“Obstruction of Justice” is a phrase that everybody has heard, but nobody can really define. Even the statute just says that obstruction of justice is just “obstructing or hindering an officer from their duties” without ever saying what “obstructing” means. The reality is that any number of things can result in an Obstruction of Justice charge, which in some circumstances can result in a felony.
In Georgia, Obstruction is defined under O.C.G.A. § 16-10-24:
“A person who knowingly and willfully obstructs or hinders any law enforcement officer… in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) Whoever knowingly and willfully resists, obstructs, or opposes any law enforcement officer… in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties by offering or doing violence to the person of such officer…shall be guilty of a felony…
(c) Whoever knowingly and willfully resists, obstructs, or opposes any law enforcement officer… in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties by knowingly and willfully throwing, projecting, or expelling human or animal blood, urine, feces, vomitus, or seminal fluid on or at such individual shall be guilty of a felony.
(d) A person convicted under this Code section shall be punished, in addition to any term of imprisonment imposed, by a fine as provided by law which shall be at least $300.00.
Generally, this means that purposely doing anything that interrupts an officer from doing their duties will convict you of a misdemeanor. There are two specific types of obstruction that can become a felony, however: 1) violence or threats of violence or 2) throwing bodily fluids on or near an officer (other than spit, which is just a misdemeanor). The problem is that the statute doesn’t specifically explain what “obstructing” an officer is, so if you are facing this charge the court will instead turn to case law (a fancy name for precedent) to decide if an action rises to the level of obstruction as they determine whether or not to convict you.
There are many, many behaviors which have been deemed to be obstruction. This can include (but is not limited to) anything that puts the officer in imminent danger, such as refusing to put down a weapon even if you aren’t making any threatening actions with it. It can also include instructing somebody to remove items from a scene to make an investigation more difficult. Even words alone can be obstruction, such as lying or arguing, or even yelling so loud that the officer can’t hear or interview a witness. Non-compliance can also raise to obstruction, such as refusing to get back in your car during a traffic stop because this keeps the officer from being able to safely exit their vehicle. Note, however, that while refusing to comply with an order can constitute obstruction, it must be an order and not a request.
For Subsection B of the statute (“Felony Obstruction: Violence”), any physical contact or threats of physical contact will suffice. For Subsection C of the statute (“Felony Obstruction: Throwing”), examples of obstruction would include urinating on an officer, vomiting on an officer, throwing feces or semen at an officer, or getting your blood on an officer.
Beyond the obstruction itself, there are a few requirements that a prosecutor must establish to convict you. First, you have to know that the person is an officer. Second, you have to actually be impeding their efforts in that very moment. For example, saying that you will shoot the officer now is obstruction, but saying that you will shoot them later is not considered obstruction, as seen in the case law below. Third, the officer must be performing a lawful function, or there are no legal duties being performed for you to obstruct.
All obstruction charges require a minimum fine of at least $300. Most Obstruction charges will just result in a misdemeanor. Obstruction under Subsection B, “Felony Obstruction: Violence” will result in imprisonment for 1-5 years on your first offense, 2-10 years for your second offence, and 3-15 years for any subsequent offenses. Obstruction under Subsection C, “Felony Obstruction: Throwing”, will result in imprisonment for 1-5 years.
The Officer’s Actions Weren’t Lawful. This charge can only hold up if the officer followed protocol perfectly. For example, if the officer had no legal right to pull you over on the highway, any obstruction after the traffic stop can’t hold up in court. Bixon Law is dedicated to ensuring that our clients’ rights aren’t violated and they aren’t subject to unconstitutional conduct from law enforcement.
The Officer’s Duties Weren’t Impacted. No matter how irritated an officer may be with your behavior, if it can be demonstrated that your behavior had no impact on their ability to do their job then the charge cannot hold.
I Didn’t Know It Would Hinder. One of the requirements for this charge is that you “knowingly and willingly” obstructed justice. For example, if you lied to an officer during an investigation, the prosecutor has to prove that you knew that this specific lie would hinder their investigation.
In Williams v. State, Larawl Williams lived in a shed behind his parents’ house. Upon losing his job, his stepfather locked him out of the shed and ordered him to leave. Williams became irate and began throwing yard furniture and making threats towards his stepfather, at which point his mother called the police.
At first, Williams refused to allow himself to be placed in handcuffs, and only offered his wrists once another officer arrived and threatened to spray him with pepper spray. Williams was then placed in a patrol car, and one of the arresting officers heard him say that he was going to “Glock the other arresting officer when he got back out on the street.” The officer later explained at trial that, in street terms, this meant that Williams was going to shoot the officer. Williams then stared the officer in the eye and said that he “could take him one on one and that he would see him in the street and that a Glock doesn’t miss, and that he’d fuck him up”. These outbursts aside, however, he complied fully with the officers.
Williams was convicted of Felony Obstruction: Violence for his threats, but this conviction was overturned on appeal. The court explained that the threats alleged in the indictment were made while Williams was already in custody and physically cooperating with the police. They concerned future acts of violence, not imminent acts that, if carried out, would have prevented the officer from completing Williams’s arrest. The obstruction conviction in this case could not stand because there was no evidence that Williams’s verbal threats obstructed the officer’s completion of their law enforcement duties. The court also hinted that Williams may have been able to have been convicted for refusing to allow himself to be handcuffed, but this behavior isn’t what the prosecutor referenced in the indictment and therefore could not be considered.
This is an example of a successful use of the The Officer’s Duties Weren’t Impacted defense. Bixon Law frequently utilizes this criminal defense case law to fight for our client’s Obstruction charges to be dismissed.
CONTACT BIXON LAW TODAY
If you have been charged with criminal Obstruction and need the best local criminal defense attorney, give Bixon Law a call today to speak to one of our experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyers. We will vigorously defend your criminal defense rights, and advocate on your behalf to have your criminal case dismissed or your charges reduced. As experienced trial attorneys, we are not afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. We represent clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. We are lawyers who are committed to helping people in difficult situations, and we invite you to call us at 404-551-5684 for a free consultation on your case today!