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What is obstruction of justice?

You value your friends and loyalty, so when you found out that investigators were nosing around your buddy's business and looking for evidence of illegal activity, you tipped your buddy off. Your buddy responded by destroying their computer, setting fire to their financial records and trying to run. Then, the police arrested you for federal obstruction of justice.

How is that possible? Obstruction of justice is a broad term that the police can use to charge anyone who interferes in their official investigations or processes. Most people simply don't realize exactly how broad the term really is, however.

What kinds of actions can get you hit with an obstruction charge (aside from tipping off the subject of federal investigation)? Consider these:

  • Threatening a use of force against an officer, such as saying "I'll shoot you if you come onto my property"
  • Threatening someone (or physically using force against them) to convey the message that they had better not "snitch" to the authorities about any illegal activity or testify in court
  • Purposefully lying to investigators, like giving your friend an alibi for their whereabouts during a specific time when you know that they weren't actually with you
  • Helping someone hide or dispose of evidence that could be relevant to the investigation
  • Trying to influence an investigator (or, if the case has moved to trial, a juror) in some way
  • Retaliating against anyone who does cooperate with the authorities, including an informant or witness

You can be charged with obstruction of justice even if you had nothing to do with the original crime that authorities were investigating. Obstruction is actually one of the favorite charges a prosecutor can level against a suspected drug trafficker's family members and friends, precisely because it is so broad -- so use caution and get experienced legal advice before you make a big mistake.

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