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Criminal Resource Manual

1723. Protection Of Government Processes -- State Of Mind Requirement --18 U.S.C. 1503

The state of mind requirement of 18 U.S.C. § 1503 has been a matter of some disagreement among the courts. Although there is agreement that the requisite intent arises from the statutory term "corruptly," which is part of both the main clause and the omnibus clause of section 1503, there has been a difference of opinion on whether "corruptly" requires a specific intent to obstruct justice.

Some courts have required only that the defendant "knowingly and intentionally undertook an action from which an obstruction of justice was a reasonably foreseeable result." United States v. Thomas, 916 F.2d 647, 651 (11th Cir. 1990). See also United States v. Saget, 991 F.2d 702, 713 (11th Cir.) (government not required to prove defendant had the specific purpose of obstructing justice), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 950 (1993); United States v. Kenny, 973 F.2d 339, 344 (4th Cir. 1992), citing United States v. Neiswender, 590 F.2d 1269, 1273 (4th Cir.) (defendant who intentionally undertakes an act or attempts to effectuate an arrangement, the reasonably foreseeable consequence of which is to obstruct justice, violates 18 U.S.C. § 1503 even if his hope is that the judicial machinery will not be seriously impaired), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 963 (1979); Knight v. United States, 310 F.2d 305 (5th Cir. 1962) ("specific intent must be to do some act or acts which tend to impede . . . the due administration of justice"); Ethridge v. United States, 258 F.2d 234, 235 (9th Cir. 1958) (defendant must "intend to do some act which would tend to corruptly impede or influence the administration of justice").

The weight of authority, however, requires the government prove that the defendant had a specific intent to obstruct or impede a pending judicial proceeding. United States v. Littleton, 76 F.3d 614, 619 (4th Cir. 1996) (false statements must have obstructed or been intended to obstruct the due administration of justice); United States v. Maloney, 71 F.3d 645, 656 (7th Cir. 1995); United States v. Jespersen, 65 F.3d 993 (2d Cir. 1995); United States v. Mullins, 22 F.3d 1365 (6th Cir. 1994) (government must prove that there was a judicial proceeding underway that defendant's actions were intended to obstruct); United States v. Wood, 6 F.3d 692 (10th Cir. 1993) (defendant must have acted corruptly with the specific intent to obstruct or impede the proceeding in its due administration of justice); United States v. Neal, 951 F.2d 630 (5th Cir. 1992) (essential element that defendant acted with the specific intent to obstruct or impede the proceeding); United States v. Rasheed, 663 F.2d 843, 852 (9th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1157 (1982); United States v. Haldeman, 559 F.2d 31, 114-15 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (per curiam), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 933 (1977).

The United States Supreme Court appears to side with those courts requiring specific intent to obstruct as an element of a section 1503 offense. In United States v. Aguilar, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 2357, 2362 (1995), the Court commented that for there to be a violation of section 1503, "[t]he action taken by the accused must be with an intent to influence judicial or grand jury proceedings. . . ." Id. at 2362. Although Aguilar was decided on other grounds, the clear implication of the Court's statement is that a specific intent to obstruct is required under the statute.

"Corruptly" has been described to mean "for an evil or wicked purpose," United States v. Ryan, 455 F.2d 728, 734 (9th Cir. 1972); "with the purpose of obstructing justice," Rasheed, 663 F.2d at 852; "for an improper motive," United States v. Haas, 583 F.2d 216, 220 (5th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 981 (1979); and, "at least in part, by a corrupt motive," United States v. Brand, 775 F.2d 1460, 1465 (11th Cir. 1985).

[cited in Criminal Resource Manual 1727; USAM 9-69.100]