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obstruction of justice

Obstruction of Justice (aka perverting the course of justice) is a broad term that simply boils down to charging an individual for knowingly lying to law enforcement in order to change to course/outcome of a case, or lying to protect another person. The charge may also be brought against the person who destroys, hides, or alters evidence.

Penalties for obstruction of justice vary from state to state, and the federal government. For example, in Virginia, Obstruction of Justice is a class 1 misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

Misdemeanor Classes in Virginia

§ 18.2-11. Punishment for conviction of a misdemeanor.

The authorized punishments for conviction of a misdemeanor are:

(a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.

(b) For Class 2 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than six months and a fine of not more than $1,000, either or both.

(c) For Class 3 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $500.

(d) For Class 4 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $250.

The federal government sees the crime of obstruction in a different light. In their eyes, obstruction is a felony that carries a stiff penalty. For example, in 2010, a Georgia deputy sheriff, Mitnee Jones, was convicted of Obstruction for lying to the FBI and providing false statements as part of an investigation into the death of a Fulton County jail inmate.

The jury convicted Jones of filing a false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation, making a false material statement about the incident to a Special Agent of the FBI, and obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury investigating the death of the inmate.

Jones faced a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for filing the false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation; five years for making a false material statement about the incident to the FBI, and 10 years for obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury. However, at sentencing, Jones received a much lighter sentence of one year and three months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

Not all obstruction of justice cases are simple, with paper trails to follow. Remember Martha Stewart? The government’s criminal case against Stewart was based solely on the fact that she made false and misleading statements to the SEC, and those accusations led to Stewart’s conviction for obstruction of justice, and the charge of lying to federal investigators.

By the way, the feds love to add obstruction charges to their cases (every suspect lies to the police at some point, right?).

federal bureau investigation

They do so because the threat of the additional 5-year sentence for obstruction is a great bargaining tool when offering a plea deal (We’ll drop the obstruction charge if you plead guilty to possession of the cocaine).

Here’s the obstruction section from the Code of Virginia:

Obstruction of Justice – Code of Virginia

§ 18.2-460. Obstructing justice; penalty.

A. If any person without just cause knowingly obstructs a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 in the performance of his duties as such or fails or refuses without just cause to cease such obstruction when requested to do so by such judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

B. Except as provided in subsection C, any person who, by threats or force, knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 lawfully engaged in his duties as such, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

C. If any person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, lawfully engaged in the discharge of his duty, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court relating to a violation of or conspiracy to violate § 18.2-248 or subdivision (a) (3), (b) or (c) of § 18.2-248.1, or § 18.2-46.2 or § 18.2-46.3, or relating to the violation of or conspiracy to violate any violent felony offense listed in subsection C of § 17.1-805, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

D. Any person who knowingly and willfully makes any materially false statement or representation to a law-enforcement officer or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 who is in the course of conducting an investigation of a crime by another is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

* Not everyone who lies to local and state police is charged with obstruction. If so, nearly every person who’s been questioned by officers would be in jail, because, based on my experiences, approximately 9 out of 10 suspects lie when they’re in the “hot seat.”

When it comes to charging someone with obstruction, well, you’ve got to carefully pick your battles, and then fight them wisely.


“Don’t Tell Me No Lies” ~ The Golliwogs

Writers sometimes fail to capture what really goes on beyond the yellow tape at crime scenes. The reasons vary for these unfortunate omissions of solid information, but one theme is common … the use TV or film as research tools. How awful, right?

The little things often go unsaid, even though those details are often quite important!

 

So what are authors missing when they use television as their sole source of cop-type information?

Well, here’s a six-pack of helpful hints for those characters whose duty is to investigate a crime scene.

1. Death Scene Documentation, Evidence Collection, and Chain of Custody of the Body

Before the medical examiner enters the scene, be sure to preserve any evidence that may be altered, contaminated, or destroyed. You certainly wouldn’t want the M.E.’s footsteps to wipe out the suspect’s shoe prints, alter blood stain evidence, or mar tire impressions. Document the M.E.’s time of arrival, who called him and when, and what time the body was removed from the scene. Also, make note of the seal number placed on the body bag, if a seal was used. If not, note that the M.E. did not seal the bag and have an officer escort the body to the morgue, if possible. This simple act keeps the chain of custody intact.

2. Water Scenes: What’s Important? – Always document the water type (pond, river, lake, creek, etc.). Record the water temperature and the depth of the water where the body was found, if possible. Make note of and photograph the surroundings. It’s possible that the victim had been swinging from the rope hanging from the limb in that large oak tree, slipped, and then fell onto that large rock jutting out of the water. Everything is a clue. Record the position of the body in the water. Was it face down, or face up? Totally underwater, or floating? That could help determine how long the body had been in the water. Follow the clues!

3. Shoes – Everyone entering a crime scene should wear shoe covers. If not, pay particular attention to their shoes. Yours included. Photograph the bottoms of everyone’s shoes so you’ll be able to recognize the tread patterns when comparing impression evidence back at the office or lab.

4. Photograph Impressed Evidence – Always take a picture of impressed evidence (tire tracks, footprints, etc.). If something were to go wrong while you’re processing evidence and you hadn’t photographed before you started … well, you’re, as they say … SOL.

5. Fingerprinting Wet Surfaces – Don’t let a little rain stop you from lifting fingerprints. There are a couple of ways to obtain a good set of prints from wet surfaces—Wet Print, a spray on mixture that develops black prints instantly, and SPR, another spray on product that requires a little mixing before applying.

6. Gloves – Use a different pair of gloves when handling each piece of evidence. This is an important step that prevents cross-contamination. You certainly don’t want to transfer someone’s DNA from room to room, especially if that makes an innocent person appear to have been somewhere he hasn’t! And, it is possible to leave your prints on a surface even while wearing thin, latex gloves. Cotton gloves eliminate this problem.

Angry DNA says, “Wearing gloves helps prevent contamination of evidence.”