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Criminal Resource Manual

1720. Protection Of Government Processes -- Overview

This chapter on obstruction of justice covers those statutes in Title 18, Chapter 73, that protect the integrity of proceedings before the Federal judiciary, Federal executive departments and agencies, and Congress, as well as individuals connected with those proceedings. Section 4 of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 (hereinafter "VWPA"), Pub. L. No. 97-291, § 4, 96 Stat. 1248, 1249-53, thoroughly overhauled and revised this area of the law. Several provisions were amended further by the Criminal Law and Procedure Technical Amendments Act of 1986 (hereinafter "CLPTA"), Pub. L. No. 99-646.

Prior to the enactment of the VWPA, the primary objects of the protection of Chapter 73 were witnesses and parties in ongoing proceedings (former 18 U.S.C. §§  1503, 1505) and informants (former 18 U.S.C. §  1510). The VWPA reorganized and expanded the coverage of Chapter 73 and transferred most of the work that had been allocated to former 18 U.S.C. §§ 1503, 1505, and 1510 to the new sections of 1512 and 1513. In addition, the former statutory scheme was organized on the basis of the identification of the victim of the illegal act as either a witness or party. Sections 1512 and 1513 eliminate these categories and focus instead on the intent of the wrongdoer. If the illegal act was intended to affect the future conduct of any person in connection with his/her participation in Federal proceedings or his/her communication of information to Federal law enforcement officers, it is covered by 18 U.S.C. § 1512. If, on the other hand, the illegal act was intended as a response to past conduct of that nature, it is covered by 18 U.S.C. § 1513.

The following statutes are now the chief elements of Chapter 73 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which is entitled "Obstruction of Justice":

18 U.S.C. § 1512 prohibits the use of intimidation, harassment, threats or physical force, including killing or attempts to kill, that is aimed at affecting the presentation of evidence in official proceedings or at impeding the communication of information to law enforcement officers. Section 1512 protects victims of crime, witnesses and informants. Included within this protection is any person who is intimidated, harassed, or killed on account of his/her being, or on account of his/her relation to, a victim, witness or informant. The provision applies to acts occurring inside as well as outside the United States.

18 U.S.C. § 1512 is not limited by the "pending proceeding" requirement of §§ 1503 and 1505. Accordingly, it is not necessary to show that an official proceeding is pending or about to be instituted at the time of the offense. In addition, § 1512 proscribes misleading conduct intended to obstruct justice and thereby fills a gap in the law of those circuits that have held that such conduct is not covered by the omnibus clauses of §§  1503 and 1505.

18 U.S.C. § 1513 fills gaps in the law by proscribing threats of retaliation and attempts to retaliate by causing or threatening to cause bodily injury or damage to tangible property of a witness, victim or informant who participated in an official proceeding or who communicated information to law enforcement officers. Like § 1512, the Federal courts have extraterritorial jurisdiction over acts occurring outside the United States.

18 U.S.C. § 1515 defines the terms used in 18 U.S.C. §§  1512 and 1513. As enacted in the Criminal Law and Procedure Technical Amendments Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-646, Congress made it clear that the bona fide provision of legal representation services in connection with or in anticipation of an official proceeding does not constitute an obstruction of justice offense. See 18 U.S.C. § 1515(b).

The statutes that form the remainder of Chapter 73, 18 U.S.C. §§  1501, 1502, 1504, 1506 to 1509, and 1511, are not discussed in this chapter.

[cited in USAM 9-69.010]