Obstructing The Administration of Law (Part 4)

by | Apr 16, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Know Your Rights

The Court continued: The appellate panel relied heavily on Reece, but we find the conduct at issue in that case distinguishable from Fede’s refusal to unchain his door. In Reece, officers responded after receiving a dropped 9-1-1 call originating from Reece’s home. Officers sought warrantless entry into Reece’s home to conduct a welfare check under the emergency-aid doctrine, but Reece refused consent. The officers explained that they “needed to check the house, at which point Reece slammed the door closed” and attempted to lock it. “The officers pushed the door open,” at which time a violent physical struggle ensued, causing Reece and the three officers to fall to the floor.

In our analysis, we recognized that officers had announced their intention to enter Reece’s home and that they were doing so “in order to lawfully perform an official function under the emergency-aid doctrine.” Once we established that the officers’ warrantless entry was lawful, we concluded that the defendant’s attempt to slam and lock the door on the officers in an attempt to prevent the officers from performing their official function constituted obstruction. Specifically, we found that Reece attempted to prevent the officers’ entry “by means of physical interference or obstacle.”

By the structure and the terms of the obstruction statute, the attempt to create an obstacle is distinct from a failure to act. Here, Fede did not undertake an affirmative act. He did not learn of the officers’ need to enter his home and then attempt to prevent that entry. His use of the ordinary door-chain-lock was his standard practice, not a circumstantial reaction to the officers’ knock. As the testimony revealed, Fede did not try to prevent the officers from breaking the chain, offering no physical resistance once the officers broke the chain and entered. Indeed, he complied with instructions to wait outside his home while the search was conducted. Although Fede’s refusal to remove the lock to allow the officers to perform their necessary, lawful, and focused search is not an advisable course of action and could have escalated the situation, it was not criminal.

The Court leaves the prosecution with some room to get a conviction even in cases which do not involve an affirmative act that is known to the police. The language regarding the defendant’s “standard practice” indicates that the Court may have held otherwise if the prosecution could prove that the defendant fastened the chain lock upon seeing the police from a distance and that fastening the chain lock was not his “standard practice.”