Obstruction of Justice
Obstruction of justice can take many forms. It can be something trivial like providing a crime investigating officer with a wrong name or address to mislead them. It can also be something significant like physically barring police officers’ lawful entry into a building even when they have a proper search warrant.
The charge of obstruction is taken very seriously. In many cases, obstruction of justice could provide offenders and criminals the opportunity to escape from law enforcement agencies. The prosecution usually builds a strong case against people accused of obstructing justice if their actions allowed actual culprits with an opportunity to flee.
It should be noted that not everyone accused of obstructing justice is guilty of aiding criminals. For example, a witness to some criminal offense may not want to come forward to testify in court. The person may have his or her personal reasons for choosing not to get involved. However, the law allows the State to charge such people with obstruction.
This can be unfortunate and even considered a form of coercion. These are the kinds of situations where defense attorneys come in and play a positive role in helping people get the State off their back.State Legislation
Obstruction of justice is covered under 720 ILCS 5/31. The law states that a person obstructs justice when he or she prevents the apprehension or prosecution of any person by committing one of the following acts.
- Destroys, alters, conceals or disguises evidence, plants false evidence or provides false information.
- Convinces or coerces a witness with material knowledge of the subject at issue to leave the State or conceal himself or herself.
- While being in possession of material knowledge about the subject at issue, he or she goes into hiding or leaves the State.
If the parent, legal guardian or caretaker of a child under 13 years of age reports materially false information to a law enforcement agency, medical examiner, State Attorney or other governmental agency during an investigation involving the child’s death or disappearance, they can also be charged with obstruction of justice.Punishments
Obstruction of justice is a Class 4 felony and punishable by 1 – 3 years in prison.
Obstructing justice in relation to street gang activity, as defined in Section 10 of Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, is a Class 3 felony. It is punishable by 2 – 5 years in prison.Considerations
The law also covers the issue of obstructing identification and obstructing service of process.
A person commits the offense of obstructing identification when he or she intentionally and knowingly furnishes false identification information about themselves to a peace officer, such as a fake name or false address. The offense must have been committed when
- The officer makes a lawful arrest of the person
- The officer detains the person lawfully
- The officer requests the information from a person who is believe to be a witness to a criminal offense.
Obstructing identification is a Class A misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in prison.
A person who knowingly resists or obstructs the authorized service or execution of any civil or criminal process or order of any court commits a Class B misdemeanor which is punishable by up to six months in prison.Examples and Court Cases
A police officer from Rockford was recently charged with multiple counts after she interfered with a domestic battery investigation involving her cousin.
Christina Perez 27, was charged with obstruction of justice and official misconduct in March. She was also charged with unlawful communication with a witness and conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice.
Her cousin Joseph Perez, 28, was also charged with obstruction of justice. He had been previously charged with domestic battery but the charges were dropped by the State Attorney because of non-cooperation from the victim.
Authorities report that Joseph Perez had received help from Christina Perez to contact the woman that he had been accused of bettering in January. The police believe that the victim stopped cooperating with the police due to the involvement of Christina who is a police officer.
Obstruction of justice charges are usually brought against two types of people. First, the charges are brought against people whose actions have caused delays in investigation allowing an offender to get away. Second, the charges can also be brought against defendants whose actions are believed to be causing delays in an ongoing investigation.
A defendant may be able to get the charges dropped in exchange for cooperation with the law enforcing agencies in an ongoing investigation. This option was recently used by Justin Serak, 29, who had been charged with obstruction of justice by the Lake County prosecution.
The man was previously charged in connection with the death of a teenager at a Lake Villa youth home where he used to work. Serak was charged along with another co-worker James Davis. Authorities claim that the teen died when Serak and Davis were trying to get him back to his room during a confrontation on the campus.
The police and rescue services were later called that night in response to injuries received by the teenager. He was later taken to the hospital and died.
Serak had initially told the investigators that the teen had slipped on a wet floor. More than a dozen witness testimonies contradicted this claim who reported that they had seen Davis choke the teenage.
Serak had later admitted that he and Davis made up the story to make the boy’s death appear accidental. Davis is still held in custody at the Lake County jail on charges of involuntary manslaughter and obstruction of justice. Obstruction of justice charges will be dropped against Serak in exchange for a true testimony in court.Possible Legal Defenses
Obstruction of justice can be anything from knowingly lying to the police to tampering with evidence. The defense strategy would depend on the actions taken by the defendant that caused the charges.
For example, if a defendant is accused of tampering with evidence, the legal team could argue that the defendant was unaware that his or her actions would cause the evidence to become compromised.
A defendant accused of lying to or misleading the police may be able to argue that the information they provided to the authorities was believed to be accurate to the best of their knowledge.
Coercion and fear of physical harm is a reasonable defense in obstruction cases. In gang-related violence cases, witnesses are often genuinely afraid of testifying in court out of fear for their safety. A defendant can argue that he or she went into hiding because they had realistic expectations of being harmed for speaking to the law enforcement agencies.
It should be noted that defendants in obstruction cases are not held responsible for the crime themselves but considered guilty of withholding information against actual offenders. The possibility of providing testimony in court and getting enrolled in the witness protection program is an option that may be available to defendants.