In Maryland, it is illegal to obstruct or hinder a law enforcement officer trying to perform his duties. There are three kinds of obstruction: direct obstruction (physical resistance), passive direct obstruction (refusal to act as required), and positive indirect obstruction (where police officer are acting against other citizens and a citizen not involved prevents their ability to prevent or detect crime).
In a 2011 obstruction case, a motorcyclist and friend were traveling parallel in the southbound lane. Someone from the sheriff’s department saw one of them cross the double yellow line several times. He initiated a stop and ran the vehicle information to get the motorcycle’s registration information. He discovered the motorcycle belonged to someone named Titus. The motorcyclist presented him with a driver’s license from another state and a name different from Titus.
At some point the sheriff found Titus’s license had been suspended and revoked. The person driving the vehicle claimed that Titus was his roommate and he borrowed the vehicle. The sheriff smelled alcohol on his breath and saw his eyes were glassy. He asked the motorcyclist what he’d been doing that evening. The motorcyclist claimed he drank two beers earlier. A Standardized Field Sobriety Test was performed. The motorcyclist claimed to have bad ankles, but agreed to the test.
After the tests, the sheriff determined the motorcyclist was under the influence of alcohol. He arrested him and read him his rights prior to taking a breath test. The motorcyclist agreed to the breath test and signed the name from the license (“Karr”) on the form. He was administered a breath test. Two samples were taken. His BAC was .09 or above the legal limit. The motorcyclist signed the notification form with the name Karr.
However, when a search warrant not related to the DUI was executed at the motorcyclist’s home, the sheriff saw the motorcyclist there. Another officer told him that the motorcyclist had an alias. The motorcyclist’s real name was Titus. The sheriff looked into it and determined that the motorcyclist had given him a false name. He didn’t recharge the motorcyclist, however.
At trial, he was convicted not only of a DUI, but also of obstructing and hindering and giving a false or fictitious name to a police officer. An intermediate appellate court affirmed the conviction for obstruction and hindering. The Court of Appeals agreed to review the case for sufficiency of evidence.
The appellate court explained the four-part test for an obstruction charge: (1) a police officer was engaging in his duties, (2) the accused acted to obstruct or hinder that duty, (3) the accused knew that the police officer was engaging in his duties, (4) the accused intended to obstruct the officer.
In the instant case, the appellate court explained that it was not enough for a defendant to know that the person being obstructed was a police officer. He also needed to know the officer was engage in police duties. However, the court could make reasonable inferences on this point when looking at this element of the test. Intent could also be inferred.
The defendant argued that even though he gave the officer a false name, he was not actually obstructed or hindered. The State argued that even though Titus was charged, the officer was hindered because he was prevented from learning the defendant was driving on a suspended license and his other criminal history.
The appellate court looked at the totality of circumstances. It ruled the four-part test applied no matter which of the three types of obstruction was at issue. It held, however, that the State’s evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the sheriff was actually obstructed in performing his duties. There was no testimony from the police officer on how knowing the defendant’s past history would have altered his investigative approach.
If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should call a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney. We will develop the best strategy we can to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
The Impact of a Defendant’s Signed Statement in Maryland, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 12, 2013
Reasonable Grounds for Requiring a Blood Test in Maryland, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, September 25, 2013