Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.

It’s a question that has garnered much attention following former FBI Director James Comey’s allegations that President Donald Trump requested Comey drop his investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 elections.

What, exactly, is obstruction of justice in today’s America?

Indeed, it’s a good question, as the term can be loosely applied to a variety of situations.

What is it, really? Do you know?

What Is Obstruction of Justice

In those fancy legal terms we all love to read, obstruction of justice includes anyone who “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.”

In laymen’s speech, this means that obstruction of justice occurs whenever anyone tries to tamper with the justice system.

The purpose is key here, as malicious intent must be present for an action to be categorized as an obstruction.

This crime applies only to federal judicial proceedings, but it can also include tampering with Congress proceedings or any other federal agency. Usually, other serious offenses accompany an obstruction of justice.

The charge should not be confused with obstruction of official business, which occurs when someone impedes a public official in executing his or her duties.

Past Examples

Because of the many types of criminal and civil matters that are determined by the law, these charges can vary in nature:

– Withholding information

– Giving false testimony

– Harming or threatening an official

– Destroying or altering evidence

– Hindering criminal charges or sentencing in any way

The past is littered with examples demonstrating the nature of these charges, but they gain most of their attention when they are executed by public officials.

The most famous example is within an event almost every American knows: Watergate. When President Nixon attempted to cover up the Watergate Scandal, he faced obstruction charges. He resigned before he could be tried in court.

Another instance could be seen in 2007, when Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former chief of staff, was convicted for perjury in front of a grand jury and for lying to investigators.

Punitive Measures

If an individual is charged with obstruction of justice at the federal level, he or she will generally be sentenced to five years in prison. However, if the obstruction hindered the proceedings of a trial, the individual may face the maximum sentence that could be provided in that trial.

For instance, if evidence was destroyed in a case that could involve a 20-year prison sentence, the person in question could face that charge, as well. If the obstructed was the defendant in the case, the original maximum penalty could be doubled.

Today’s America

Obstruction of justice is not limited to public officials. According to The Law Offices of John W. Tumelty, a criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey, many commonly-seen acts can be categorized under this crime.

Fleeing a scene and lying to or being uncooperative with an officer can propel these charges, too.