Under Ohio law, it is a crime to hamper or impede a police officer or other public official in the performance of his or her official duties. Ohio Revised Code 2921.31.
This charge encompasses a wide range of acts, including, for example:
- Lying to a police officer;
- Giving the wrong name, wrong address, or providing a false set of facts for the situation;
- Fleeing from an officer after being ordered to stop;
- Other affirmative acts that actually impede a law enforcement investigation.
There are a few interesting defenses, however, to the statute. We regularly investigate these and other possible defenses to obstruction charges in order to get our clients the best possible outcome in their case.
Defense: Must be an Affirmative Act
To be found guilty of obstruction of official business, you must have done some affirmative act. That means that failure to act is not enough. The Courts have held that not saying or doing anything during a police investigation, by itself, is not an act that could be charged as obstruction. A failure to act does not constitute conduct sufficient to satisfy this element of Obstructing Official Business. State v. Vitantonio, 2013-Ohio-4100.
- If a police officer asks you for identification and you refuse, that is not considered an “affirmative act” and therefore is not a crime under this statue. This issue came up recently in an appellate court case in which the defendant refused to provide identification and his conviction for obstruction official business was overturned.
- Accidentally dialing 911 and then refusing to allow police to enter your home is not an “affirmative act” under the statute. The “refusal to respond to the building entrance buzzer, open his door at the officers’ request, or consent to their entry are not affirmative acts, but omissions.”
- Refusing to open the door to speak with the police officer investigating a traffic accident. Simply not opening the door to speak with police is not enough by itself to be considered obstruction. State v. Pears, 2020-Ohio-739.
Defense: Act Must Actually Impede the Officer’s Investigation
Another effective defense is whether the act actually impeded the officer’s investigation.
For example, if you lie to the police about hearing gunshots in your neighborhood, and this false statement does not actually impede the officer’s investigation of the shooting, then you should not be found guilty of obstruction.
Likewise, yelling “police” or shutting the door when you see police coming up to your house was recently found to not be obstructing official business.
If you are not detained by officers as a part of their investigation, you are under no obligation to cooperate or answer any questions. The Court in the Pears case held that not acting is not evidence of obstruction. However, if you do participate in the officer’s investigation, providing any false or misleading information could lead to additional charges, like obstruction, in addition to any filed from the underlying investigation.
Generally, obstruction of official business is a second degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail. However, if the obstruction creates a risk of physical harm to anyone, it is a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to 12 months in jail.
It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you including whether the facts rise to the level of obstructing official business. If you have questions about your Columbus criminal or OVI related charges, talk to our defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.