Obstruction of Justice in Virginia is a vague charge that encompasses a wide array of conduct. As a result, the charge is fact-specific and is a very challengeable charge in Court. However, it is a misdemeanor charge and should be handled by a competent attorney. In Fairfax County, Obstruction of Justice is a highly litigated charge because the arresting officer has allegedly been "impeded" in their duties. Just because the officer thinks a person was obstructing them does not mean they actually did.
What is Obstruction of Justice
Obstruction of Justice is defined by §18.2-460 of the Virginia Code as knowingly obstructing a police officer, judge, juror, magistrate, prosecutor, or witness (among a few other public officers). Obstruction of Justice can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the threat involved. Case law is all over the map about what constitutes an "obstruction" so a case-by-case analysis will be very important in these cases. Because Fairfax County is such a large jurisdiction there are many public officials to govern the area and so it can put many people face-to-face with this type of charge.
Misdemeanor Obstruction of Justice
It is a Class 1 Misdemeanor to knowingly obstruct a Judge, Magistrate, Justice, Juror, Prosecutor, Witness, Police Officer, or Animal Control Officer in the performance of their duties or fail to cease the obstruction without just cause when requested to do so by the public official.
Most of these cases involve a police officer at the scene of an investigation. In these types of cases the individual either runs from the police or tries to stop the police from arresting a friend or themselves. However, "peaceful criticism" directed at the police officer has been held to not constitute Obstruction of Justice because it did not hinder the police officer in their duties. In addition, simply running from the police has been held not to be an obstruction when nothing was thrown at the chasing police officer nor were any threats made. Finally, the Court has held that rendering the police officer's task more difficult is not an obstruction either, such as failing to full cooperate or otherwise frustrating their investigation.
18.2-460(B): Threat or Force
It is also a Class 1 Misdemeanor to use threats or force to intimidate or impede a Judge, Magistrate, Justice, Juror, Prosecutor, Witness, Police Officer, or Animal Control Officer engaged in their duties or to otherwise obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any Court.
In most of these cases there is a threat made to a police officer. Case law has sustained convictions for those that have threatened to kill an officer during an investigation because the threat was designed to intimidate the officer. However, it is arguable that mere words alone may not be enough for obstruction unless it can proven there is some intent to intimidate. For example, "you are nothing but a pig" is not obstruction without more. But "you are nothing but a pig and I'm going to get you when I get out" is likely an obstruction.
Any person who knowingly makes a materially false statement or representation to a police officer in the course of their investigation is guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor Obstruction of Justice. This type of charge is liking committing perjury but on the street. In these cases, the Commonwealth must prove the false statement was "material" in the investigation and that the person "knew" it was misleading. As a result, if a false statement is made to the police, it may not be enough to sustain a conviction unless it can proven that person knew what they said was incorrect. In addition, it must be material and not just a side comment about the encroaching weather, for example.
Punishment for Misdemeanor Obstruction
A conviction under this provision of the statute exposes an individual to a jail sentence of up to 12 months and $2500 fine. Rarely is a lengthy jail sentence imposed. In our cases, we may have the individual do community service prior to Court. When there is an angry threat involved, we have even had success by putting our clients in an anger management class to show the person is addressing any anger issues they may have. Each case is different and these cases are very fact-specific so we will prepare our client accordingly. In Fairfax County, we have the opportunity to speak to a prosecutor about the Obstruction of Justice charge and attempt resolve the case prior to a trial. By negotiating, we can many times figure out what our client can do to fix or mitigate what had occurred so that they can obtain a favorable outcome in their case.
Felony Obstruction of Justice
Felony Obstruction of Justice is more rare but it does happen. Under §18.2-460(C), there must be a threat of bodily harm or force and a knowing attempt to intimate or impede a Judge, Magistrate, Justice, Juror, Prosecutor, Witness, Police Officer, or Animal Control Officer engaging in their duties, or the administration of justice in any Court, relating to a violation of drug distribution, gang-related activities, or a violent felony.
This statute is designed to prosecute those who have impeded justice when there is an investigation of certain serious offenses. Because the offenses involve drug dealing, gang offenses, and certain violent offenses that are being investigated, the Legislature created this law to especially forbid interfering with the State trying to prosecute for them.
For example, the Court has held it is felony obstruction of justice in a case where a large individual who was charged with malicious wounding kept yelling at the police officer that he had better "fix" the charge while standing at arm's length from the officer. Because the underlying offense for which the individual was being arrested for was considered a violent offense, it went from Misdemeanor Obstruction of Justice to Felony Obstruction of Justice as a result of underlying violent charge he was being arrested for and the threat used.
Punishment for Felony Obstruction
Felony Obstruction of Justice is a Class 5 Felony. Therefore, there is a possibility of a prison sentence from 0 days to 10 years with a $2500 fine. Depending on the facts of the case, we may either put the matter in front of a Judge or Jury for trial or workout a plea deal for a lesser offense, such as Misdemeanor Obstruction of Justice, so that our client avoids a felony conviction on their record.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation
Obstruction of Justice is a criminal offense and encompasses a wide range of conduct. In Fairfax County, we have had a lot of success in these cases because the statute is so broad. It gives a lot of leeway for trials and plea negotiations. Give us a call or use the contact for below and we would be happy to discuss your case.