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Pivotal Ruling in Fischer v. United States Limits the overuse of Obstruction Charges

A realistic scene depicting an individual wearing buffalo horns face paint and fur attire participating in the January 6th protests at the US Capitol On June 28, 2024, the Supreme Court delivered a significant ruling in Fischer v. United States that clarified the scope of obstruction charges under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This decision has far-reaching implications, particularly concerning the events of January 6, 2021, and how obstruction statutes are applied in federal law.

Background of the Case

Joseph Fischer was charged under 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2) for his involvement in the January 6 Capitol riot, where a mob attempted to disrupt Congress's certification of the 2020 Presidential election. 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2) expands upon 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(1) to include anyone “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.” Fischer argued that his actions did not fall under the scope of this statute, which he contended was intended to criminalize only the impairment of evidence in official proceedings.

Legal Questions and Statutory Interpretation

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act includes provisions that make it a crime to corruptly alter, destroy, or conceal records with the intent to impair their use in an official proceeding (§1512(c)(1)). It also contains a broader clause (§1512(c)(2)) prohibiting any other obstructive actions related to official proceedings. The key issue was whether §1512(c)(2) covered all forms of obstruction or was limited to actions similar to those specified in §1512(c)(1).

Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion, held that to violate §1512(c)(2), the government must prove that the defendant's actions impaired the availability or integrity of evidence or objects used in an official proceeding, or attempted to do so. The Court emphasized that §1512(c)(2) is limited by the specific examples in §1512(c)(1), rejecting the government's broader interpretation.

Justice Jackson, in her concurring opinion, underscored the importance of interpreting the statute as written, reflecting the legislative intent. She highlighted that Congress's aim was to address specific gaps in existing law exposed by the Enron scandal, not to create a sweeping obstruction statute.

Reasoning Behind the Ruling

The Supreme Court's reasoning focused on several key principles of statutory interpretation:

  1. Context and Specificity: The Court emphasized the importance of context in interpreting the scope of §1512(c)(2). This subsection must be understood in conjunction with §1512(c)(1), which explicitly criminalizes specific actions like altering or destroying evidence. The use of the word "otherwise" in §1512(c)(2) suggests it is intended to cover similar obstructive conduct not specifically listed in §1512(c)(1) (Justia Law) (Justia Law).
  2. Canons of Interpretation: The Court applied the canons of noscitur a sociis (a word is known by the company it keeps) and ejusdem generis (of the same kind or nature). These interpretive tools dictate that a general term following specific ones should be understood in the context of those specific terms. Therefore, the general obstructive conduct mentioned in §1512(c)(2) must relate to the specific examples given in §1512(c)(1) (Justia Law) (Casetext - CoCounsel).
  3. Legislative Intent: The legislative history of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act played a crucial role in the Court’s interpretation. The Act was designed to close loopholes in federal obstruction laws, particularly related to the destruction of evidence, as highlighted by the Enron scandal. The Court found no indication that Congress intended §1512(c)(2) to serve as a broad, catch-all obstruction statute (Justia Law) (Justia Law).
  4. Avoiding Redundancy: The Court also noted that a broad interpretation of §1512(c)(2) would render other specific obstruction statutes redundant. Federal law contains numerous provisions targeting specific obstructive acts, each with carefully defined penalties. Interpreting §1512(c)(2) broadly would undermine this detailed legislative framework (Justia Law) (Georgia State University Law Review).

Implications of the Ruling

1. Narrower Scope for Obstruction Charges: The ruling restricts the application of §1512(c)(2) to actions that directly impair the integrity or availability of evidence in official proceedings. This means that not all obstructive conduct can be prosecuted under this statute unless it aligns with the specific types of conduct described in §1512(c)(1).

2. Impact on January 6 Prosecutions: For individuals like Fischer, this decision means that their conduct must be closely examined to determine if it specifically impaired evidence. General disruptive actions without this direct connection may not meet the criteria for obstruction under §1512(c)(2).


The Fischer v. United States ruling is a pivotal moment in interpreting obstruction laws, ensuring they are applied as intended by Congress. This decision not only affects the prosecution of January 6 participants but also sets a precedent for how obstruction statutes are used in federal law, emphasizing the importance of legislative clarity and judicial restraint.

Georgia's Law Enforcement Similarly Abuse of Obstruction Charges in DUI Cases

In the state of Georgia, law enforcement officers are increasingly leveraging obstruction charges as a tool to gain leverage in prosecuting offenses like DUI. As a DUI lawyer in Georgia, I've witnessed firsthand how these tactics can be used to unfairly pressure defendants into plea deals or to secure convictions.

Understanding Obstruction Charges in Georgia:

Georgia's obstruction statute, O.C.G.A. § 16-10-24, defines two types of obstruction: misdemeanor obstruction and felony obstruction. Misdemeanor obstruction occurs when someone knowingly and willfully obstructs or hinders a law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of their official duties without using force. Felony obstruction, on the other hand, occurs when someone knowingly and willfully commits obstruction or hinders a law enforcement officer with the use of force.

The Problem with Law Enforcement Overcharging:

While obstruction charges can be legitimate in certain situations, there have been numerous instances where law enforcement officers have abused this charge to gain leverage in prosecuting offenses like DUI. This abuse often manifests in the form of officers charging individuals with obstruction simply for exercising their constitutional rights, such as refusing a search or declining to answer questions without an attorney present and asking simple questions like “What did I do” while being handcuffed and turning toward the officer and inadvertently pulling their hands away. .

The Consequences of Obstruction Charges:

If convicted of misdemeanor obstruction, you could face up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, anger management classes, and community service. A felony obstruction conviction could result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison. Additionally, having an obstruction charge on your record can have long-lasting consequences, including difficulty obtaining employment, housing, or loans.

Protecting Yourself:

If you find yourself facing obstruction charges in connection with a DUI arrest, it's crucial to seek the assistance of an experienced DUI lawyer. A skilled attorney can help you navigate the legal system, protect your rights, and fight back against any abuse of power by law enforcement.


The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Fischer highlights a broader problem with the weaponization of obstruction chargers generally. In Georgia specifically law enforcement's abuse of obstruction charges is a concerning trend that threatens the rights of individuals accused of offenses like DUI. As a DUI lawyer, I'm committed to advocating for my clients and fighting against any attempts to use obstruction charges as a tool for gaining leverage in prosecuting offenses. If you're facing obstruction charges in connection with a DUI arrest, don't hesitate to reach out for the legal assistance you need to protect your rights and your future.

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