Obstruction of justice.

Author:McLaughlin, Jeremy
Position:Twenty-Second Annual Survey of White Collar Crime
  1. INTRODUCTION II. OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE: THE OMNIBUS PROVISION A. Scope of [section] 1503 B. Elements of a [section] 1503 Offense 1. Pending Judicial Proceedings 2. Knowledge of Pending Proceeding 3. Acting Corruptly with Intent a. Corrupt Intent b. Endeavor C. Acts Prosecuted Under [section] 1503 1. Concealment, Alteration, or Destruction of Documents 2. Encouraging or Rendering False Testimony D. Defenses to [section] 1503 1. Legal Impossibility 2. "Fear of Reprisal" E. Venue for Prosecution Under [section] 1503 F. Section 1505: The Agency Provision III. WITNESS TAMPERING A. Scope of [section][section] 1512 and 1513 B. Elements of a [section] 1512(b) Offense 1. Knowingly 2. Engaged in Enumerated Acts a. Intimidation, Physical Force, or Threats b. Misleading Conduct c. Corrupt Persuasion 3. Intent to Influence Testimony 4. Official Proceeding C. Other [section] 1512 Offenses and Issues 1. Re-lettering of [section] 1512 2. Section 1512(a) 3. Section 1512(c) 4. Section 1512(d) D. Defenses 1. Affirmative Defense Under [section] 1512 2. Constitutionality of [section][section] 1512 and 1513 E. Venue Under [section] 1512 IV. CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY A. Section 1519: Destruction, Alteration or Falsification of Documents B. Section 1520: Corporate Audit Records V. PENALTIES A. Section 1503 B. Sections 1512 and 1513 C. U.S.S.G. [section] 3C1.1 I. INTRODUCTION

    Obstruction of justice is any "interference with the orderly administration of law and justice," (1) and can be made up of "a medley of crimes." (2) This area of the law is governed principally by 18 U.S.C. [section] 1501 through [section] 1520, which protect the integrity of proceedings before the federal judiciary and other governmental bodies. (3) While many of the provisions address very particular categories of behavior, (4) this Article focuses specifically on the four provisions given the most expansive treatment by courts: [section][section] 1503, 1505, 1512, and 1513. This Article also will briefly examine the recently added [section][section] 1519 and 1520. Section II of this Article examines [section] 1503, which governs obstruction of justice affecting jurors, officers of the court, and judges, and [section] 1505, which governs obstruction of justice in proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees. Section III examines prohibitions against witness tampering under [section][section] 1512 and 1513. Section IV discusses corporate accountability under [section][section] 1519 and 1520. Finally, Section V discusses penalties under [section][section] 1503, 1512, and 1513.


    Section 1503 is known as the Omnibus Obstruction Provision ("Omnibus Provision") because it applies to a broad range of conduct. (5) It is designed "to protect individuals involved in federal judicial proceedings and to prevent 'miscarriages of justice by corrupt methods.'" (6) It also serves to "ensure that criminals [cannot] circumvent the law's purpose by devising novel and creative schemes that would interfere with administration of justice but would nonetheless fall outside the scope of [section] 1503's specific prohibitions." (7) The Omnibus Provision protects jurors and judicial officers from threats, intimidation, and retaliation. (8) Additionally, attempted bribery of officials to alter the outcome of a judicial proceeding is an offense under [section] 1503. (9) Moreover, most courts have applied [section] 1503 to acts of obstruction that affect witnesses. (10) Section 1505 applies to conduct similar to that addressed by [section] 1503, but in the context of federal agency proceedings rather than court proceedings. (11)

    This section discusses [section][section] 1503 and 1505 in six parts: Part A discusses the scope of [section] 1503; Part B delineates the elements of [section] 1503 offenses; Part C analyzes the acts prosecuted under [section] 1503; Part D presents various defenses to [section] 1503 charges; Part E describes issues relating to venue; and Part F surveys [section] 1505, the Agency Provision.

    1. Scope of [section] 1503

      The structure of [section] 1503 protects the judicial process in two ways. First, the specific language of the statute forbids corruptly (12) influencing any grand or petit juror or officer of the court by threats or force, or by letter or communication. (13) Second, the more general section of [section] 1503, the "Omnibus Clause," (14) "is essentially a catch-all provision that generally prohibits conduct that interferes with the 'due administration of justice.'" (15) In 1995, the Supreme Court, resolving a split among the circuits, (16) noted that the Omnibus Clause is a catchall provision that includes a broad range of actions. (17) Following the lead of several circuit courts that placed some limits on the construction of [section] 1503, (18) however, the Supreme Court stated that acts prosecuted under the "catchall" clause must have the "natural and probable" effect of interfering with the due administration of justice. (19) Section 1503 applies to both civil and criminal proceedings. (20)

    2. Elements of a [section] 1503 Offense

      Section 1503 applies to both actual and attempted obstructions of justice. (21) For a conviction, the government is typically required to prove: (i) a nexus with a pending federal judicial proceeding; (ii) that the defendant knew of or had notice of the proceeding; and (iii) that the defendant acted or attempted to act corruptly with intent to obstruct or interfere with the proceeding or due administration of justice. (22) In most courts, indictments are sufficient under [section] 1503 when they allege the above elements. (23) The First and Seventh Circuits, however, also explicitly require that a fact finder discern the motive that led the defendant to perform the alleged actions. (24)

      1. Pending Judicial Proceedings

        Most circuits agree that the existence of a pending judicial proceeding is a prerequisite for conviction under [section] 1503. (25) Accordingly, obstruction of an independent government investigation or official proceeding not connected with a pending judicial proceeding is generally excluded from prosecution. (26) However, the circuits disagree over when a proceeding becomes "pending." (27) Similarly, of the circuits that have addressed the issue of when a proceeding ceases to be "pending," the consensus is that a proceeding is pending for purposes of [section] 1503 until disposition is made of any direct appeal that would result in a new trial. (28)

      2. Knowledge of Pending Proceeding

        In circuits that require a pending proceeding, the government satisfies the knowledge element of [section] 1503 by showing that the accused knew of the proceeding. (29) In other words, a defendant must have knowledge, not mere awareness, that a grand jury is conducting an investigation in order to be convicted of obstructing that grand jury proceeding. (30)

      3. Acting Corruptly with Intent

        The intent element of [section] 1503 requires that a defendant corruptly and intentionally act (31) to obstruct a proceeding or the due administration of justice, or "endeavor" to interfere with a proceeding. (32) The intent element of an obstruction of justice offense is referred to as the "nexus" requirement. (33)

        1. Corrupt Intent

          Courts generally construe the statutory term "corruptly" as an intent requirement, though the meaning of the term can vary in different contexts. (34) There is a split amongst the circuits in exactly how the intent element is to be applied. (35) In Pettibone v. United States, the Supreme Court interpreted the "corrupt" intent requirement of the almost identically worded predecessor obstruction of justice statute, Rev.Stat. [section] 5399 (1878), finding that provision to require a level of intent consistent with the mens rea (36) of "specific intent," (37) i.e., intent to actually achieve a designated, predetermined result. (38) In 1979, however, the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Neiswender read the intent requirement to require less than specific intent, declaring that "[t]he defendant's actual design is irrelevant." (39) Instead, the Fourth Circuit created a two-step foreseeability rule for intent: first, "the defendant need only have had knowledge or notice that success in his fraud would have likely resulted in an obstruction of justice"; second, notice was "provided by the reasonable foreseeability of the natural and probable consequences of the defendant's acts." (40)

          Since Neiswender, courts, including those Circuits claiming to require specific intent, have found the intent requirement satisfied if the government shows that the defendant knowingly and intentionally undertook an action from which an obstruction of justice was a reasonably foreseeable result. (41) Furthermore, courts have held that specific intent may be inferred from circumstantial evidence. (42)

        2. Endeavor

          "Endeavor" has been defined as "any effort or assay to accomplish the evil purpose the section was enacted to prevent." (43) Actual obstruction need not be proved to establish a violation of [section] 1503; an endeavor to obstruct justice is sufficient. (44) Courts have consistently held that "endeavor" denotes a lesser threshold of purposeful activity than "attempt." (45) Specifically, the government need only prove that "the endeavor [has] the 'natural and probable effect' of interfering with the due administration of justice." (46) Courts have upheld convictions even where the endeavor had only a remote possibility of becoming an obstruction. (47)

          Courts have also ruled that, since [section] 1503 was designed to proscribe all corrupt methods of obstructing justice, force or intimidation is not an essential element of a corrupt endeavor to influence. (48) A broad variety of actions constitute endeavors for obstruction of justice purposes. For example, a defendant may be convicted of endeavoring to obstruct justice even when success is impossible, because the...

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