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1721

Protection of Government Processes—Obstruction of Justice—Scope of 18 U.S.C. § 1503

Section 1503 of Title 18, United States Code, as amended by the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, forbids tampering with or retaliating against any grand or petit juror, or any officer in or of any court of the United States by threats or force or by "endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede." Section 1503 also contains an omnibus clause prohibiting the obstruction of "the due administration of justice." By virtue of the omnibus clause, many courts have held that it is possible to obstruct justice under section 1503 by means similar to, but different from, those specifically enumerated in the first part of the provision. United States v. Saget, 991 F.2d 702, 713 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 950 (1993); United States v. Neal, 951 F.2d 630, 632 (5th Cir. 1992); United States v. Rasheed, 663 F.2d 843, 850-52 (9th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, sub. nom. Phillips v. United States, 454 U.S. 1157 (1982). A party may be prosecuted under section 1503 for endeavoring to obstruct justice, United States v. Neal, supra; United States v. Williams, 874 F.2d 968, 976 (5th Cir. 1989); it is no defense that such obstruction was unsuccessful, United States v. Edwards, 36 F.3d 639, 645 (7th Cir. 1994); United States v. Neal, supra; or that it was impossible to accomplish, United States v. Bucey, 876 F.2d 1297, (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1004 (1989); United States v. Brimberry, 744 F.2d 580 (7th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1039 (1987).

The term "officer in or of any court of the United States" includes:

  • United States District Judges, United States v. Jones, 663 F.2d 567 (5th Cir. 1981) (by implication); United States v. Glickman, 604 F.2d 625 (9th Cir. 1979) (by implication), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1080 (1980); United States v. Fasolino, 586 F.2d 939 (2d Cir. 1978) (per curiam) (by implication); United States v. Margoles, 294 F.2d 371, 373 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 930 (1961);

  • United States Attorneys, Jones, supra; United States v. Polakoff, 112 F.2d 888, 890 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 311 U.S. 653 (1940);

  • United States Bankruptcy Judges, United States v. Fulbright, 69 F.3d 1468 (9th Cir. 1995) (by implication);

  • Supreme Court Justices, United States Courts of Appeals Judges, United States Magistrate Judges, clerks of Federal courts, law clerks to Federal judges, Federal court staff attorneys, Federal court reporters, Federal prosecutors and defense counsel.

Because 18 U.S.C. § 1503 applies to civil, as well as criminal judicial proceedings, Roberts v. United States, 239 F.2d 467, 470 (9th Cir. 1956); Sneed v. United States, 298 F. 911, 912 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 265 U.S. 590 (1924); see Nye v. United States, 137 F.2d 73 (4th Cir.) (by implication), cert. denied, 320 U.S. 755 (1943), private attorneys are, arguably, also covered by the statute.

A venireman is a "petit juror" within the meaning of section 1503. United States v. Jackson, 607 F.2d 1219, 1222 (8th Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1080 (1980); see United States v. Osborn, 415 F.2d 1021, 1024 (6th Cir. 1969) (en banc), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1015 (1970).

The majority of United States Courts of Appeals have held that 18 U.S.C. § 1503 may be used to charge a defendant with witness tampering. United States v. Moody, 977 F.2d 1420 (11th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 944 (1993); United States v. Kenny, 973 F.2d 339 (4th Cir. 1992); United States v. Branch, 850 F.2d 1080 (5th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1018 (1989); United States v. Risken, 788 F.2d 1361 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 923 (1986); United States v. Rovetuso, 768 F.2d 809 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1076 (1986); United States v. Lester, 749 F.2d 1288 (9th Cir. 1984). But see United States v. Masterpol, 940 F.2d 760 (2d Cir. 1991) (construing the 1988 amendment to section 1512 as evidence of Congress's intent that witnesses were removed entirely from section 1503).

[cited in USAM 9-69.100]