Illinois Obstruction of Justice

What is obstruction of justice according to Illinois law?

by Sami Azhari on July 27, 2010

A charge for obstruction of justice is a serious criminal offense under Illinois state law. While the conduct that leads to a charge of obstructing justice can be considered trivial, such as providing a police officer a false name, the consequences are very serious.

Obstruction of Justice is a Felony

The statute defining the elements of obstructing justice is 720 ILCS 5/31-4. The statute says it is a felony offense.

Because it is a felony, the offense is charged in one of two ways, information or indictment. A felony charged by way of information is like a complaint. A complaint is sworn and signed by a complainant, usually a police officer, who says all the allegations are true. By comparison, the offense can be charged by grand jury indictment. A grand jury is composed of 16 people who decide whether there is probable cause to charge a person with a crime. If they make a finding of probable cause, then the charge is approved and called a “true bill.”

What is Obstructing Justice?

A charge of obstruction of justice assumes there is some court proceeding in which a person is a defendant. It is obstruction to attempt in any way to influence the court proceeding by tampering with evidence.

But the exact conduct that constitutes a crime is more specific:

The statute provides the following:

A person obstructs justice when, with intent to prevent the apprehension or obstruct the prosecution or defense of any person, he knowingly commits any of the following acts:

(a) Destroys, alters, conceals or disguises physical evidence, plants false evidence, furnishes false information; or

(b) Induces a witness having knowledge material to the subject at issue to leave the State or conceal himself; or

(c) Possessing knowledge material to the subject at issue, he leaves the State or conceals himself.

See 720 ILCS 5/31-4.

Examples of Obstructing Justice

It can be obstruction of justice to tell a witness to a crime not to come to court and testify. For example, in domestic battery situations, the victim almost always is in a romantic or familial relationship with the defendant (husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend). While the judge may order no contact between the parties during the pendency of the case, most defendants violate that term of bond and communicate with the victim. For the defendant to tell the victim, “Don’t come to court to testify against me,” is obstruction of justice because it is inducing a witness to leave the state or conceal him or her self.

Another example of obstructing justice occurs where a person is pulled over in a traffic stop and provides the officer with a false name. This situation is very common where the driver has a suspended or revoked license, or an outstanding warrant. Providing a false name, such as someone else’s name, is obstruction, because it is furnishing false information. This conduct hampers the court proceeding that is prosecuting the driver for a traffic violation, or the prosecution of the case in which there is a warrant.

On the other hand, it is important to note that the charge goes both ways. If a witness were to knowingly conceal evidence that allows a defendant to prove his or her innocence, that is obstruction.

Penalty for Obstructing Justice

The offense is a Class 4 felony offense for which the punishment can be 1-3 years prison (Department of Corrections). The fine can be up to $25,000. However, the judge does have the option of sentencing the defendant to probation as opposed to incarceration.

A felony conviction is not expungeable.

There is a special enhancement if the offense occurs in the furtherance of a gang. If a gang member engages in obstructing justice to protect another member, it is a Class 3 felony, which is 2-5 years prison and $25,000 in possible fines.

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