Obstruction of Justice Under Massachusetts Law
Obstruction of justice is a common law crime first recognized in 1859. Since it is a common law crime, the elements of the crime are not set by statute and may be modified to fit the crime. In order to prove the defendant guilty of obstruction of justice, the Commonwealth must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant:
- Law enforcement authorities were investigating an alleged crime;
- The defendant was aware of that investigation;
- The defendant requested, counseled, or otherwise endeavored to persuade a witness not to cooperate with those conducting the investigation or to lie to those conducting the investigation, lied to the police himself, destroyed, altered, or hid evidence of the crime; and,
- The defendant did so knowingly, willfully, and corruptly with the intent of interfering with the investigation.
Obstruction of Justice Under Federal Law
Obstruction of justice is also a federal crime, under 18 U.S.C. §§1501-1521. The federal laws cover a broad range of ways one can “obstruct justice.” Witness tampering, obstructing judicial, congressional, or administrative hearings, using threats or force to prevent the production of evidence, are all covered under this section of federal law.
Examples of Obstruction of Justice
Essentially, an individual obstructs justice when he interferes with those involved in a criminal investigation (police officers, prosecutors, witnesses, investigators, etc.). If the police bring an individual in for questioning, or question him on scene and the defendant lies, he may be guilty of obstructing justice.
If an individual destroys evidence connected to a crime, he may be guilty of obstructing justice. Aaron Hernandez allegedly destroyed surveillance video from the night Odin Lloyd was murdered. Though technically the security system installed in Hernandez’s home was his property, destroying it could be considered obstruction of justice.
An individual may not, however, be charged with obstructing justice for refusing to answer a law enforcement officer’s questions. Every individual has a Fifth Amendment Right to refuse to answer questions if those answers might incriminate him.