Have you Been Charged with Intimidation or Obstruction of Jurors or any Officer of the Court?
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the rights of criminal defendants. One such guarantee is the right to an impartial jury. Intimidation or obstructing jurors or other officers of the court violates a defendant's right to an impartial jury. If you have been charged with threatening or obstructing jurors, you need a Georgia Intimidation Attorney. The consequences of an obstruction of jurors conviction in Georgia are not to be taken lightly. You need the best representation from the beginning in order to present your best defense. Our attorneys have unparalleled defense experience and are prepared to help with your case today. Contact us now for a free case evaluation.
What is Considered Intimidation or Obstruction of Jurors or Other Court Officials in Georgia?
A person who by threat or force or by any threatening action, letter, or communication:
(1) Endeavors to intimidate or impede any grand juror or trial juror or any officer in or of any court of this state or any court of any county or municipality of this state or any officer who may be serving at any proceeding in any such court while in the discharge of such juror's or officer's duties;
(2) Injures any grand juror or trial juror in his or her person or property on account of any indictment or verdict assented to by him or her or on account of his or her being or having been such juror; or
(3) Injures any officer in or of any court of this state or any court of any county or municipality of this state or any officer who may be serving at any proceeding in any such court in his or her person or property on account of the performance of his or her official duties. O.C.G.A. §16-10-97(a)
Another way that this statute can be violated is when a person sends a threatening letter or another type of communication to a law enforcement officer in retaliation or response to the officer conducting their duties. It can occur when officers are on or off the job. It applies to the law enforcement officer and their immediate family. O.C.G.A. §16-10-97(c)
Who are Officers of the Court?
O.C.G.A. §16-10-97(b) states that “any officer in or of any court” includes judges, attorneys, clerks, deputy clerks, court reporters, probation officers, and other Department of Juvenile Justice officers.
Essentially, any person associated with court proceedings is protected under the definition.
What are Intimidating Words?
Many people who are charged with this crime argue that it violates their right to free speech found in the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, in the case of Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court held that a state could criminalize some speech made with the intent of intimidating another without violating the First Amendment. 538 U.S. 343, (2003). The Black case further elaborated and said that the intimidation must be considered a true threat. They defined true threats as “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” Further case law has clarified that true threats may be conditional, need not be explicit, and the threatened violence need not be imminent. United States v. Turner, 720 F. 3d 411, (2013).
Georgia Case Law
When looking at threats to court officers, the Court considers whether the speech constitutes true threats not protected by the First Amendment. An example where the defendant's statements did not warrant a conviction is Harrell v. State. In this case, Lister Harrell failed to appear for a court hearing, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Harrell started to put messages on Facebook referring to the Superior Court Clerk Rhett Walker and Deputy Chief Clerk Tammy Graham. He threatened that if the bench warrant was not lifted, he would post a video showing Graham and Harrell engaging in sexual activity. However, that was a false claim. Harrell posted again stating that Graham had lied to the court. He posted Walker's cell phone number on facebook. Harrell called Walker's cell phone in attempts to get him to lift the bench warrant and said he didn't do it by a specific date, he “would turn his (Walker's) world upside down.”
At trial, the Court first looked at whether Graham and Walker were officers of the court as intended to be covered under the statute. As Superior Court Clerks, they were considered officers of the court. Harrell argued that O.C.G.A. §16-10-97 did not apply to him because it violates the right of free speech. The court agreed with Harrell. They looked at whether Harrell's words constituted a “true threat.” The incidents surrounding Graham only included evidence of Harrell posting embarrassing material on Facebook and treating to post more. He never commented with Graham directly, and none of the communications threatened an unlawful act of violence to her.
The incident regarding Walker was mainly the phone calls. Walker testified that he was nervous about Harrell turning his “world upside down.” However, there was no reference to any violence in the contact.
Therefore, the Court found that Harrell's speech did not constitute “true threats,” and consequently he could not be guilty of intimidation. Furthermore, he was acquitted of violating O.C.G.A. §16-10-97.
The Penalty for Intimidation or Obstruction of Jurors or other Officers of the Court in Georgia
A person convicted of violating O.C.G.A. § 16-10-97(a) will be guilty of a felony. The coinciding penalty will be a fine of no more than $5,000 or up to twenty years prison or both.
If a person is convicted of violating section (c), their punishment will be a prison term between one and five years, a fine up to $5,000, or both. They will also be guilty of a felony.
Furthermore, felony convictions carry significant consequences beyond prison and fines. A felony will stay on your criminal history where future employers can see it as well as credit agencies. Having a felony on your record can make it difficult to obtain housing, employment, or credit.
While the crime may be simple, the penalties are not. Do not take a chance with your future by trying to represent yourself or using a general practitioner. You need a Georgia Intimidation or Obstruction of Jurors Attorney that has dedicated their life's work to criminal defense to get the best outcome. Our intimidation and obstruction of jurors lawyers in Georgia are the best in Georgia. Contact us today and find out how we can get you the best deal.
Georgia Defenses for Intimidating or Obstructing Jurors
Lack of intent: The statute requires that the accused intentionally interfere with the juror to influence their action. If there is no evidence of intent to influence their response, that would be an acceptable argument.
The words were not true threats: As demonstrated by Harrell v. State, if the words did not act up to true threats, then you cannot be convicted of a crime. If there was no threat of an unlawful act of violence, then the speech is protected by the First Amendment.
What are Not Defenses
No act of violence occurred: A violent act does not have to happen for a person to be convicted. Threatening to commit violence against someone could be enough to be sentenced under O.C.G.A. §16-10-97.
My speech is protected by the First Amendment: As outlined above, some speech is protected by the First Amendment. However, once the words reach the level of “true threats,” then they do not receive the protection of the First Amendment.
The letter was never sent: Under section (a)(1), merely endeavoring to intimidate using a letter or another type of communication will be enough to uphold a conviction.
No matter the crime, our Georgia Attorneys can help. If you have been charged with intimidation or obstruction of jurors in Georgia, we are here to assist with your case. Contact us today to start building your defense.