Obstruction of justice in Utah has a very complex statute with many parts. However, the way it breaks down, there are only a few elements that the government needs to show to prove their case against you. To have the best chance of beating the charges, getting charges reduced, or getting charges dropped, you should have an attorney represent you on your case. If you have been charged with obstruction of justice, you may also face other charges like disorderly conduct or resisting arrest alongside your obstruction charges.
For a free consultation on your charges and to talk to an experienced defense attorney about your case, talk to Darwin Overson of Overson and Sheen. For your free consultation, call (801) 895-3143.
What is Obstruction of Justice in Utah?
Utah’s obstruction of justice statute, found in § 76-8-306 of the Utah Code, creates 10 ways for the crime of obstruction of justice to be committed. In all 10 cases, there is one unified element: the intent. To commit the crime of obstruction of justice, you must have the “intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the investigation, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person regarding conduct that constitutes a criminal offense.”
This brings a few important aspects into consideration. With this intent requirement, you must be trying to obstruct an investigation, arrest, etc. in order to be convicted of obstruction. Police investigations are often quick, and police can easily become frustrated. This may mean that they threaten obstruction charges against people who get in there way. However, merely being in the way of an investigation is not the same as obstruction. This means that if you should not be convicted of obstruction if you:
- Deny police access to your home or effects until they get a search warrant,
- Following company policy to wait for a superior before admitting police access,
- Following your profession’s ethical codes by refusing to release records or patient/client information without a subpoena, or
- Otherwise standing up for your civil rights against police officers.
As long as these activities are performed without the intent to delay an investigation, stop an arrest, etc., they are perfectly legal and within your rights. If charges resulted from these kinds of actions, talk to an attorney right away.
The actual conduct that does qualify as obstruction is listed in 10 subsections of the obstruction statute. Recall that the intent requirement applies to each of these – meaning that accidentally doing one of these things is not necessarily obstruction of justice. However, the following acts may be obstruction of justice:
- Providing someone with a weapon. E.g., if you know your friend is running from the police, giving him a weapon may be obstruction.
- Preventing someone from discovering, apprehending, prosecuting, convicting, or punishing someone through force, intimidation, or deception. E.g., intimidating a witness, threatening a district attorney, or lying to a police officer may be obstruction.
- Altering, destroying, concealing, or removing “any item or other thing.” E.g., destroying, hiding, or tampering with evidence may be obstruction.
- Making, presenting, or using a false item. E.g., providing police with a false ID or forging evidence may be obstruction.
- Harboring or concealing a person. E.g., hiding a known suspect in your house may be obstruction.
- Providing a person with transportation, disguise, or other ways to avoid discovery or apprehension. E.g., giving a friend who is on the run from the law a car or change of clothes may be obstruction.
- Warning a person that they will be caught or arrested. E.g., warning a friend to lay low if you know police are looking for them may be obstruction.
- Warning someone of a wire-tap or upcoming wire-tap. E.g. warning a friend that their phone is bugged may be obstruction.
- Concealing “information that is not privileged and that concerns the offense” in violation of a court order. E.g., refusing to answer questions on the stand may be obstruction.
- Providing false info concerning a suspect, witness, the offense, or another “material aspect of the investigation.” E.g., lying about who was at the scene of the crime or what happened may be obstruction.
These examples are, by far, not the only ways that this crime could be committed. Instead, they are simple examples of common ways to think about each subsection. In some cases, your obstruction may fall into multiple categories. For instance, you may give someone a gun, warn them police are coming, and let them borrow your car. If your conduct violates multiple subsections of the statute, you may be charged with multiple counts of obstruction – one for each violated subsection.
One important note about obstruction charges is that the conduct that “obstructs justice” can be legal or illegal conduct. While loaning a friend your car may typically be legal, it becomes illegal if it is done to help them flee from the police. Alternatively, the conduct may also be illegal, such as opening fire on police to help a friend escape. This means police could arrest you for obstruction and charge you with the other crime on top of the obstruction charges.
Lastly, obstruction of justice is only a crime if you are preventing the investigation, apprehension, etc. regarding a crime. If you help someone escape from police, but they are not part of an investigation for a crime at that time, obstruction charges cannot stand.
Penalties for Obstruction of Justice in Utah
Under Utah law, obstruction of justice is punished different ways for different circumstances. First, the law looks at your conduct:
- If that conduct was itself a capital felony or first degree felony, your obstruction charges are a second degree felony.
- If the conduct was itself a second or third degree felony in violation of subsection (b), (c), (d), (e), or (f) above, your obstruction charges are a third degree felony.
- If the conduct was itself any other offense in violation of subsection (a) above, your obstruction charges are a third degree felony.
- If you obstructed justice in a courtroom, it is a third degree felony.
- If your obstruction violated subsection (h) above (for wire-taps), it is a third degree felony.
- Any other obstruction is a class A misdemeanor.
The following are the breakdowns for each level of obstruction charges:
- Second degree felony: This is the third highest level of crime in Utah and is punished by 1-15 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Third degree felony: This is the fourth highest level of crime in Utah and is punished by up to 5 years in prison and fines up to $5,000.
- Class A misdemeanor: This is the highest form of misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and fines up to $2,500.
Utah Obstruction of Justice Attorney
If you or a loved one was charged with obstruction of justice, talk to an attorney today. Because of the technicalities associated with this crime, it may be inappropriate to charge obstruction in many cases. Salt Lake City obstruction of justice lawyer Darwin Overson of Overson and Sheen may be able to help challenge the case against you to get charges dropped or reduced. For your free consultation on your obstruction of justice charges, call (801) 895-3143 today.