Obstruction of Justice Under California and Federal Law

Obstruction of justice is a crime that carries significant consequences under both California state law and federal statutes.  At its core, obstruction of justice, involves any act that interferes with the proper functioning of the legal system or the investigation of a crime.  This interference can manifest in various forms, such as witness tampering, destruction of evidence, lying to investigators, or obstructing court proceedings.  To navigate these charges effectively, it's vital to understand the nuances of obstruction of justice in both California and federal jurisdictions.

Obstruction of Justice under Federal Law 

In the federal context, obstruction of justice is a distinct offense covered under Title 18, section 1501 of the United States Code.  These statutes explicitly address obstruction in various forms, including obstruction of proceedings, witness tampering, and destruction of evidence.  Federal obstruction charges can arise from actions such as intimidating witnesses, lying to federal investigators, or impeding grand jury proceedings.

Obstruction of Justice under California Law

Under California law, there is no specific Penal Code section dedicated to obstruction of justice.  However, Penal Code section 148, which addresses resisting, delaying, or obstructing a peace officer in the performance of their duties, encompasses many acts commonly associated with obstruction of justice.  Dissuading a witness could also be considered obstruction of justice, because it involves a scenario where an individual is attempting to interfere with the legal process by dissuading a witness from coming to  court and testifying.

Obstruction vs. Accessory After the Fact 

It is crucial to distinguish between obstruction of justice and being an accessory after the fact.  Obstruction of justice focuses on actions taken during an ongoing investigation or legal proceeding to disrupt or impede it, and typically targets actions that hinder the investigation or prosecution of a specific crime, irrespective of the offender's connection to the underlying crime.  However, being an accessory after the fact pertains to helping a person who has already committed a crime evade arrest, trial, or punishment.  This often involves hiding a fugitive, providing them with resources, or otherwise aiding their escape.  Unlike obstruction, being an accessory after the fact is tied to a specific underlying crime, and the defendant must have knowledge of that crime.

Defense Strategies

Challenging Intent: Many obstruction cases hinge on proving that the defendant acted willfully and with corrupt intent to obstruct justice.  A defense attorney may argue that the defendant's actions were not willful or that they lacked the requisite corrupt intent.

Lack of Knowledge: In cases involving false statements or interference with witnesses, demonstrating that the defendant did not have knowledge of the ongoing investigation or legal proceeding can be a viable defense strategy.

First Amendment Rights: In some cases, defendants may claim that their actions were protected by the First Amendment, such as making public statements or expressing their opinions about an investigation.

Evidentiary Challenges: Attorneys can challenge the admissibility of evidence or the credibility of witnesses to weaken the prosecution's case.  For instance, if the prosecution's key witness has a history of dishonesty, their testimony may be less persuasive.

Negotiating a Plea Bargain: In cases with strong evidence against the defendant, negotiating a plea bargain for reduced charges or a more lenient sentence may be the most pragmatic approach to minimize the consequences.

If you are facing charges for obstruction of justice, it is absolutely critical that you discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.  As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Michael Kraut has extensive experience in both federal and California cases involving allegations of obstructing justice.

For more information about the criminal justice process, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028.  Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at (888) 334-6344 or (323) 464-6453.

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