There are many ways a person can commit obstruction of justice in Mecklenburg County. All obstruction of justice crimes refer to acts that allegedly obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice. In North Carolina, some obstruction of justice crimes are common law crimes and others are statutory crimes.
You can face misdemeanor or felony obstruction of justice charges, and the penalties of a conviction may include a lengthy prison sentence.
If you have been arrested for obstruction of justice, you must take the charges seriously. The experienced criminal defense lawyers at Browning & Long, P.L.L.C., can explain what to expect in your criminal case and develop an aggressive defense strategy to help you.
Common Law Obstruction of Justice in North Carolina
Common law obstruction of justice involves actions preventing, obstructing, impeding, or hindering public or legal justice. This offense is often charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor. To prove obstruction of justice was committed under common law, the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Actions. The accused must have taken actions that prevented, obstructed, impeded, or hindered public or legal justice.
- Intent. The accused must have acted willfully and unlawfully.
When Common Law Obstruction of Justice Can Be Charged as a FelonyIn certain circumstances, obstruction of justice can be charged as a felony under North Carolina common law. The crime must involve one of these elements for a person to face felony charges:
- The accused acted with deceit and the intent to defraud when obstructing justice
- The criminal offense is infamous
- The accused committed the crime with malice and secrecy
Obstruction of Justice Under North Carolina Statutory LawN.C.G.S. 14.221 defines many ways an individual can commit the crime of obstruction of justice. Many of these offenses are felonies in our state. Types of obstruction of justice crimes under N.C.G.S. 14.221 and other North Carolina laws include the following.
Breaking Into a Jail
A person could be charged with obstruction of justice if they break into or enter a jail or prison with the intent to injure or kill a prisoner. This offense is a Class F felony. The individual could also face other charges, such as murder or manslaughter.
Destroying EvidenceIntentionally destroying, altering, or concealing evidence relevant to an ongoing investigation or legal proceeding is considered an obstruction of justice. The accused must have broken into or entered a building, structure, compartment, vehicle, file, cabinet, or other enclosure. They must have altered, destroyed, or stolen evidence or entered with the intent of altering, destroying, or stealing the evidence that is relevant to a criminal offense or court proceeding. This crime is a Class 1 felony.
Altering Court DocumentsTampering with or forging court documents, such as transcripts, warrants, or judgments, intending to deceive or hinder the administration of justice falls under obstruction of justice. The alteration can be of criminal or civil court documents. This offense would be charged as a Class H felony.
Physically resisting, obstructing, or delaying a law enforcement officer in the performance of their duties, such as executing a warrant, making a traffic stop, or conducting a criminal investigation, can lead to charges of obstruction of justice. There are three ways this offense can be committed:
- A person could be found guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor if they willfully and unlawfully resist, delay, or obstruct a public official in attempting to or performing their official duties.
- The crime will be elevated to a Class I felony if the person's actions listed above are the proximate cause of the officer's serious injuries.
- The offense will be charged as a Class F felony if the individual's actions listed above are the proximate cause of the official's serious bodily injury. Under North Carolina law, serious bodily injury is defined as an injury that creates a substantial risk of death, causes permanent disfigurement, coma, or protracted and permanent loss or impairment of an organ, or results in prolonged hospitalization.
False Reports to Law Enforcement
Making false statements, providing misleading information, or filing fraudulent reports with law enforcement agencies can constitute obstruction of justice. This crime is often charged as a Class 2 misdemeanor. However, if the investigation is into a child's disappearance, the offense could be elevated to a Class H felony.
A person might be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor for obstruction of justice for engaging in picketing activities outside a courthouse, building, or residence intending to interfere with or obstruct legal proceedings. The building or home being picketed can be used or occupied by a judge, district attorney, juror, witness, or court officer.
Attempting to influence or intimidate jurors or their spouses through harassment, intimidation, or communication is considered an obstruction of justice. This crime is a Class H felony.
Engaging in actions that intimidate, threaten, or manipulate witnesses to prevent them from testifying truthfully or cooperating with authorities is a serious offense of obstruction. A person accused of this type of obstruction of justice could face Class G felony charges.
They could also be arrested for this crime if they threaten the witness with the denial of their parental rights. This charge might arise out of a domestic violence or abuse criminal case.
Failure to Appear
An individual could be charged with obstruction of justice if they fail to attend required court hearings after being released from jail on bail. They would be charged with a Class I felony if they had been charged with another felony when released on bail. If the underlying crime were a misdemeanor, they would face Class 2 misdemeanor charges.
Bribery is the direct or indirect receiving of or agreement to receive money or something else of value from another individual in exchange for their influence or other favorable treatment. Obstruction of justice would be committed if the person accepting the bribe holds a governmental office, has been nominated for a governmental office, or has filed a notice of candidacy. This is a Class F felony.
If an accused commits perjury and is charged with obstruction of justice, they would face Class F felony charges. Perjury occurs if you knowingly and willfully make a false statement under oath.
Penalties for Obstruction of Justice
The penalties for obstruction of justice in North Carolina vary depending on how severe the crime is and whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Additionally, North Carolina uses a complicated sentencing system that takes into account many mitigating and aggravating factors, like your prior criminal history and the seriousness of the crime. You could be sentenced as follows:
- Class 1 misdemeanor. You could be sentenced to up to 120 days in jail.
- Class 2 misdemeanor. The punishment might include up to 60 days in jail.
- Class F felony. The penalty for a Class F felony is up to 59 months in prison.
- Class G felony. Your sentence could include a maximum of 31 months in prison.
- Class H felony. A Class H felony conviction could result in imprisonment for up to 25 months.
Steps to Take If You Are Charged With Obstruction of Justice
If the police charge you with obstruction of justice, taking the proper steps is crucial to protect your rights. Here are five vital steps to take immediately:
- Comply with law enforcement requests. Stay calm during the arrest to avoid any additional charges or escalation of the situation. Cooperate with the police by providing your identification and basic information.
- Remain silent. Invoke your right to remain silent and avoid making incriminating statements to police officers. Politely inform the arresting officer that you wish to invoke your right to remain silent and that you would like to speak with your lawyer before answering any questions.
- Request an attorney. Clearly state that you want to speak with an attorney, and do not answer any questions until your lawyer is present. Legal representation during questioning can protect your rights and prevent inadvertent self-incrimination.
- Avoid consent searches. Do not consent to any searches of your person, vehicle, or property without a warrant. You have the right to refuse a search unless law enforcement officers possess a valid search warrant or probable cause.