Proceeding Vaguely: Obstruction of a Pending Proceeding Under 18 U.S.C. § 1505

Prosecutions involving obstruction of agency proceedings under 18 U.S.C. § 1505 are challenging to defend because there is no firm answer as to what constitutes a “proceeding.” Does a mere police investigation constitute a proceeding? Rulemaking activities? Preliminary hearings? If the circuit courts of appeals are unable to cogently define what a proceeding is, and if precedents can be found to support almost any definition, then it is blatantly unfair to expect a criminal defendant to know whether the activity he is obstructing is a proceeding rather than a mere police investigation. The legislative history does not support the government’s practice of using this statute to penalize obstruction of routine criminal investigations.