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What Is Obstruction of Justice?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on December 6, 2021

Under federal law, obstruction of justice is defined as an act that “corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.” California statutes do not name any particular offense as “obstruction of Justice.” However, several different crimes fall into this general category.

Among other offenses, they include:

  • Offering false evidence
  • Preparing false evidence
  • Destroying evidence
  • Tampering with a witness

What Is Offering or Preparing False Evidence?

In California, it is a felony offense to offer false documents into evidence in a legal proceeding, under Penal Code Section 132. A false document is one that has been altered, forged, or antedated. Preparing false evidence is also a felony, under Penal Code Section 134. This crime involves preparing any false or antedated document with the intention of producing it or allowing it to be produced as genuine for a fraudulent or deceitful purpose in any trial, proceeding, or inquiry authorized by law.

What Is Destroying Evidence?

A person who willfully destroys, erases, or conceals evidence in a trial, investigation, or inquiry authorized by law with the intent to prevent that evidence from being produced is guilty of a misdemeanor offense under Penal Code Section 135. This law applies to any papers, books, written instruments, records, video recordings, digital images, or anything about to be produced as evidence in a legal matter.

What Is Witness Tampering?

Bribing, influencing, intimidating, or threatening a witness is prohibited under California Penal Code Section 136. This offense involves preventing or attempting to prevent a victim or witness from reporting or testifying about a crime or cooperating with the prosecution. Depending on the circumstance of the case and whether force was used to intimidate or tamper with a witness, this crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

What Are the Criminal Penalties for Obstruction of Justice Offenses?

Obstruction of justice crimes carry heavy penalties in California. For example, upon conviction:

  • Offering false documents into evidence or preparing false evidence is punishable by up to three years in state prison or felony probation.
  • Destroying evidence carries penalties of up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Tampering with or intimidating a witness is a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by a jail sentence of up to one year. As a felony, possible penalties include a four-year prison sentence.

What Are the Legal Defenses Against Obstruction of Justice Charges?

The legal defenses your attorney employs will depend on the circumstances of your case. Common defenses against charges of obstruction of justice crimes include:

  • Lack of intent: The defendant must have acted knowingly to be guilty of an obstruction of justice crime. For example, it is not a crime to destroy records or documents without knowing they were evidence.
  • Mistaken identity: The burden is on the prosecution to prove the defendant was the person who intimidated a witness, prepared false evidence, or destroyed evidence. This can be a strong defense, particularly when you have an alibi for the time the act was committed.

If you have been charged with an obstruction of justice offense, contact Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP at (213) 688-0460. We are efficient, effective, and ready to fight. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers have decades of experience and a proven track record for our clients. We pride ourselves on delivering the best criminal defense available to every person we represent.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense