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What actions are considered obstruction of justice?

The term "obstruction of justice" sounds like the stuff of FBI investigations and large-scale cases regarding money laundering or corporate malfeasance. However, it covers a much broader range of activities that involve impeding an investigation or prosecution of a crime. Obstruction of justice can result in felony charges.

Lying to law enforcement authorities is a common form of obstruction. In this country, we are not required to answer a police officer's or other law enforcement agent's questions. We can also invoke marital or spousal privilege to avoid incriminating a spouse. However, if someone knowingly makes false statements to law enforcement, whether verbally or in writing, he or she is breaking the law.

Lying to a federal agent can land a person behind bars for as long as five years. Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart spent time in prison for making false statements to federal authorities.

Intentionally destroying or hiding evidence to impede a law enforcement investigation is also considered obstruction of justice. This can be something as simple as throwing away or even altering documents.

The evidence doesn't have to be physical. Often, evidence crucial to solving a crime is digital. For example, a cab driver was charged with obstruction of justice in the Boston Marathon bombing case for allegedly deleting items in his internet search history that related to the two bombers. Those found guilty of impeding a federal investigation in this manner can face two decades in prison.

Interfering with another witness's testimony may also be considered obstruction of justice. This may be done through bribery, intimidation or other type of persuasion.

If you are accused of a crime or asked to provide information in an investigation, it's always wise to have an attorney by your side. An attorney's job is to protect your rights and help ensure that you don't place yourself at unnecessary legal risk.

Source: FindLaw, "What Is Obstruction of Justice?," Brett Snider, Esq., accessed Jan. 31, 2018

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