Is the federal obstruction of justice statute too broad?

By way of example, could a tweet disparaging special counsel Bob Mueller or an op-ed criticizing the Department of Justice’s new antitrust review of Big Tech be considered an “obstruction of justice” under the open-textured federal obstruction of justice statute (18 US Code, Section 1503)? Here is the text of paragraph (a) of the law:

Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b) ….

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About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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3 Responses to Is the federal obstruction of justice statute too broad?

  1. Kathy H says:

    Should different standards be applied depending on the position of the person? Would a disparaging “tweet” from Al Capone about a “witness” carry more weight than someone else. Does a tweet from someone with position and power carry more weight than the guy sitting in a bar? Ask yourself why do we frown apon student teacher relationships in college when both may be of legal age? Because position and power do matter.

    • Excellent points! In other words, the law is probabilistic: subjectively speaking, I am more certain that there is a “corrupt intent” if Al Capone, were he alive today, is tweeting about a witness. But on the other hand, persons in power are subject to more intense media scrutiny, so they should be less likely to commit wrongful acts, right? (As for professor-student dating in college or grad school, I have no objection to that.) Lastly, in the case of Trump, as pointed out to me by an anti-Trump troll on Twitter, the worst thing Mueller’s report says about Trump is that the feds “would [have] uncover[ed]” evidence of direct links between his campaign and Russian agents if they (the feds) would have continued investigating the matter. Yet I know of not a single person in all of North America who changed his vote because of the $400,000 worth of Facebook ads “the Russians” paid for (a laughable amount of money, by the way, when compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars each major presidential campaign spent on the election).

  2. Pingback: Promises to obstruct justice | prior probability

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