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Modern obstruction of justice, in United States jurisdictions, refers to the crime of offering interference of any sort to the work of police, investigators, regulatory agencies, prosecutors, or other (usually government) officials. Often, no actual investigation or substantiated suspicion of a specific incident need exist to support a charge of obstruction of justice. Common law jurisdictions other than the United States tend to use the wider offense of Perverting the course of justice.
Generally, obstruction charges are laid when it is discovered that a person questioned in an investigation, who is not a suspect, has lied to the investigating officers. However, in most common law jurisdictions, the right to remain silent allows any person who is questioned by police merely to refuse to answer questions posed by an investigator without giving any reason for doing so. (In such a case, the investigators may subpoena the witness to give testimony under oath in court) It is not relevant if the person lied to protect a suspect (such as setting up a false alibi, even if the suspect is in fact innocent) or to hide from an investigation of their own activities (such as to hide their involvement in another crime). Obstruction charges can also be laid if a person alters or destroys physical evidence, even if they were under no compulsion at any time to produce such evidence.