What Is the Meaning of Perverting the Course of Justice?


The British use the dramatic term "perverting the course of justice," but in America, it's called simply "obstructing justice." It is a crime under federal and state laws, and the definition varies considerably among jurisdictions. Essentially, a person is guilty of obstructing justice when he deliberately does something that interferes with the proper administration of the court, from bribing a judge to tampering with a crime scene.

Federal Obstruction Laws

  • The federal crime of obstructing justice includes acts that threaten the court process, like influencing a juror, assaulting a process server or recording the deliberations of a jury. There is also a catch-all provision in the law that includes any action that obstructs the administration of justice. Penalties differ depending on the seriousness of the offense, up to a maximum of five years in prison. If the obstruction happened in a criminal trial, the sentence can be whatever jail term could have been imposed in that trial.

State Statutes

  • Many states have their own obstruction of justice statutes aimed, in part, at preventing anyone from interfering with the catching, convicting or punishing of a criminal. Each state lists other, specific acts that constitute this crime. In Ohio, for example, it is obstruction of justice to lie to a police officer though it is not obstruction of justice to refuse to answer questions. In Louisiana, the law includes threatening witnesses and destroying evidence. Louisiana imposes a maximum punishment for most obstruction charges of $10,000 or five years in prison.


  • Photo Credit Dmitry Margolin/Hemera/Getty Images
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