Criminal Law.  The crime of “obstruction of justice” broadly involves intentional conduct of the defendant designed to impede or prevent the administration of justice.

Generally, the crime of obstruction of justice has three essential elements:  “First, there must be a proceeding pending before a department or agency of the United States.  Second, the defendant must be aware of the pending proceeding.  Third, the defendant must have intentionally endeavored corruptly to influence, obstruct or impede the pending proceeding.”  United States v. Price, 951 F.2d 1028, 1031 (9th Cir. 1991).

In many jurisdictions, the crime of obstruction of justice has been extended to acts that interfere with activities of the law enforcement officers.

Reference Desk

18 U.S.C. § 1505:

Whoever, with intent to avoid, evade, prevent, or obstruct compliance, in whole or in part, with any civil investigative demand duly and properly made under the Antitrust Civil Process Act, willfully withholds, misrepresents, removes from any place, conceals, covers up, destroys, mutilates, alters, or by other means falsifies any documentary material, answers to written interrogatories, or oral testimony, which is the subject of such demand; or attempts to do so or solicits another to do so; or

Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress—

Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.

United States v. Bhagat, 436 F.3d 1140 (9th Cir. 2006):

Bhagat was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1505 for the crime of obstructing an SEC investigative proceeding by making false statements to SEC investigators. The government was required to prove three elements: (1) that there was an agency proceeding; (2) that the defendant was aware of that proceeding; and (3) that the defendant “intentionally endeavored corruptly to influence, obstruct or impede the pending proceeding.” United States v. Price, 951 F.2d 1028, 1031 (9th Cir.1991) (citation omitted).

California Penal Code § 148(a):

Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

In re Muhammed C., 95 Cal. App. 4th 1325 (2002):

“Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any . . . peace officer . . . in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed . . .” is guilty of a misdemeanor. (§ 148, subd. (a).)

Appellant contends that his conduct did not rise to the level of delaying an officer because he did nothing to prevent the detention or arrest of Robinson. He asserts that he merely attempted to speak with Robinson and there is no evidence that he posed a safety threat to the officers or Robinson. He claims that section 148 punishes actual attacks on officers or a person’s failure to cooperate when arrested. According to appellant: “The [person] must deliberately delay the officer and manifest the actual intent to prevent an officer’s performance of their [sic] duty. The statute was not meant to make illegal behavior, which merely stops an officer and temporary [sic] diverts them [sic] from what they [sic] are doing. . . . Behavior that temporary [sic] distracts a police officer from the performance of their [sic] duty does not rise to the level of a criminal act.” (Original italics.) Appellant adds that he is being punished for speaking to Robinson, a mere exercise of his constitutional right to free speech. We disagree with this analysis.

“The legal elements of a violation of section 148, subdivision (a) are as follows: (1) the defendant willfully resisted, delayed, or obstructed a peace officer, (2) when the officer was engaged in the performance of his or her duties, and (3) the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the other person was a peace officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties. [Citations.]” (People v. Simons (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 11001108-1109.) The offense is a general intent crime, proscribing only the particular act (resist, delay, obstruct) without reference to an intent to do a further act or achieve a future consequence. (People v. Roberts (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d Supp 1, 8-9.)

Section 148 is most often applied to the physical acts of a defendant. (Cf. In re Andre P. (1991) 226 Cal.App.3d 11641175.) For example, physical resistance, hiding, or running away from a police officer have been found to violate section 148. (People v. Allen (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 981986-987; see In re Gregory S. (1980)112 Cal.App.3d 764.) But section 148 “is not limited to nonverbal conduct involving flight or forcible interference with an officer’s activities. No decision has interpreted the statute to apply only to physical acts, and the statutory language does not suggest such a limitation.” (People v. Quiroga (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 961968.)

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