The criminal justice system is supposed to provide fair and impartial treatment to all, and it serves to rightfully determine the guilt or innocence of any person accused of a crime. The federal government has laws to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system and punish those who try to impede or interfere with government investigations, prosecutions, and sentencing. Anyone who willfully interferes with court proceedings, law enforcement actions, or criminal investigations can face serious criminal charges.
Crimes involving someone interfering with or impeding the administration of justice fall under the umbrella of obstruction of justice. The federal government has numerous statutes that define related offenses, such as obstruction of court orders.
If you have been arrested or are under investigation for federal obstruction of court orders, you need to understand how the government defines the crime and what other charges prosecutors can attempt to bring against you.
You should also understand how you can best defend yourself and increase your chances of getting a favorable outcome, and you should consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible for help.
Obstruction of Court Orders and Other Related Crimes
Obstruction of court orders is a specific statute that falls under the U.S. Code of obstruction of justice. A broad category, obstruction of justice includes a wide range of prohibited acts that include:
- Destroying evidence
- Influencing or intimidating a juror or witness
- Retaliating against a witness, victim, or informant
- Impeding a criminal investigation
- Obstructing a federal process
- Assaulting a process server
- Stealing or altering court records
- Obstructing a financial institution examination, criminal healthcare investigation, or federal audit
- Conspiring to defraud the United States
Additionally, many statutes have sub-sections that further define related offenses, and the specific charges you can face will depend on the circumstances of your case and the types of obstruction you allegedly committed.
All obstruction of justice offenses refer to willful acts someone takes to interfere with or impede the criminal justice process, and obstruction of court records prohibits someone from using threats or force to willfully prevent, obstruct, or interfere with the due exercise of rights or performance of any federal court order, judgment, or decree. The law also prohibits someone from attempting such acts, but you must have engaged in an act that shows you were serious about committing the offense.
In simplest terms, you can face charges of obstruction of court orders if you try to thwart someone from conducting their duties regarding a court order by using threats or force against them. You can also face charges if you threaten or force someone to alter or destroy any physical document that contains a court order, such as forcing a court employee to shred a warrant or subpoena.
If convicted, you can face up to a year in prison along with fines.
How You Face Charges of Obstruction of Court Orders
All obstruction of justice charges refer to willfully interfering with the criminal justice process, and this includes government investigations and instances where no court proceedings have actually begun.
One famous example is Martha Stewart. While being investigated for securities fraud, she lied to federal investigators and was charged and convicted of obstruction of justice. Her initial charges for securities fraud were eventually dismissed, but she received five months in prison, another five months of house arrest, and two years of probation for obstruction.
Obstruction charges can arise from interfering with active cases and investigations, pending court cases, and official court proceedings. Furthermore, prosecutors can use obstruction charges as a so-called “pretextual prosecution,” where they will charge and convict you of a lesser crime because they don't have enough evidence to prosecute you for a more serious offense.
To face obstruction charges, you don't have to be charged or found guilty of another crime, and you can face charges for obstruction even if you are not involved in the case. For instance, you can face charges if you were to threaten a material witness for a case involving a family member or an officer who was serving a warrant on your friend.
The key element of obstruction of court orders is the use of threats or force. However, federal prosecutors may also tack on additional charges that fall within the realm of obstruction of justice, which could lead to harsher penalties. Some obstruction of justice charges can result in maximum prison sentences of up to 10 or 20 years.
Obstruction of Court Orders in New Jersey
Along with facing federal charges, you can also face state charges of obstruction of court orders if the crime occurred in New Jersey. State law prohibits any act of interfering or impeding the administration of law enforcement, and it includes the use of “force, violence, or physical interference.”
Penalties can range from six months in jail or up to 18 months in prison, and fines can range from $1,000 to $10,000.
Defenses for Obstruction of Court Orders
Since the elements of the crime are that you willfully attempted to hamper criminal proceedings and used threats or force, the prosecution will have to prove those elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
Your defense options will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case, but you may be able to show you did not use threats or force and that you did not, in fact, willfully perpetrate obstruction in any way in the first place.
Considering the potential impact on your life and future, you need to evaluate all of your defense options, and you need to consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately for a complete and objective review of your case.
Contact an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team have many years of experience defending clients in New Jersey district court on federal obstruction of court orders charges and other federal offenses. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.