Federal Obstruction of Justice Charges in New York
Federal obstruction of justice charges in New Yok should be taken extremely seriously. 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. 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.
Additionally, 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) Given the grave consequences of a conviction, an individual accused of this crime should immediately retain a skilled criminal defense attorney who has experience handling these charges.
What Constitutes Obstruction Under Federal Law?
The specific elements that make up a federal obstruction of justice charge in New York can vary a lot depending on what a defendant is specifically alleged to have done. Generally, though, there are three major criteria that must be present for a defendant’s actions to be considered illegally obstructive:
- Some kind of federal judicial proceeding was ongoing
- The defendant was aware the proceeding in question was occurring
- The defendant knowingly and intentionally tried to prevent the proceeding from continuing for corrupt purposes
The first element is usually what gives federal courts jurisdiction over obstruction of justice charges. However, it is also possible for a federal court to take over a state-level case if the defendant allegedly tried to obstruct an investigation that a federal agency was also participating in.
Importantly, a person does not have to successfully obstruct justice to be charged with this offense. If some kind of attempt to willfully obstruct a federal judicial proceeding or investigation was made, charges may follow.
Specific Obstruction Charges Under Federal Law
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 to influence or impede any juror or officer in any court or the due administration of justice in any case may face imprisonment for 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 States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593, 598 (1995); United States v. Solow, 138 F. Supp. 812, 814 (S.D.N.Y. 1956)
Additionally, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1510(a), whoever bribes or tries to prevent communications relating to the commission of a federal crime to a criminal investigator may receive a fine and/or a prison sentence 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. Finally, according to 18 U.S.C. § 1509, whoever by threats of force, willfully prevents or impedes an order or decree of any court of the United States is guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by up to one year of imprisonment.
Are there Other Related Charges to Obstruction of Justice?
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 their attendance or testimony in an official 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 may be sentenced to 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 could 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, may be imprisoned by up to 30 years upon conviction. Whoever uses some lesser means of intimidation, or corruptly persuades another person 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 these 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.
How Does Someone Contest Federal Obstruction Allegations?
The most straightforward defense strategy against federal obstruction of justice allegations in New York is demonstrating that there was no intent to interfere in any federal process. If a defendant did not intend to hinder an investigation or judicial proceeding, or if they were genuinely unaware that their actions could have that effect, they may be able to avoid a conviction for this offense.
In some cases, it may be possible to contest obstruction charges if the circumstances of the defendant’s arrest do not meet the minimum criteria to justify a conviction. For example, a person can only be charged with obstructing a federal audit if a contract worth more than $100,000 per year is involved. Failing that, a seasoned legal professional could seek an acquittal based on a lack of evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant knowingly obstructed justice.
A New York Attorney Could Help with Federal Obstruction of Justice Charges
If you have been charged with federal obstruction of justice, you should get in touch with the attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman. We 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 for a free consultation.