Have You Been Charged with Obstructing or Hindering a Law Enforcement Officer in Georgia?
Law enforcement officers are here to serve the public, but sometimes people make it difficult to carry out their duties. When a law enforcement officer is prevented from conducting his official duties, Georgia considers it the crime of obstruction. Obstruction can be treated as either a felony or a misdemeanor in Georgia; therefore, it is crucial to hire a Georgia Obstruction Attorney to assist in defending your case. The criminal justice system is not designed for self-service so contact us now to speak with a knowledgeable Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer.
Misdemeanor Obstruction or Hindering Law Enforcement Officers in Georgia
A person will be guilty of violating O.C.G.A. §16-10-24(a) when they knowingly or willfully obstruct or hinder any law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of his official duties.
The penalty for a misdemeanor conviction in Georgia is a fine up to $1,000, jail time up to one year, or both. It can also come with community service, anger management classes, or any other punishments allowed under the misdemeanor sentencing laws of Georgia.
Felony Obstruction or Hindering Law Enforcement Officers in Georgia
A person can be convicted of felony obstruction when they knowingly and willfully resist, obstruct, or oppose any law enforcement officer, prison guard, correctional officer, community supervision officer, probation officer, or conservation officer in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties by offering or doing violence to the person. O.C.G.A. §16-10-24(b)
The difference between misdemeanor and felony obstruction is the offering or doing violence element.
The penalty for a felony obstruction conviction is a prison term between one and five years. In addition to any prison term imposed, the accused will pay a fine of at least $300. Furthermore, the penalty could include community service and anger management classes.
Examples of Obstructing a Law Enforcement Officer
There are a plethora of ways a person can be charged with obstruction of law enforcement officers in Georgia. Some examples include:
- Resisting arrest, with or without using force
- Hindering a police investigation
- Lying to an officer
- Giving false or misleading information to an officer
- Running from an officer
- Threatening an officer
- Hitting an officer
Georgia Case Law
A case where the suspect was convicted of obstruction can be found in Golden v. State. In this case, a City of Centerville Police Officer observed a vehicle drifting in and out of their lane. The officer proceeded to follow the car and activated his lights to pull them over. The driver did not stop, and the officer activated his siren, yet the driver still refused to stop. Another officer joined in the pursuit, and they were able to roadblock the driver into stopping. Because the driver ignored the officers signals to pull over, the officers treated the stop as a felony stop and exited their patrol cars with weapons drawn for their safety. They ordered the driver multiple times to step out the vehicle with no action taken by the driver. Finally, one of the officers reached into the car and opened the door and saw the driver was a female, Golden. Golden still refused to exit her vehicle and refused to hand the officers her license and insurance. During trial, Golden argued that she was scared to pull over because it was dark and that once stopped, she thought the officers were harassing her. The Court disagreed with Golden and concluded that the officers were acting in the lawful discharge of their duties and Golden obstructed them by not pulling over and not complying with the commands of the officers once pulled over. Therefore, she was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt of misdemeanor obstruction. 276 Ga. App. 538, (2005).
In Chynoweth v. State, a prisoner was convicted of felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer. The evidence showed that Chynoweth was being moved from his jail cell for transport to his bond hearing. An officer asked Chynoweth to put his hands on a table so the officer could place chain restraints on him. When trying to put the restraints on, Chynoweth turned around and tried to punch one officer and then fought with other officers as they tried to bring him down. He was eventually subdued after being tased twice. During his trial, Chynoweth argued that he should be charged with misdemeanor instead of felony obstruction. However, the Court disagreed and said the evidence that Chynoweth made punching motions at the officer and then began to fight the officers as they tried to transport was sufficient to show felony obstruction. 331 Ga. App. 123, (2015).
Obstruction Only Applies When Officer is in Lawful Discharge of Their Duties
There is a narrow exception under Georgia law where obstruction is permitted if the law enforcement officer was not lawfully discharging their duties. In other words, Georgia law does not support a conviction for obstruction in the course of resistance when there is an unlawful arrest.
For example, in the case of Glenn v. State, officers responded to a “suspicious person” call in the area of an elementary school. Upon spotting Glenn walking, the officers unlawfully arrested Glenn and he damaged the patrol car. S19G1236, (2020). He was charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer, loitering and prowling, and interference with government property. The Court found that OCGA §16-10-24 applies only when the defendant obstructs or hinders a law enforcement officer “in the lawful discharge of his or her official duties”.
Furthermore, the Court stated that detaining or arresting a person without authority to do so under the law does not constitute the lawful discharge of the duties of a law enforcement officer, and, therefore, one who resists an unlawful arrest or detention does not commit the offense of obstruction. Bacon v. State, 347 Ga. App. 689, (2018).
In the Glenn ruling, the Court stated that under Georgia law, therefore, a person may damage government property in an attempt to resist an unlawful, warrantless arrest or escape an unlawful, warrantless detention, using no more than proportionate force, even where, as in this case, officers handcuff an arrestee and place him in a patrol car before the arrestee's property-damaging conduct. Because the officers were not in the lawful discharge of their duties when they handcuffed Glenn and forced him into the patrol car, he did not commit the offense of obstruction.
If you think this exception applies to your situation, contact our Resisting Arrest Lawyers in Georgia today.
However, it is noted that even though the Court ruled that Glenn's arrest was unlawful, he did commit the offense of interference with government property when he damaged the police car.
Obstruction and DUI Cases
Obstruction of a law enforcement officer is a common charge associated with DUI and drug possession cases. It often results from people giving a false name, resisting arrest, or running from the police. Another way is if an officer signals you to pull over and you do not pull over immediately.
What starts as a minor traffic stop can quickly become escalated if you disobey or threaten the officer. It can also become intensified if the officer believes you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Sometimes people try to destroy evidence by consuming drugs that were in their vehicle when they see police behind them, but this is also considered obstruction.
Defenses to Obstruction Charges in Georgia
Innocence: Everyone makes mistakes including law enforcement officers. If the officer charged the wrong person with the crime, any evidence showing you were not at the scene, or you were not the one who committed the crime would be greatly beneficial.
Lack of Evidence: Evidence is crucial in any criminal case. The prosecution must present evidence showing you are guilty of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is not enough evidence, then you cannot go to trial. A Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney would be essential in this situation to help you get the charges dropped.
Lack of Intent: A conviction for obstruction requires that the accused knowingly or willfully obstructed the officer. If you had no intent to obstruct justice, then you cannot be guilty of the crime.
Lack of Probable Cause for the Arrest: Officers must have probable cause to stop a person before they are arrested. If there was no probable cause, a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Georgia could assist in getting your case dismissed. An example of this is if an officer saw a man running down the street. The officer decides to chase down the man without asking him to stop and without having any probable cause for an arrest. Therefore, an obstruction charge would not be appropriate in this situation.
The Officer Was Not in the Lawful Discharge of His Duties: If the officer was not lawfully conducting his duties, then no crime has occurred. An example is when an officer arrests someone without probable cause. They cannot be lawfully discharging their duties when they arrest someone without probable cause. This defense can be difficult to prove, and the best option is to hire a Georgia Obstruction Attorney to assist.
If these defenses do not apply to your situation, don't worry! That does not mean you do not have a case. Instead, contact one of our experienced Georgia Criminal Defense Attorneys who will help develop the best defense strategy for you.
What Does Not Constitute a Defense in Georgia
The Officer Did Not Suffer an Injury: The Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled that an officer does not have to suffer an injury for a person to be charged with felony obstruction. A threat of harm can be enough for a conviction.
I Did Not Think I Did Anything Wrong: Even if you believe you are innocent and do not understand why an officer is investigating you, you need to comply with their requests. This means answering questions honestly and following directions.
The Office of Lawson and Berry has assisted countless clients with obstruction charges. We will take the time to discuss your case with you, advise you of possible defenses, and address any concerns you may have. We care about your future and want to obtain the best possible outcome for you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.