As U.S. history buffs know, obstruction of justice was one of the charges at the heart of the Watergate scandal, which eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s infamous resignation from office in 1974. While obstruction of justice has been the downfall of several politicians and other prominent figures, committing this offense can also land everyday citizens in legal hot water. What does this crime entail, and what are your options if you stand accused of obstructing justice?
What Is Obstruction of Justice?
This state and federal crime can carry significant fines and punishments, including imprisonment. You can only commit obstruction of justice by interfering with a legal proceeding such as a criminal trial or investigation.
You might obstruct justice by:
- Verbally threatening or physically harming a witness, judge or juror
- Destroying evidence
- Falsifying documents
- Hindering the apprehension of a suspect, such as by helping them hide from the authorities or warning them they may be facing legal consequences
- Withholding relevant details or deliberately providing incorrect or misleading information during an investigation
California Obstruction of Justice Laws
While California does not have a specific statute defining obstruction of justice, several offenses fall under the umbrella of this crime, including the following.
- Penal Code 132: Offering forged or falsified evidence
- Penal Code 135: Destroying evidence
- Penal Code 136.1: Intimidating a witness or victim
- Penal Code 138: Bribing a witness
- Penal Code 148: Resisting arrest or preventing a first responder from carrying out their responsibilities in the line of duty
In California, obstruction of justice charges can be either misdemeanors or felonies, carrying jail time and up to $10,000 in fines.
Legal Defenses Against an Obstruction of Justice Charge
If you stand accused of obstructing justice in California, you need to retain an experienced attorney to defend you in court. Depending on your case’s specifics, one legal defense might be a lack of intent, such as inadvertently destroying a document without realizing it was a piece of evidence.
Your First Amendment right to free speech can be another successful defense if a police officer has accused you of preventing them from doing their job. For example, the First Amendment protects you if you make a video recording of a police officer while they are carrying out their responsibilities in a public setting, like a park or street.
Since a prosecutor must prove a defendant in an obstruction of justice case intentionally committed this crime, mistaken identity might be another potential defense, particularly if you have a credible alibi.
Orange County’s Leading Criminal Defense Attorney
Have you found yourself accused of obstruction of justice or any other crime? Attorney Ronald G. Brower has been tackling Southern California’s most challenging, high-profile court cases for over 45 years. Our practice’s accolades include being on the Best Lawyers in America and Super Lawyers lists, and shows like Dateline and 20/20 have featured our work.
Regardless of your circumstances, your case deserves respect. Contact us today if you are facing charges and need to schedule a consultation.