Obstruction of Justice

What is the criminal law in Virginia for Obstruction of Justice?

§ 18.2-460. Obstructing justice; penalty.

Statute text

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.

What must be proven to convict me of Obstruction of Justice?

  • If you are charged under subsection A, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element listed below:
  • 1) You knowingly
  • 2) obstructed
  • 3) a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law enforcement officer, or animal control officer
  • 4) in the performance of his or her official duties
  • 5) and you did not have just cause for your obstruction.
  • If you are charged under subsection B, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element listed below:
    • 1) You knowingly
    • 2) attempted to
    • 3) intimidate or impede
    • 4) a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law enforcement officer, or animal control officer
    • 5) who is lawfully engaged in his or her duties as such
    • 6) and you made a threat or used force in order to intimidate or impede; or
  • 1b) You knowingly
  • 2b) attempted to
  • 3b) obstruct or impede
  • 4b) the administration of justice
  • 5b) in any court
  • 6b) and you made a threat or used force in order to obstruct or impede.
  • If you are charged under subsection C, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element listed below:
    • 1) You knowingly
    • 2) attempted to
    • 3) intimidate or impede
    • 4) a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, or any law enforcement officer
    • 5) lawfully engaged in the discharge of his or her duty
    • 6) 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
    • 7) and you made a threat to do bodily harm or you used force in order to intimidate or impede; or
  • 1b) You knowingly
  • 2b) attempted to
  • 3b) obstruct or impede
  • 4b) the administration of justice
  • 5b) in any court
  • 6b) 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
  • 7b) and you made a threat to do bodily harm or you used force in order to obstruct or impede.
  • If you are charged under subsection D, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element listed below:
    • 1) You knowingly
    • 2) made a materially false statement or representation
    • 3) to a law enforcement officer or animal control officer
    • 4) who is in the course of conducting an investigation
    • 5) of a crime
    • 6) by another person.
  • Additional Notes:
    • “Obstruct” means to commit a direct act in order to oppose or resist. For example, refusing to allow a permissible pat down search, refusing to spit out drugs hidden in your mouth, struggling with a law enforcement officer, twisting away from the grip of a law enforcement officer, and/or shouldering yourself into a law enforcement officer is an obstruction because it is a direct act committed in order to oppose or resist the law enforcement officer. However, merely making a law enforcement officer’s task more difficult, running away from a law enforcement officer, and/or refusing to identify yourself to a law enforcement officer is not an obstruction because it is not a direct act committed in order to oppose or resist the law enforcement officer – instead – it is merely conduct committed in order to avoid prosecution.
    • “Impede” means to conduct yourself in a way that interferes with or slows the progress of. Although making a law enforcement officer’s task more difficult, running away from a law enforcement officer, and/or refusing to identify yourself to a law enforcement officer is not an obstruction, it is an impediment because it is conduct that interferes with and slows down the law enforcement officer. However, to be convicted of obstruction of justice based on impeding a law enforcement officer, there must also be evidence that proves you made a threat or used force in order to impede the law enforcement officer.
    • “Intimidate” means to conduct yourself in a way to create fear. For example, displaying a weapon to a law enforcement officer, verbally threatening harm to a law enforcement officer, and/or making a physical gesture to indicate you want to harm a law enforcement officer is intimidation because it is conduct that creates fear in the law enforcement officer. By its definition, most, but not all, intimidating conduct involves a threat or use of force. With that said, to be convicted of obstruction of justice based on intimidating a law enforcement officer, there must also be evidence that proves you made a threat or used force in order to intimidate the law enforcement officer.
    • “Just cause” is when you are legally justified in your obstruction. However, you must be charged under subsection A in order to claim “just cause” to justify your obstruction. If you are charged under subsections B, C and/or D, you cannot claim “just cause” to justify your intimidation, impediment and/obstruction. What constitutes “just cause” depends on the specific facts of your case. Usually, “just cause” arises in the context of trying to break away or physically resist an unlawful arrest – that is – an arrest made without probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime. The problem is that, most likely, you are not a trained law enforcement officer or legal professional who has the ability to determine if the specific facts of your case constitute probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime. So if you obstruct a law enforcement officer and are wrong in your belief that the law enforcement officer does not have probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime, you will be convicted of obstruction of justice and possibly convicted of a more serious crime such as felony Assault and Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer.
    • Actual fear, apprehension and/or delay is not required for obstruction of justice.
    • It is possible to obstruct, impede and/or intimidate an officer before, during and/or after your arrest.

What is the maximum punishment for Obstruction of Justice?

  • Obstruction of Justice under subsection A, B and D is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 12 months and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.00.
  • Obstruction of Justice under subsection C is a Class 5 felony, which is punishable by a prison sentence of not less than one (1) year nor more than ten (10) years and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.00; or is punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 12 months and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.00.

Is there a “mandatory minimum” punishment for Obstruction of Justice?

  • No.

What are the consequences to a conviction of Obstruction of Justice?

  • Permanent criminal record that cannot be expunged.
  • Court costs.
  • If you are convicted of a felony, loss of civil rights such as the right to vote, sit on a jury, possess a firearm, etc.
  • Possible active jail time up to 12 months for a misdemeanor or felony conviction.
  • Possible active prison time from one (1) to 10 years for a felony conviction.
  • Possible fine.
  • Possible period of uniform good behavior.
  • Possible community service hours.
  • Possible effect on current and/or prospective employment.
  • If you have a government security clearance, possible effect on current and/or prospective government security clearance.
  • If you are a non-U.S. citizen, possible effect on current and/or prospective immigration status.

What are the defenses to Obstruction of Justice?

  • Statute of limitations for misdemeanors
    • Pursuant to Va. Code §19.2-8, if you have received a obstruction of justice charge more than one (1) year after the occurrence of offense, the charge must be dismissed for failure to timely prosecute.
  • Improper venue
    • If you are charged under subsections A, B, C and/or D and the evidence cannot and/or does not prove that the obstruction of justice occurred in the city or county in which you are charged, the charge must be dismissed.
  • Mistaken identity
    • If you are charged under subsections A, B, C and/or D and the evidence proves that you were not the one who obstructed justice, the charge must be dismissed.
  • No obstruction
    • If you are charged under subsections A, B and/or C and the evidence proves that you did not commit a direct act in order to oppose or resist, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections B, C, and/or D.
  • The complainant is not a protected person
    • If you are charged under subsections A, B, C and/or D and the evidence proves that the complainant is not a protected person listed in Va. Code §18.2-460, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections B or C.
  • Protected person was not engaged in his or her official duties
    • If you are charged under subsections A, B, C and/or D and the evidence proves that the complainant was not engaged in his or her official duties at the time you obstructed justice, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections B or C.
  • Just cause to resist an unlawful arrest
    • If you are charged under subsection A and the evidence proves that you obstructed a law enforcement officer by physically resisting an unlawful arrest – that is – an arrest without probable cause to believe that you committed a crime, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections B, C, and/or D.
  • No threat or force used
    • If you are charged subsection B and the evidence proves that you obstructed justice without making a threat and/or using force, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections A and/or D.
  • No threat of bodily harm or force used
    • If you are charged subsection C and the evidence proves that you obstructed justice without making a threat of bodily harm and/or using force, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections A and/or D.
  • Matter was not related to a drug crime
    • If you are charged under subsection C and the evidence does not prove that you obstructed justice relating to a drug charge listed in Va. Code §18.2-460, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections A, B and/or D.
  • False statement does not involve crime by another
    • If you are charged under subsection A and/or D and the evidence proves that you merely made a false statement to a law enforcement officer regarding a crime allegedly committed by “you”, the charge must be dismissed because making a false statement to a law enforcement officer is not an “obstruction” – that is, a direct act committed in order to oppose or resist – as contemplated under subsection A, and it is not a false statement regarding a crime by “another person” as contemplated under subsection D. Accordingly, the charge must be dismissed unless there is evidence to otherwise convict you under subsections B or C.
  • Fabrication
    • If the evidence proves that the officer is lying about your obstruction of justice, the charge must be dismissed. This is very difficult to prove.
  • Failure to prosecute on behalf of the officer
    • If the officer fails to show up for trial, the charge may be dismissed for failure to prosecute.

If there is no defense to my Obstruction of Justice charge, what are ways to avoid a conviction?

  • If the officer agrees to drop the charge and the court accepts the officer’s decision, the charge will be dismissed. This rarely happens.
  • If the officer and the court agree to impose a peace bond in lieu of a conviction, the charge will be dismissed. A peace bond immediately dismisses your charge, but you are required to keep the peace for a period of time. If you are not peaceful for the prescribed period of time, you will have to pay the full amount of the peace bond and the officer may re-initiate the Obstruction of Justice charge against you.

Where exactly does your firm handle Obstruction of Justice cases?

  • Our Northern Virginia office handles:
    • Obstruction of Justice in Fairfax City
    • Obstruction of Justice in Fairfax County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Town of Herndon
    • Obstruction of Justice in Town of Vienna
    • Obstruction of Justice in Alexandria City
    • Obstruction of Justice in Loudoun County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Culpeper County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Frederick County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Winchester County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Warren County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Stafford County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Fauquier County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Shenandoah County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Spotsylvania County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Hanover County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Henrico County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Richmond City
    • Obstruction of Justice in Chesterfield
    • Obstruction of Justice in Prince William County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Manassass City
    • Obstruction of Justice in Arlington County
    • Obstruction of Justice in City of Falls Church
  • Our Hampton Roads office handles:
    • Obstruction of Justice in Newport News
    • Obstruction of Justice in Hampton
    • Obstruction of Justice in York County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Poquoson
    • Obstruction of Justice in Williamsburg
    • Obstruction of Justice in James City County
    • Obstruction of Justice in New Kent County
    • Obstruction of Justice in Middlesex
    • Obstruction of Justice in King William
    • Obstruction of Justice in Suffolk
    • Obstruction of Justice in Portsmouth
    • Obstruction of Justice in Chesapeake
    • Obstruction of Justice in Norfolk
    • Obstruction of Justice in Virginia Beach
    • Obstruction of Justice in Northampton County (Eastville)

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