serves as a catchall," for obstructive conduct. United State v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593, 598 (1995); United States v. Solow, 138 F. Supp. 812, 814 (S.D.N.Y. 1956) ("all-embracing [clause] designed to meet any corrupt conduct in an endeavor to obstruct or interfere with the due administration of justice").

Additionally, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1510(a), whoever by means of a bribe, endeavors to obstruct or prevent communications relating to the commission of a federal crime to a criminal investigator shall be fined and/or imprisoned by up to five years upon conviction. Similarly, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1506, whoever steals, alters or falsifies any record in any court of the United States - causing any judgment or other result related thereto to become void - shall also be imprisoned by up to five years upon conviction. And pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1509, whoever by threats of force, willfully prevents, obstructs, or impedes an order or decree of any court of the United States shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by up to one year imprisonment.

Further, two commonly utilized charges relating to the obstruction of justice are perjury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1621-1623, and the making of false statements to government agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Allegations of either should not be taken lightly: a conviction for perjury may result in a sentence of up to five years imprisonment, and a conviction for making false statements may result in a sentence of up to eight years imprisonment. Witness tampering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512, is another serious crime involving the obstruction of justice. Specifically, pursuant to § 1512(a)(1), whoever attempts to kill another person with the intent to prevent his attendance or testimony in an official proceeding - including a court proceeding - or to prevent the production of any record, document or other thing in such a proceeding, or to prevent a communication concerning the commission of a federal offense to law enforcement or a federal judge, shall be imprisoned by up to 30 years upon conviction. If this conduct results in the death of the victim, the death penalty or a term of life imprisonment shall be imposed. Likewise, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1512(a)(2), whoever uses physical force or the threat thereof against any person with the intent to influence, delay or prevent such person's testimony in an official proceeding, or to cause such person to withhold testimony, or alter, destroy or conceal some evidence, shall be imprisoned by up to 30 years upon conviction. Whoever uses some lesser means of intimidation, or corruptly persuades another person in order to facilitate the above result shall be imprisoned by up to 20 years upon conviction (§ 1512(b)), and whoever intentionally harasses another to do the same shall be imprisoned by up to three years upon conviction. 18 U.S.C. § 1512(d).

Finally, even if a defendant is not charged with one of the aforementioned statutes, if during his prosecution for another crime, he willfully obstructs or impedes the administration of justice, his sentencing guidelines may be enhanced by two levels. This may equate to as much as 68 additional months of imprisonment for serious underlying offenses.

Hiring a top federal criminal defense attorney to defend you in any prosecution for obstruction of justice is crucial and will ensure that every viable defense is explored and utilized on your behalf. Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman have successfully handled countless cases charging such conduct, exploiting holes in the prosecution's evidence to achieve the best possible result for our clients. Contact us today at (212) 518-1001 for a free consultation.