Imagine this: Federal investigators sweep into the medical office where you work and begin collecting documents, copying hard drives and asking questions. When an agent peppers you with questions about what you may have seen or what knowledge you may have of certain situations, you panic and stammer, “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure.”
Your intention is not to deceive the investigator about anything. You merely want to buy some time while you sort out your thoughts and your feelings about the situation and talk to your boss or your spouse. Yet, the next thing you know, you find yourself charged with obstruction of justice.
Obstruction of justice is a unique crime because the victim is essentially the legal system itself — and most people do not realize how easy it is to cross a line that could lead to charges. Federal code has nearly two dozen different ways that people can be guilty of obstruction. Some of the most common include:
- Lying about evidence that you may have in your possession or falsely denying knowledge of a situation or event
- Destroying records or other evidence that could be related to the situation under investigation, including deleting files on a computer or texts on a phone
- Asking someone who may be a witness — such as a co-worker, friend or client — to keep information to themselves or be uncooperative with investigators
- Threatening to retaliate in some way against a witness or informant if they cooperate with the investigation
People often do not mean to break the law. In their shock at getting dragged into an investigation, they often simply react instinctively to protect themselves, their jobs and their friends or family. By the time they realize that they are in trouble, it could be too late.
If you are approached by a federal investigator, the only safe option is to decline to answer (rather than deny you know anything) their questions until your attorney can be present to advise you.