According to A.R.S. 13-2409, anyone who attempts, delays, disrupts, or obstructs any information from being communicated regarding an infringement of the laws to a law enforcement officer is guilty of obstruction of justice. This can be done through misleading statements, intimidation, use of threats or force, or bribery. If you are facing obstruction of justice charges in Phoenix, we invite you to contact the Phoenix Criminal Attorney to explore your defense options.
An Overview of Obstruction of Justice
The term "obstruction of justice" refers to actions that unjustly stop or slow down "the proper execution of justice." This is also known as due process of the law. The following acts would qualify as obstruction of justice according to this definition:
- Threats to hinder/obstruct
- Taking direct, deliberate steps to obstruct
- Attempts to hinder/obstruct
In most cases, crimes perpetrated by judges, attorney generals, prosecutors, or elected officials are considered to fall under the obstruction of justice umbrella. It involves a failure to uphold the responsibilities of one's position, also known as malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance. However, when the prosecution and attorneys decline to bring charges against judges or other public officials who have committed misfeasance, nonfeasance, or malfeasance in office, they too obstruct justice.
In most cases, accusations of obstruction are brought when it is found out that a person who is not a suspect misled the officers who were conducting an investigation. An individual can be charged with obstruction of justice if they tamper with or destroy evidence at any point, regardless of whether or not they were under any legal obligation to disclose the evidence.
Obstruction is a wide term that includes any attempt to stop the legal process from being carried out or to stop justice from being done in a civil or criminal case. Other examples of obstruction of justice include preparing false testimonies or evidence, interfering with the jury or any other court employees, intimidating potential witnesses, or firing back at existing witnesses.
Criminal obstruction laws are intended to preserve the fairness of courtroom procedures while also safeguarding the rights of people who take part in them.
The primary laws governing this subject can be found in Title 18, Chapter 73 of the US Code. They include:
- The obstruction of a writ server or federal process, which is charged as a misdemeanor, as described in Section 1501
- Obstructing or resisting an extradition agent, charged as a misdemeanor under Section 1502
- USC § 1503 (a felony law that prohibits attempts to sway or harm a member of the jury, an officer of the court, or any other obstruction actions)
- USC § 1504 (writing to a juror with the intent to influence them)
- Obstruction of departmental, agency, and committee proceedings is a crime under USC § 1505
- USC §1506, which makes it a crime to falsify a bail surety, alter or steal a court record
- Picketing or parading with the purpose to impede or hinder the execution of justice is charged as a misdemeanor under USC § 1507
- USC § 1508, which makes it unlawful to film or observe petit or grand juries as they deliberate or cast votes
- USC § 1509, makes it a misdemeanor to resist court orders, USC §1510, makes it a felony to resist criminal investigations
- USC § 1511, makes it a crime to impede state or local federal authorities to facilitate an unauthorized gambling enterprise
- Tampering with a victim, witness, or informant is a felony as per USC § 1512
- USC § 1513 (retaliation against a victim, victim, or witness is a felony)
- USC § 1516, which makes it a crime to impede a government audit
- USC § 1517 (which makes it a crime to prevent a financial organization from being audited)
- USC § 1518, which makes it illegal to impede a criminal probe into healthcare crimes
According to Section 1503, anybody who "dishonestly or by violence or threats of violence, or using threatening letters or messages, influences, impedes, or prevents, or seeks to influence, impede, or hinder, the due process of justice" is liable for committing obstruction of justice.
To attain a conviction as per § 1503, the prosecution must demonstrate the existence of an ongoing federal court proceeding, that the accused was aware of the proceedings, and also that the accused had malicious intent to tamper with or try to tamper with the process.
According to the law, an actual obstruction isn't required as a part of the evidence for a conviction to be upheld. The accused's endeavor to impede justice is enough. According to the law, an "endeavor" is anything done in an attempt to advance the goal that the law was intended to prevent.
It is possible to be charged with obstructing justice either at the federal or the state level, based on the nature of the judicial process that had been impeded. That's why obstructing justice is often categorized as a white-collar crime.
To be found guilty of obstruction of justice, the prosecutor must prove two things:
- The defendant needs to be aware of a criminal proceeding or an ongoing investigation
- The accused must make an effort to sway a criminal proceeding or investigation
Additionally, there needs to be a relationship between the attempted obstruction and the proceedings that the accused was aware of, as well as a deliberate intent to hinder the proceeding. This implies that just a refusal to cooperate with law authorities, such as by declining to respond to their inquiries and take part in an inquiry, does not automatically amount to obstructing justice.
How Arizona Laws Describe Obstruction of Justice
Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2402 states that you can be prosecuted for obstructing state operations if you interfere with law enforcement's performance of their duties or use threats of physical violence.
You also risk being placed under arrest if you purposefully prevent, obstruct, or impair a public servant from carrying out their official duties. It is also against the law to willfully interfere with or impede an officer's efforts to maintain order or enforce penal law.
Obstructing governmental activities is considered a misdemeanor offense, although it does not involve hindering, impeding, or obstructing an arrest. Based on your criminal background and other variables, penalties could range widely, from small fines to lengthy jail terms.
In the next sections, we'll talk about how to fight an Arizona obstruction charge and also what your options are if you're arrested.
Under Arizona law, someone is guilty of obstructing justice when they do any of the following:
- Willfully attempt to hinder, delay, or prohibit the information from being communicated to the authorities about the execution of an offense
- Do so through bribery, falsification, misrepresentation, intimidation, use of force, or threats
Keep in mind that there must be at least three people present for an infringement of this provision to occur: the accused, a police officer (or any other relevant official), along with another (a potential witness or informant). Obstruction of justice is sometimes known as "obstructing criminal investigations.
Arizona's Obstruction Crimes
Arizona has a number of different laws about obstruction because there are numerous ways to break this law as well as other felony or misdemeanor crimes. Below are a few examples:
Refusing to Help a Law Enforcement Officer
Intentionally refusing to assist a peace officer in preventing the execution of a crime or securing an arrest is a criminal offense. To commit this offense, you must have refused to comply with a lawful order given by an individual who you knew (or should have known) to be a law enforcement official. Refusing to assist a law enforcement officer is charged as a misdemeanor.
Obstructing Criminal Prosecution Investigations
This offense is done when someone uses physical violence, threats of physical force, coercion, bribery, or misrepresentation to avoid, impede, or obstruct evidence or testimony relating to an offense given to jurors, prosecution, peace officer, or magistrate. Furthermore, retaliation for giving information or evidence to a jury, prosecution, peace officer, or magistrate could be considered to hinder criminal investigations. It is charged as a felony.
Refusing to Disclose Correct Identification When Legally Detained
It is against the law to decline to reveal your real identity and complete name to a law enforcement officer who has legally arrested you after informing you that refusing to respond to the questions is also against the law. The law considers obstruction to be a misdemeanor offense.
Impersonating Public Servants
If you've acted under the pretense of a public official to convince another individual to surrender to your false control or to put faith in your false official activities, you've committed the crime of impersonating a public official. According to this statute, a notary public is a member of the public service. Impersonating a public official is charged as a misdemeanor.
Impeding the Flow of Traffic on a Public Highway or Other Thoroughfare
Creating an unnecessary hazard, inconveniencing, or recklessly interfering with the passage of a public highway, roadway or thoroughfare is considered a crime unless you have the proper authorization to do so. This type of offense is classified as a misdemeanor.
When someone intentionally agrees to or accepts financial gain in exchange for failing to disclose the alleged or certain conduct of a crime or details regarding one to police officers, or for failing to pursue prosecution of a crime, they have committed the crime of compounding. In cases where the original crime was classified as a felony, the compounding charge would also be elevated to the felony level.
Otherwise, it will be reduced to the misdemeanor level if the crime was not a felony. Refusing to help put out a fire, impeding a law enforcement officer's ability to collect public funds, or altering official documents are also examples of obstruction offenses.
Legal Defenses For ARS 13-2409 Charges
Criminal defense attorneys make use of various legal arguments to challenge charges in these circumstances. Below are some of the common legal defenses your attorney can use.
Too often, innocent people are charged with obstructing justice when in fact they did nothing wrong. Most of the time, people will attribute this offense to someone else to shift the blame away from themselves. A defense then is evidence that the defendant was wrongfully accused.
Infringement Against Your Constitutional Right
An individual accused of interfering with a criminal investigation can seek to have the charges dropped if they can demonstrate that police officers violated their legal rights. For instance, law enforcement:
- Carried out a search or seizure without authorization
- Illegally detained or apprehended the accused person without a valid reason to do so
- Forced a person to admit something
In these cases, a defendant could use the infringement to try to remove certain information from their case or to have the charges dismissed entirely.
When the police report these kinds of offenses, they often jot down false information to help prove that a defendant did something wrong. Therefore, it is a valid defense for accused persons to argue that the police intentionally exaggerated or misrepresented the facts of the case.
The Severity of Obstructing Justice
Based on the gravity of the obstruction and the intended consequence, state laws could classify obstruction of justice as a misdemeanor or a felony. For example, lying about your real name to a law enforcement officer during a regular traffic check is generally regarded as a misdemeanor offense, whereas theft of documentation relevant in a federal court is often classified as a felony. The state and the specific court have the authority to decide whether the offense in question is a felony or a misdemeanor.
State laws addressing obstruction of justice primarily address activities that impair law enforcement's daily operations, as opposed to a large-scale obstruction of justice. Some states say that obstructing justice means doing a few specific things, while other states have a broader definition of what would be considered a crime.
Penalties for Obstruction of Justice
Under Arizona law, obstruction of justice would lead to felony charges. In most cases, a violation would face the following penalties for their Class 5 felony:
- A state jail sentence of no more than 2 years and 6 months
- A hefty fine of not more than $150,000
If the crime is considered "dangerous," the maximum sentence is 4 years behind bars. If a defendant is found guilty of impeding a police investigation and breaking the law to even more or help a street gang, the crime is classified as a Class 3 felony. This type of felony can land you in state prison for up to 8 years and 9 months.
Offenses Related To Obstruction Of Justice
Below are some offenses related to obstructing justice.
Bribery is an offense under ARS 13-2602 when:
- An individual who agrees or offers to deliver any benefit to a public officer or public servant does so intending to corrupt them
- Their actions were taken to sway the vote or decision of a public official or employee
It is worth noting that, unlike bribery, obstructing justice doesn't require a person to demonstrate a corrupt intention. The only requirement is that the individual acts intentionally.
Extortion, as defined by ARS 13-1804, is the illegal taking or attempting to take another individual's property through threats of doing something in the future (such as breaking the "victim's" limb). Extortion is a more serious violation under Arizona law than obstructing justice. This offense is a Class 2 crime that carries a maximum sentence of almost twelve years in prison.
Threats and Intimidation
Intimidating and threatening behavior is prohibited by ARS 13-1202 when someone suggests they will:
- Physically harm another person
- Cause significant public inconvenience (such as the evacuation of a building)
A prosecutor can file charges for both of the following if the defendant threatened physical harm to another individual to prevent the disclosure of a crime:
- Threat or intimidation in violation of ARS 13-1202
- Interference of an investigation in violation of ARS 13-2409
You need to speak with a competent criminal defense lawyer right away if you're facing charges of obstructing justice. Working with a skilled criminal defense lawyer in your region would ensure that you get the most essential legal counsel since the scope of what counts as obstruction of justice is wide and could differ from one state to another. A defense lawyer would be able to examine the specifics of the case, assist you in compiling evidence to back up your assertion, and, if necessary, defend you in the courtroom while fighting for your rights.
Frequently Asked Questions On Obstruction of Justice
The following are some frequently asked questions regarding obstructing government agencies and other obstruction offenses:
What Does "Knowingly" Obstructing Government Activities Entail?
It implies you committed the offense knowingly or with full knowledge or understanding of the circumstances.
What Does the Term "Peace Officer" Mean in Legal Terms?
Any person entrusted by law with the responsibility to uphold public order is referred to as a peace officer. In most cases, a county, state, or municipality employee will fill this role. It could be a sheriff or a police officer whose duties include carrying out criminal and civil warrants, finding and stopping criminal activity, conducting arrests, and undertaking seizures or searches.
Find a Phoenix Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
If you are facing charges of obstructing federal agencies or a similar offense, you should consult a defense lawyer right away. To develop a solid defense, you require the assistance of a competent legal expert. The sooner you speak with one, the higher your chances are of having the charges reduced or even completely dismissed. Contact the Phoenix Criminal Attorney at 602-551-8092 today to discuss your case if you are facing these charges in Phoenix.