Obstructing Justice and Obstructing Official Business


Franklin County Criminal Law Casebook

Reproduced with permission from:
Timothy E. Pierce and the Franklin County Public Defender Office

R.C. 2921.31 -- Obstructing official business.
R.C. 2921.32 -- Obstructing justice.
R.C. 2917.13 -- Misconduct at an emergency.
R.C. 4931.49(D) -- "No person shall use the telephone number of the 9-1-1 system to report an emergency if he knows that no emergency exists."
State v. Straley, 139 Ohio St.3d 339, 2014-Ohio-2139, 11 N.E.3d 1175-- A conviction for tampering with evidence pursuant to R.C. 2921.12(A)(1) requires proof that the defendant intended to impair the value or availability of evidence that related to an existing or likely official investigation or proceeding.
State v. Crowell, 189 Ohio App. 3d 468, 2010-Ohio-4917 – Police responded to defendant’s home. Wife was outside crying and was unable to consent to officers’ request to enter the home to check on a child. Defendant was seen through an open door, wrapped in a sheet or towel. State failed to prove an overt act on his part constituting the offense of obstructing official business. His refusal to come outside as ordered by the officers was not an affirmative act. If he closed the door as claimed, that was no more than a continued refusal to cooperate. If his statements to officers were in fact false, they did not hamper or impede the investigation.
State v. Grice, 180 Ohio App. 3d 700, 2009-Ohio-372 – Conviction for obstructing official business requires an affirmative act. Merely refusing to provide identification is not an affirmative act. Nor did defendant‘s statement he did not hear a gunshot hamper or impede police investigation of a reported shot in any measurable way.
State v. Wellman, 173 Ohio App. 3d 494, 2007-Ohio-2953 – Defendant pestered officers conducing an after hours raid on a club who were trying to find whoever was in charge in order to issue a citation. In the view of the court this conduct went beyond free speech, and for purposes of sufficiency review met the elements of the statute.
State v. Certain, 180 Ohio App. 3d 457, 2009-Ohio-148 – Fleeing from an officer attempting to make an apparently valid Terry stop may be the basis for an obstructing official business charge. Flight is an affirmative act, distinguishable from a mere refusal to do as directed. Court abrogates its contrary holding in State v. Gillenwater (April 2, 1998), Highland App. No 97CA0935.
State v. Cooper, 151 Ohio App. 3d 790, 2003-Ohio-1032 -- Applying the strict scrutiny standard, no First Amendment violation found in application of the obstructing official business statute to an adult bookstore clerk who loudly demanded badge numbers of officers there to inspect booths in the back of the store. However, conviction was not supported by the evidence. The officers were not impeded in their duties by the warning since the only customer in the back of the store who might have been warned was in fact arrested for indecent conduct. Remanded for consideration whether evidence supports conviction for attempt.
State v. Puterbaugh (2001), 142 Ohio App. 3d 185 -- Defendant told officer that the person sought on a warrant was not in her house, but allowed search which resulted in that person's arrest. While the false information element of obstructing official business was established, the "hampers or impedes a public official in the performance of his lawful duties" element was not. At p. 191: "Certainly there is a level on hinderance that is simply too casual, remote, or indirect to be punishable under the statute. Although entitled to full respect of the badge and uniform in the execution of his or her duty, a police officer is expected to tolerate a certain level of uncooperativeness, especially in a free society in which the citizenry is not obliged to be either blindly or silently obeisant to law enforcement. Interference with the police by citizens must, therefore, be necessarily viewed as a continuum along which, at a certain point, the line is crossed." Also see State v. Ivery, Franklin App. No. 06AP-32, 2007-Ohio-496.
Akron v. Callaway, 162 Ohio App. 3d 781, 2005-Ohio-4095 -- (1) Officer sent to check on condition of the occupant of a house was denied entrance by the occupant's son. Obstructing official business conviction was not supported by the evidence as son acted within his privilege. Though he did not live at the house, he was caretaker for those who did. Officer did not have sufficient information to establish an immediate need to save a live or to avoid serious injury. ¶1-20 are identical to Akron v. Callaway, 160 Ohio App. 3d 229, 2005-Ohio-1471, ¶1-20. (2) At its discretion the court addresses the constitutionality of Akron's resisting arrest ordinance, finding it is inconsistent in application and in conflict with R.C. 2921.33. Ordinance proscribed resisting both legal and illegal arrests.
State v. Echols (2001), 141 Ohio App. 3d 556 -- Trucker upset at treatment by police during stop was unsuccessful in efforts to call supervisors, so he dialled 911. Since he hung up before the call was answered he did not "report an emergency" as required for violation of R.C. 4931.49(D).
State v. Link, 155 Ohio App. 3d 585, 2003-Ohio-6798 -- Defendant was charged with improper use of the 911 emergency system after calling and stating, "We need a new sheriff." Case was dismissed following a pretrial hearing involving the testimony of three witnesses. Though the Criminal Rules do not provided for what in effect is summary judgment, neither party made that claim, so will address propriety of dismissal on its merits. Affirmed as the testimony supported the trial court's conclusion the defendant could not be shown to have violated the statute.
State v. Barron (2001), 141 Ohio App. 3d 600 -- Homeowner called 911 to complain about an officer on his property examining vehicles. R.C. 4931.49(D) does not qualify emergency to mean bona fide emergency. Officer's belief there was a violation was mistaken. Arrest was unlawful, therefore resisting conviction is reversed.
Middletown v. Hollon, 156 Ohio App. 3d 565, 2004-Ohio-1502 -- Defendant refused to produce a driver's license at the request of an officer responding to an animals running at large complaint. Obstructing official business conviction was not supported by the evidence as this was not the sort of affirmative action contemplated by the ordinance. Resisting conviction stands, as there may have been probable cause, and there was a proper basis for arrest on the animal charges, since the defendant did not furnish adequate ID forcing issuance of a summons.
State v. Hasley, Mahoning App. No. 03 MA 215, 2004-Ohio-7065 -- Fleeing on foot after exiting car and being ordered to stop was enough to sustain obstructing official business conviction. Slow response to officer's command to lie down did not amount to resisting.
State v. Kates, 169 Ohio App. 3d 766, 2006-Ohio-6779 -- (1) Walking away from an officer who is attempting to make an investigative detention in accordance with Terry v. Ohio may form the basis for an obstructing official business conviction. (2) Any error in late amendment of the complaint regarding the specific conduct constituting the offense is waived when the defendant seeks neither discharge of the jury nor a continuance.
State v. Underwood, 132 Ohio Misc. 2d 1, 2005-Ohio-2996 -- Shoplifters fled after being ordered to stop by uniformed officer working special duty. Trial court finds the defendant guilty of obstructing official business.
State v. Richards, Darke App. No. 1557, 2002-Ohio-2162 -- Officer sent to the scene of a teenage party was not impeded in the performance of her lawful duties. On arrival she was told that the defendant had refused to leave. She took his license and told him to stay while she investigated further. After talking to those inside she had probable cause to charge him with contributing to the delinquency of a minor by supplying liquor, but not for trespass. Meanwhile he had left and later fled when ordered to stop. Obstructing official business conviction reversed. Since officer did not observe conduct personally, she had to obtain a warrant or summons in lieu of a warrant, and fleeing did not impede her in doing so.
State v. Christman, Montgomery App. No. C.A. 19039, 2002-Ohio-2915 -- Officer followed a car without using lights or siren, then, with another officer, followed a police dog to the woods behind a house. Dog attacked suspect, who resisted. Officers never identified themselves as such, or informed the suspect he was under arrest. 6'6", 265 pound officer manhandled suspect. Obstructing official business and resisting arrest convictions were not supported by the evidence.
Columbus v. Doyle, 149 Ohio App. 3d 164, 2002-Ohio-4490 -- The Columbus ordinance proscribing disruption of a lawful meeting is not unconstitutionally vague, nor does it violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Also see State v. Brand (1981), 2 Ohio App. 3d 460.
State v. Roten, 149 Ohio App. 3d 182, 2002-Ohio-4488 -- Sham legal process conviction affirmed for a follower of the common law movement.
State v. Baker, 157 Ohio App. 3d 87, 2004-Ohio-2207 -- Ordinance proscribing verbal abuse of a police officer survives overbreadth attack by being construed to be limited to fighting words. While it is presumptively invalid for being based on the content of speech, the basis for the content discrimination consists entirely of the very reason the entire class of speech is proscribable and the nature of the content discrimination is such that there is no realistic possibility that official suppression of ideas is afoot.
State v. Wolf, Hamilton App. No. C-030957, 2004-Ohio-5053 -- Demonstrator blocked traffic on a downtown street, and refused to move out of the way at an officer's request. Evidence would have supported a conviction for obstructing official business, but court found her guilty of disorderly conduct. Disorderly held not to be a lesser-included offense.
State v. Lazzaro (1996), 76 Ohio St. 3d 261 -- Syllabus: "The making of an unsworn false oral statement to a public official with the purpose to mislead, hamper, or impede the investigation of a crime is punishable conduct within the meaning of R.C. 2921.12(A)(3) and 2921.31(A). (Columbus v. Fisher [1978], 53 Ohio St. 2d 25...and Dayton v. Rogers [1979], 60 Ohio St. 2d 162...overruled.)"
State v. Wilson (1999), 101 Ohio Misc. 2d 44 -- Police spotted and captured fourth individual who fled from stopped car. Consequently, they were not hampered by defendant's statements, even if false, that she either did not know there was a fourth person in the car, or did not know who that person was.
State v. Smith (1996), 108 Ohio App. 3d 662 -- For purposes of the obstructing official business statute, true oral statements spoken boisterously do not qualify as the sort of act prohibited by he statute. Defendant's persistent loud speech angered officer responding to a disturbance call. Compare N. Ridgeville v. Reichbaum (1996), 112 Ohio App. 3d 79 where speech was combined with additional acts.
Hamilton v. Hamm (1986), 33 Ohio App. 3d 175 -- Headnotes: "(1) The refusal to pay a traffic offense fine or to sign an agreement to pay the fine is not the obstructing of official business. (2) A person cannot be guilty of obstructing official business by doing nothing. (3) A person convicted of a traffic offense has no duty to sign an agreement to pay the fine imposed by the court." Also see Garfield Heights v. Simpson (1992), 82 Ohio App. 3d 286, 291.
State v. Stayton (1998), 126 Ohio App. 3d 158 -- Defendant fed expired parking meters ahead of officer writing tickets. Obstructing official business conviction upheld. See dissent, finding officer's work was not hampered, since he could still write tickets, and characterizing the defendant's offense as "aggravated foolishness."
State v. Robinson (1995), 103 Ohio App. 3d 490 -- When apartment door was opened, police smelled burning marijuana. While officers were in the process of forcing their way in, defendant called to another occupant to "get rid of the shit." Since the forced entry was not lawful, officers were not acting "in the performance of their lawful duties." Thus, there was not probable cause to arrest defendant for obstructing official business. Court finds search of premises not justified as incident to arrest.
Cleveland v. Corrai (1990), 70 Ohio App. 3d 679 -- During execution of a search warrant at an adult bookstore, clerks made misleading statements and were generally not helpful. Held not to constitute obstructing official business as warrant allowed officers to achieve whatever they needed to accomplish and clerks were under no obligation to assist.
State v. Stephens (1978), 57 Ohio App. 2d 229 -- Obstructing official business not proven where defendant misrepresented whereabouts of traffic offender officers had warrants for, but officers proceeded to enter her house (probably illegally without a search warrant for the house) and make the arrest. At p. 230: "Whatever appellant said in no way interrupted the officers' progress towards their objective."
Columbus v. Michel (1978), 55 Ohio App. 2d 46 -- Defendant's failure to open the door to his apartment to police officers who beat on it for ten minutes before forcing entry was not obstructing official business. Statute requires an act and does not reach failures to act.
State v. McCrone (1989), 63 Ohio App. 3d 831 -- Obstructing official business conviction reversed where defendant refused to produce a drivers' license as identification upon demand of officer. Compare Waynesville v. Combs (1990), 66 Ohio App. 3d 292 where it seems to have been accepted that the driver of a car stopped for a traffic offense could be charged with obstructing official business after she refused to produce her license.
Warensville Heights v. Wason (1976), 50 Ohio App. 2d 21 -- Flashing headlights to warn oncoming motorists of radar speed trap is not proven to have obstructed an officer in the course of his duties where there has been no proof that the warned vehicles were actually speeding.
State v. Jellife (1982), 5 Ohio Misc. 2d 20 -- Defendant told another person that an undercover cop at a rock concert was a cop. Headnote: "Exposing the identity to others of an undercover police officer in the performance of his lawful duties, where such exposure does not prevent the arrest of any persons who were then violating the law, is not a violation of R.C. 2921.31(A), obstructing official business."
Columbus v. Nichols (1986), 29 Ohio App. 3d 281 -- Conviction upheld where an intoxicated nurse interfered with efforts of emergency squadsmen. Paramedics found to be "public officials" within the meaning of the obstructing official business ordinance. Also see State v. Anderson (1976), 46 Ohio St. 2d 219 (Interference in arrest of friend, albeit arrest was of dubious legality.).
Sandusky v. DeGidio (1988), 51 Ohio App. 3d 202 -- Obstructing official business conviction upheld where the defendant rubbed a chalk mark from his tire in order to frustrate enforcement of two hour parking limitation. (Case wrongly decided as vehicle was not parked in violation and the mark was apparently removed in the presence of the officer who could not have been deterred in the course of his duties. See dissent.)
State v. West (1988), 52 Ohio App. 3d 110 -- Amendment of a obstructing official business complaint to disorderly conduct, over the defendant's objection changed the nature and identity of the offense. Defendant discharged.
State v. Wolf (1996), 111 Ohio App. 3d 774 -- Disturbing a lawful meeting and obstructing official business convictions upheld where defendant, protesting procedure at a county board of health meeting, took a seat at the board meeting table, refused to leave and read a prepared statement.
State v. Ternes (1998), 92 Ohio Misc. 2d 76 -- Telling an officer he was out of his jurisdiction, driving at 20 mph, and failing to immediately stop when beacon was activated did not constitute obstructing official business. Cop gave 67-year old who had had recent heart surgery a hard time.
State v. Muldrow (1983), 10 Ohio Misc. 2d 11 -- Refusal to be fingerprinted as a part of routine identification process while in custody is not a violation of the obstructing official business statute.
State v. Pembaur (1984), 9 Ohio St. 3d 136 -- Syllabus: "Absent bad faith on the part of a law enforcement officer, an occupant of business premises cannot obstruct the officer in the discharge of his duty, whether or not the officer's actions are lawful under the circumstances. (Columbus v. Fraley, 41 Ohio St. 2d 173, followed.)"
State v. Collins (1993), 88 Ohio App. 3d 291 -- Refusal to provide name to building and zoning inspector did not amount to obstructing official business, but bumping him with a truck did.
State v. Bronaugh (1980), 69 Ohio App. 2d 24 -- Headnote: "The crime of obstructing justice...cannot be committed without the commission of an underlying crime by another." Compare State v. Mootispaw (1985), 23 Ohio App. 3d 142 where obstructing conviction was upheld, though person who had committed the underlying crime had been acquitted.
State v. Claybrook (1978), 57 Ohio App. 2d 131 -- Overt acts to prevent the detection of a person sought by the police, coupled with false, unsworn, statements may constitute a violation of the obstructing justice statute.
Cincinnati v. Smith (1986), 31 Ohio App. 3d 158 -- Headnote 1: "Where the police see the person they are seeking actually enter the defendant's apartment, but the record fails to establish that the defendant knew of the suspect's entry or presence in her apartment, a conviction on such evidence of obstructing justice is against the manifest weight of the evidence..."
State v. Logan (1991), 77 Ohio App. 3d 333 -- Obstructing justice not established where officers were attempting to execute an arrest warrant and defendant told them subject was not home and that they would have to obtain a search warrant in order to enter the house. Also see State v. Howard (1991), 75 Ohio App. 3d 760; Payton v. New York (1980), 445 U.S. 573.
State v. Connor (1992), 81 Ohio App. 3d 829 -- Defendant may be convicted of felony obstructing justice for harboring or aiding wanted felon, even though the wanted suspect ultimately is only convicted of a misdemeanor.
State v. Weeks (1987), 37 Ohio App. 3d 65 -- Headnote: "Where the defendant harbors or conceals a juvenile delinquent, an indictment for obstructing justice, R.C. 2921.32, fails to state an offense, since a juvenile is incapable of committing a 'crime,' as opposed to a 'delinquent act.'"
State v. Pitts (1986), 31 Ohio Misc. 2d 10 -- Headnote 1: "To be found guilty of a violation of R.C. 2921.32(A)(1), the defendant must have acted with purpose to hinder the discovery of that person. It therefore follows that defendant must know of the crime, the location of the suspect, and the police officer's purpose."
State v. Gordon (1983), 9 Ohio App. 3d 184 -- Obstructing official business is a lesser included offense of obstructing justice.
State v. Wagar (1993), 91 Ohio App. 3d 233 -- Misconduct at an emergency conviction upheld where defendant attempted to move his crashed ultralight aircraft, contrary to the wishes of the Highway Patrol officer who was investigating the crash.
Dayton v. Esrati (1997), 125 Ohio App. 3d 60 -- Disrupting a lawful meeting and other charges were properly dismissed where city could not show its actions were not directed at the communicative nature of the defendant's conduct. Defendant quietly donned a ninja mask during city council meeting to protest proposal to reduce public participation.

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Published by Timothy E. Pierce
Copyright © Franklin County Public Defender and Timothy E. Pierce, 2015
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