BUSINESS LAW 101 / Obstructing Justice

By Albert L. Kelley, Esq.

For our justice system to work properly, there must be cooperation by the public. When people take steps to subvert the judicial system, they are not just attempting to evade punishment, but also are creating a strain on the foundations of this country.

Obstruction of justice takes many forms, many of which involve law enforcement. Law enforcement officers take an oath to uphold and enforce the law. Each day they go out and potentially risk their lives to comply with this oath. This often leads to tension and conflict with people who have been accused of breaking the law. When a person takes action to prevent an officer from doing his job without using violence is referred to as resisting an officer and is a first-degree misdemeanor. It’s a misnomer when people refer to this as resisting arrest. The statute does not require an arrest; any action taken to restrict an officer from doing his duty will suffice. If the person uses violence against the officer, the charges raised to a third-degree felony. If during this resistance, the person removes the officer’s gun or radio so the officer cannot defend himself or call for assistance, that action is also a third-degree felony. In addition, the person is a disguise to change their appearance in order to prevent an officer from fulfilling his duties, there can be an additional charge for a first-degree misdemeanor. Once a person has been arrested and placed in handcuffs, if they have on them a handcuff key and did not immediately disclose this to the officer, they can be charged with another third-degree felony.

While I’ve already mentioned that an arrest is not necessary for these charges to be brought, other members of the public can have a duty to assist the officers. If an arrested person escapes from police custody, law enforcement officers can request any citizen to assist in the search and arrest. Refusal to assist can result in a first-degree misdemeanor.

If a person falsely holds himself out to be a law enforcement officer or a state attorney or an assistant state attorney, a state attorney investigator, a coroner, a lottery special agent, a beverage enforcement agent, a school guardian or a licensed security officer they can be charged with a third-degree felony. If this impersonation is done during the commission of a felony, the charge rises to a 2nd degree felony. And if during a crime somebody is hurt or killed, the charge rises to a first-degree felony.

Because the public has gotten so used to flashing a rotating blue light to represent the police, is unlawful for anyone to have those type of lights on their personal vehicle or vessel. The position of rotating or flashing blue lights on a car or boat is a first-degree misdemeanor. In a related sense, a person who has a badge falsely indicating that they are a member of a law enforcement agency or has a badge painted on the vehicle or any words on the vehicle indicating the vehicle might be operated by law enforcement agency can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. In addition to the foregoing, any action taken by a person impersonating a law enforcement office, including the service of lawsuits, is a third-degree felony.  

These are not the only actions that comprise obstruction of justice.  We will continue this list in the next column. 

Al Kelley has worked as an attorney in Key West for the last 31 years. He is the author of five law books available through Absolutely Amazing E-Books and the host of “Basics Of The Law”, a weekly YouTube channel. He also previously taught business law, personnel law, and labor law at St. Leo University. This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney. 

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