Review of California's Obstruction of Justice Laws and Defenses
Obstruction of justice frequently involves the interference of a law enforcement investigation where people are attempting to conceal or destroy evidence, or they are uncooperative with police detectives.
Under California law, there is not a specific statute of “obstruction of justice,” but there are several types of misdemeanor and felony crimes that fall under the umbrella of obstructing justice.
The legal system in California is set up to give law enforcement an ability to perform their official duties without interference.
If you are perceived with causing undue interference with how the law operates, then you could be prosecuted for obstructing justice.
Any attempt to dissuade a witness, or stop them from testifying in court, will often result in criminal charges.
In fact, anything effort to hinder law enforcement officers who are performing their duties could lead to some type of obstruction of justice charge.
The types of behavior that normally fall under the category of crime that involve the obstruction of justice are directly related to:
- lying to a law enforcement during a criminal investigation,
- giving police false or misleading evidence,
- attempting to conceal or destroy evidence,
- attempting to prevent an arrest, including your own.
- tampering with potential witnesses.
Obstruction of justice charges in California can have serious consequences depending on the specific details of the case.
What is Obstruction of Justice?
As stated, under California law, obstruction of justice is not a specific law; but it is a crime that is integral to several offenses, including:
- Penal Code 132 PC - offering false evidence,
- Penal Code 134 PC - preparing false evidence,
- Penal Code 135 PC - destroying evidence,
- Penal Code 136.1 PC - tampering or intimidating witnesses,
- Penal Code 148 PC - resisting arrest or obstructing a police officer.
Offering False Evidence
Penal Code 132 PC offering false evidence makes it unlawful for an individual to offer physical evidence that they know is forged or fraudulent.
This law applies to any official court hearing or investigation, like a trial, official proceeding, or inquiry.
And it doesn't matter if the evidence is partially true; as long as a piece of it is known to be forged or fraudulent, it will violate this law and be considered to obstruct justice.
A prosecutor has to prove several factors to obtain a conviction for violating Penal Code 132 PC, including that the defendant offered false evidence in a legal proceeding and they the evidence was false when it was offered.
This crime is a felony offense and usually carries a sentence of imprisonment between 16 months and three years and up to $10,000 in fines.
Prepare False Evidence
Penal Code 134 PC makes it illegal for an individual to allow forged or fraudulent evidence to be used, or intend for it to be used, in an official hearing or investigation.
In others words, this statute makes it illegal for someone to prepare false evidence with intent to use it fraudulently in a legal proceeding.
Again, the evidence must be physical and might include a book, paper, record, or instrument in writing. These charges are usually associated with Penal Code 470 PC forgery charges.
The punishment for this crime, which is also a felony, is the same as PC 132 offering false evidence – between 16 months and three years of imprisonment and $10,000 in fines.
Under California Penal Code 135 PC, it is against the law to knowingly and willingly destroy any physical evidence in someone else's possession.
The destroying evidence statute is meant to protect evidence that may be used in an official proceeding.
An individual must not destroy, erase, or conceal this evidence, or they could be accused of violating this statute.
A common example includes a situation where someone deletes incriminating files from their computer hard drive during a criminal investigation.
PC 135 destroying evidence is a misdemeanor crime that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Tampering or Intimidating Witnesses
Penal Code 136.1 PC makes it a crime to prevent, or even make an attempt, to stop a witness from providing testimony at a legal proceeding. Witnesses are another form of evidence in every court in the country.
Tampering or intimidating a witness would obstruct justice if the defendant did it knowingly or maliciously.
To intimidate or tamper with a witness knowingly or maliciously, the defendant would have prevented or deterred a witness or victim from attending an official proceeding or giving testimony or attempting to do so.
If your dissuading a witness charge is categorized as a misdemeanor, and you are found guilty, you would be subject to up to one year in jail and $1,000.
But if the PC 136.1 charge is categorized as a felony, it would carry a two to four year jail sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.
This crime can be elevated to a felony crime if:
- it accompanies a force or a threat of force against a witness, victim, third party, or property;
- the intimidation or tampering furthers a conspiracy;
- the person doing it is paid;
- the person doing it has been convicted before for the same crime.
Obstruction of a Police Officer
Under California Penal Code 148C, it is illegal for an individual to intentionally resist, delay, or obstruct a police officer or EMT performing their official responsibilities. This crime includes resisting arrest.
Most people are aware that resisting arrest occurs when someone attempts to obstruct the police in lawfully taking them into custody.
It should be noted, however, this crime also includes a variety of other unlawful activities, such as obstructing police from interviewing a witness of a crime, and interfering police attempting to arrest another person.
PC 148 is classified as a misdemeanor and subject to up to a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
How a Criminal Attorney Can Help You
If you are accused of obstruction of justice, there are legal defenses our Los Angeles criminal lawyers can use to fight the charges. Generally, these include:
- finding a lack of intent,
- first Amendment rights, and
- mistaken identity.
Any type of obstruction of justice charges will require a prosecutor to prove a defendant acted willingly and knowingly.
As most people know, the First Amendment gives everyone the right free speech, including using their cell phone to videotape police in the performance of their duties.
Our lawyers will work tirelessly to execute these defenses and ensure the state is upholding your rights from arrest to trial.
We are also well versed in a process called prefiling intervention.
During this type of intervention, we reach out to law enforcement and prosecutors to avoid filing formal criminal charges before court.
The criminal defense law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles and Van Nuys, CA.
Contact us for a consultation at (877) 781-1570.