obstruction of justice | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Obstruction of justice is any act that interferes with the administration of justice, including impeding an investigation, tampering with evidence, or intimidating a witness.

Breaking Down Obstruction of Justice

Let’s dive deeper into the concept of obstruction of justice. In the realm of criminal justice, ensuring justice isn’t just about punishing those who commit crimes. It’s also about making sure the legal process works smoothly. This is where the idea of “obstruction of justice” comes into play. Obstruction of justice involves any act that attempts to interfere with the legal process.

Ways to Obstruct Justice

There are many ways someone might try to obstruct justice. A person might interfere with an ongoing investigation, for instance. This could involve giving false information to the police or hiding a person who is wanted by the police.

Tampering with evidence is another form of obstruction. For example, if a person destroys, alters, or hides evidence that could be used in a trial, they’re obstructing justice.

Intimidating a witness is also considered obstruction. If a person threatens or harms a witness to stop them from testifying, that’s a serious crime. After all, witnesses play a crucial role in helping the court determine the truth.

Why Obstruction of Justice is Serious

Obstruction of justice is considered a serious crime. Why? Well, think about it. If people could interfere with investigations or trials without any consequences, it would be much harder to enforce the law and ensure justice. People could commit crimes and then try to cover up their actions or intimidate witnesses without fear of punishment.

Penalties for Obstruction of Justice

Because obstruction of justice is so serious, it carries significant penalties. These can include fines, probation, and even prison time. The exact penalty depends on the nature of the obstruction and the laws of the jurisdiction.

Obstruction of Justice in the Real World

High-profile cases often involve allegations of obstruction of justice. For instance, if a public official is accused of trying to interfere with an investigation into their actions, that’s a case of alleged obstruction of justice.

Elements of the Crime

The Model Penal Code (MPC), a framework that serves to guide and standardize criminal law in the United States, provides a specific definition of obstruction of justice.

According to the MPC, obstruction of justice involves the act of purposely obstructing, impairing, preventing, or perverting the administration of law or other governmental function or preventing or attempting to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act.

Let’s break that down. For obstruction of justice to occur under the MPC, there are three key elements that must be satisfied:

  1. Intent: The individual must purposely obstruct the justice process. Accidental interference is not considered obstruction of justice. The person’s intent to hinder the process is critical to establishing the offense.
  2. Action: The individual must undertake a specific action that obstructs justice. This could be anything from physically interfering with an investigation to intimidating a witness or official involved in the legal process. Mere thoughts or intentions are not enough; a specific action must take place.
  3. Effect on a Public Servant’s Duties: The action taken by the individual must hinder a public servant—like a judge, police officer, or government official—from performing their official duties. This means that the act must have a substantial impact on the legal or governmental process.

Thus, under the MPC, the crime involves a purposeful action that impedes the functions of a public servant or the justice system. Given the seriousness of this offense, penalties can be severe, including imprisonment and hefty fines.


All in all, this is a critical concept in criminal law. It refers to any actions that interfere with the legal process, such as impeding an investigation, tampering with evidence, or intimidating witnesses. Penalties can be severe, reflecting the serious nature of these offenses. By understanding and punishing obstruction of justice, the legal system works to ensure that justice is served fairly and effectively.

Learn More

On Other Site

  • Lavin, S., Bell, J., Dunker, M., & McBride, M. (2019). Obstruction of justiceAm. Crim. L. Rev.56, 1201.

On This Site

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Last Modified: 03/10/2023


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