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What Is Obstruction of Justice?

You may have heard the phrase "obstruction of justice" in a film or movie, but what does it mean, and what happens if you're accused? Keep reading to find out.

Obstruction of Justice Defined

A person is guilty of obstruction of justice if they have used threats, force, money, or information to stop or interfere with investigations and the administration of justice. This could mean that someone threatened to hurt a witness to prevent them from testifying or bribed an investigator to ignore an incriminating piece of evidence.

Most of us are familiar with federal obstruction of justice charges where an individual interferes with a federal investigation. For example, we might think about mob bosses who pay off the police to stay quiet about their illegal operations or kidnap witnesses' family members to prevent them from getting on the stand. Or we may think of an elected official using shady methods to stay in power.

People attempt to obstruct jutice to bury incriminating evidence that would otherwise land them in prison or jeopardize a criminal operation. Ultimately, delaying an investigation does not accomplish much in many cases. In fact, obstruction can make an otherwise straightforward case a more complicated one, resulting in harsher punishment.

Famous Examples of Obstruction of Justice

One of the most famous obstruction cases in America involves former President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon was put on trial by Congress because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

In short, two operatives working on his campaign for reelection broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. Once there, they burglarized the headquarters and attempted to gather intelligence about the opposition's campaign.

Nixon denied involvement with the scandal, but secret recordings later showed that he knew about Watergate and attempted to cover it up and conceal his involvement. As a result, Congress brought three articles of impeachment against him, including charges of obstruction of justice.

Another famous example involves TV personality and homemaker extraordinaire Martha Stewart. Martha and her former stockbroker were accused of securities fraud and obstruction of justice after selling thousands of shares in ImClone after receiving insider information that the company was going under.

The jury found Stewart guilty of obstruction since she denied having involvement with the scandal and tried to hide evidence of her insider knowledge from investigators. She was sent to federal prison for one year and served two years of probation.

Penalties for Obstruction

Depending on the type of obstruction you're charged with, the judge may issue a different sentence. For example, threatening the life of a key witness could result in a five-year sentence, while hiding a document may result in only a few years.

Aggravating factors could also impact the sentence. If someone attempts to murder an officer or witness to hide the crime, they are facing not only obstruction charges but attempted murder as well. The judge may stack sentences or extend the attempted murder sentence based on the obstruction charges.


Obstruction of justice is direct interference with an investigation or criminal trial, and it can result in a years-long prison sentence depending on the circumstances. These are serious charges that go on a criminal record, so it's best to get legal representation as soon as possible.

If you have been accused of obstruction of justice, contact Territorial Law today.