Obstruction of Justice
Frequently, when prosecutors are unable to successfully convict an individual of a certain crime, they will charge that person with obstruction of justice instead. In Martha Stewart’s case, for instance, Stewart was found guilty of obstruction of justice, although prosecutors initially intended to charge her with insider trading. To read more on the Martha Stewart case, read Joshua Chaffin’s Martha Stewart convicted over share sale (FIN. TIMES MAR. 6, 2004 AT 1). This page will discuss three obstruction of justice statutes, 18 U.S.C. § 1505 (2005), 18 U.S.C. § 1509 (2005), and 18 U.S.C. § 1510 (2005), although there are many more not noted here.
18 U.S.C. § 1505 (2005).
Under section 1505, it is a crime for a person
- who has the intent to avoid, evade, prevent, or obstruct compliance with a civil investigation that was properly made under 15 U.S.C. §§ 1311 et seq., to
- willfully withhold, misrepresent, remove from any place, conceal, cover up, destroy, mutilate, alter, or by other means falsify any
- documentary material,
- answer to written interrogatories, or
- oral testimony,
- which is the subject of such demand;
It is also a violation for a person to attempt to do any of the previous, or solicit another to do so.
It is also a violation of section 1505 for a person to
- corruptly, or by threat or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences,
- obstruct, or
- impede or endeavor to influence, obstruct, or impede
- the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or
- the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress
A violation of section 1505 can be punished by
- a fine, imprisonment for not more than 5 years or, both.
If the offense involves international or domestic terrorism the punishment can be
- a fine, imprisonment for not more than 8 years, or both.
Case Law Interpreting Section 1505
A violation of the obstruction of justice statutes, including section 1505, can occur even if the "corrupt" behavior is not per se illegal in and of itself. See United States v. Mitchell, 877 F.2d 294, 299 (2d Cir. 1973). For a defendant to be found guilty of a violation of section 1505 for acting corruptly, it is necessary that the defendant's acts were performed with the intent to obstruct the administration of law. See United States v. Abrams, 427 F.2d 86, 90 (2d Cir. 1970). The specific intent required for a conviction for obstruction of justice under section 1505 is that he acts "corruptly"; in other words, the act must be committed with the purpose of obstructing justice. United States v. Laurins, 857 F.2d 529 536-37 (9th Cir. 1988). Concealing documents falls within this definition, as does submitting false documents in response to an IRS subpoena. Id. See also United States v. Tallant, 407 F. Supp. 878, 888 (N.D. Ga. 1975) (presentation of falsified records to the Securities and Exchange Commission constituted violation of section 1505 regardless or whether the falsification occurred prior to the commencement of the proceeding). In some instances, evasive answers falls within the category of corrupt of false means. See United States v. Alo, 439 F.2d 751 754 (2d Cir. 1971).
18 U.S.C. § 1509 (2005).
Under section 1509, it is a crime for a person, by threats or force, to
- prevent, obstruct, impede, or interfere with, or
- attempts to prevent, obstruct, impede, or interfere with,
- the due exercise of rights or the performance of duties under any order, judgment, or decree of a court of the United States.
A violation of section 1509 can be punished by
- a fine, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
Case Law Interpreting Section 1509
To convict someone for a violation of section 1509, the government must introduce evidence from which it can be inferred that the defendant had actual knowledge that a court order existed at the time of his alleged activities. United States v. Griffin, 525 F.2d 710, 712-13 (1st Cir. 1975). Where nothing indicated that the members of a crowd knew or realized that the policy of busing that it was protesting emanated from a federal court, evidence was insufficient to support a conviction under section 1509. Id. at 713.
18 U.S.C. § 1510 (2005).
Under section 1510, the following are crimes.
- Whoever willfully endeavors by means of bribery to obstruct, delay, or prevent the communication of information relating to a violation of any criminal statute of the United States by any person to a criminal investigator; 18 U.S.C. § 1510(a);
- Whoever, being an officer of a financial institution, with the intent to obstruct a judicial proceeding, directly or indirectly notifies any other person about the existence or contents of a subpoena for records of that financial institution, or information that has been furnished to the grand jury in response to that subpoena, id. § 1510(b)(1)
- Whoever, being an officer of a financial institution, directly or indirectly notifies-
- a customer of that financial institution whose records are sought by a grand jury subpoena; id. § 1510(b)(2)(A)
- any other person named in that subpoena; is. § 1510(b)(2(B)
- about the existence or contents of that subpoena or information that has been furnished to the grand jury in response to that subpoena, id. § 1510(b)(2)
- acting as, or being, an officer, director, agent or employee of a person engaged in the business of insurance whose activities affect interstate commerce, id. § 1510(d)(1)(A)
- is engaged in the business of insurance whose activities affect interstate commerce or is involved (other than as an insured or beneficiary under a policy of insurance) in a transaction relating to the conduct of affairs of such a business, id. § 1510(d)(1)(B),
- with intent to obstruct a judicial proceeding, directly or indirectly notifies any other person about the existence or contents of a subpoena for records of that person engaged in such business or information that has been furnished to a Federal grand jury in response to that subpoena, id. § 1510(d)(1).
The punishment for violating section 1510(b)(2)
- a fine, imprisonment for not more than 1year, or both.
For all other violations of section 1510, the punishment is
- a fine imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both.
Case Law Interpreting Section 1510
The elements that must be proven in a case brought under section 1510 are
- Willful endeavor by means of certain actions to prevent communication of information relative to violation of any criminal statute of the United States and
- The Criminal investigator must be an individual authorized by a department or agency of the United States to conduct or engage in investigations of all prosecution for a violation of the criminal laws of the United States. United States v. Williams, 470 F.2d 1339, 1342 (8th Cir. 1973).
To violate section 1510(a) all a defendant needs to believe is that a witness may give information to federal officials and then prevent that communication. United States v. Hunt, 372 F.3d 1010, 1013(8th Cir. 2004). Furthermore, an actual investigation does not need to be taking place for a charge under section 1010 to be brought. United States v, Lippman, 492 F.2d 314, 317 (6th Cir. 1974).
Finally, the term "endeavor" requires less evidentiary proof than the term "attempt." United States v. Leisure, 844 F.2d 1347, 1366 (8th Cir. 1988).
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