Virginia Law: Obstruction of Justice

The crime of obstruction of justice occurs when “any person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede … any law enforcement officer, lawfully engaged in the discharge of his duty….” VA Law § 18.2-460(C).

Obstruction of Justice is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, which is punishable by up to one year in jail, and up to a $2,500 fine. However, the charge can be enhanced and increased to a Class 5 felony offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, if an attempt to intimidate or impede a police officer is made by threats of bodily harm or force.

 

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This article is written by Virginia criminal defense attorney Marina Medvin, an award-winning Northern Virginia lawyer serving Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington, VA. Please call for a criminal defense attorney consultation request.

 

 

Explanation of the Charge of Obstruction of Justice

To violate Virginia’s obstruction law, the accused must intend to impede an officer in the performance of his duties. Impeding an officer’s duties does not require the defendant to commit an actual or technical assault upon the officer. Rather, there must be acts clearly indicating an intention on the part of the accused to prevent the officer from performing his duty, as to `obstruct’ ordinarily implies opposition or resistance by direct action.

For example, attempting to prevent a police officer from conducting a lawful search is a type of obstruction that is punished in Virginia. Anyone who prevents police officers from being able to perform their duties, whether it is the arrestee or a third person, can be charged under VA Code 18.2-460 for Obstruction of Justice.

Felony Obstruction of Justice

The Felony charge for Obstruction under 18.2-460 can be charged under two circumstances:
1) a knowing attempt to intimidate or impede a law enforcement officer in the performance of his duties; and
2) a knowing attempt to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court when the conduct at issue relates in some manner to the code-required drug-related statutes or felony offenses.

Misdemeanor Obstruction of Justice

To be convicted of Misdemeanor Obstruction under 18.2-460 subsection A, the government must show that your acts clearly indicated an intention to prevent the officer from performing his duty. “Obstruct” is understood in its ordinary meaning, and ordinarily implies opposition or resistance by direct action – it means to obstruct the officer himself, not merely to oppose or impede the process with which the officer is armed.

Obstruction of justice under this subsection does not occur when a person fails to cooperate fully with an officer, or when the person’s conduct merely renders the officer’s task more difficult or just frustrates the investigation. So, for example, an accused man hiding or seeking to escape from an officer by merely running away is not obstruction under this code section. (Although unprovoked flight from the police could lead to them detaining you, and running away during an arrest is a crime under 18.2-479.1.)

For example, in one recent Virginia case, a man was charged with Obstruction of Justice for throwing a bag of barley into the road in front of a police vehicle. The court determined that this act did not show the intent to obstruct the officers because the bag would not naturally result in the wreck or obstruction of an automobile.

Thus, a person commits a Class 1 misdemeanor if he “knowingly obstructs” a police officer in the performance of his duties or if he refuses “to cease such obstruction when requested to do so” by a police officer.

VA Code 18.2-460 subsection B prohibits a person from “using threats or force to knowingly attempt to intimidate or impede a law-enforcement officer lawfully engaged in the performance of his duties.” The obstruction of justice statute does not require you to commit an actual or technical assault upon the officer, the crime involves merely an attempt to intimidate or impede the officer with either threats or force. The offense is complete when the attempt to intimidate is made, so it is immaterial whether the officer is actually placed in fear or apprehension. Thus, making verbal threats to harm the officer is enough for this charge. Under this subsection, the prosecution must prove: (1) use of force or threats, (2) a knowing attempt, (3) to intimidate or impede any law enforcement officer.

Subsection D of 18.2-460 discusses Misdemeanor obstruction by lying to the police. However, subsection D only applies to a false statement or representation made while the officer is investigating a “crime by another,” which necessarily means a crime committed by someone other than the person making the false statement or representation.



Virginia Obstruction of Justice Laws


Virginia Law 18.2-460. Obstructing justice; penalty.

A. If any person without just cause knowingly obstructs a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 in the performance of his duties as such or fails or refuses without just cause to cease such obstruction when requested to do so by such judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
B. Except as provided in subsection C, any person who, by threats or force, knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 lawfully engaged in his duties as such, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
C. If any person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, lawfully engaged in the discharge of his duty, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court relating to a violation of or conspiracy to violate § 18.2-248 or subdivision (a) (3), (b) or (c) of § 18.2-248.1, or § 18.2-46.2 or § 18.2-46.3, or relating to the violation of or conspiracy to violate any violent felony offense listed in subsection C of § 17.1-805, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.
D. Any person who knowingly and willfully makes any materially false statement or representation to a law-enforcement officer or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 who is in the course of conducting an investigation of a crime by another is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Fairfax County Law 5-1-11 – Resisting or obstructing execution of legal process.

Every person acting jointly or in combination with any other person to resist or obstruct the execution of any legal process shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

City of Alexandria 13-1-29 – Obstructing justice by threats or force.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person, without just cause, knowingly to obstruct a judge, magistrate, juror, witness or any law enforcement officer in the performance of his duties, or to fail or refuse without just cause to cease such obstruction when requested to do so by such judge, magistrate, juror, witness or any law enforcement officer. Any person violating this subsection shall be guilty of a class 4 misdemeanor.
(b) It shall be unlawful for any person, by threats or by force, knowingly to attempt to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, juror, witness or any law enforcement officer, lawfully engaged in his duties as such, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court. Any person violating this subsection shall be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

Falls Church 32-10 – Interfering with arrests.

It shall be unlawful for any person to resist, obstruct or in any way interfere with any arrest made or attempted by any police or other officer having authority to make arrests.

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