This past June, the Michigan Supreme Court decided that three police officers, who assaulted a motorist in 2009 and then lied about it, cannot be charged with Obstruction of Justice.
The motorist accused Officer Nevin Hughes of the Detroit Police Gang Squad of choking him outside a gas station in Detroit, while the other two officers of failed to intervene.
During an internal investigation, the three policemen were compelled to make a statement under threat of firing and all three lied. A private investigator eventually found video surveillance footage showing the motorist’s story was true.
The court’s 5-2 decision found that state law protects officers who make a statement under threat of firing and makes no distinction between true and false statements.
This is the kind of Obstruction of Justice story one might see dramatized on television – where defendants are accused of lying to cover up their crimes.
Obstruction of Justice in Michigan
The term “Obstruction of Justice” gets thrown around a lot. In Michigan, this charge is also called:
- Resisting and Obstructing
- Resisting Arrest
- Assault on a Police Officer
- Resisting a Police Officer and many other things.
What the story above illustrates is not – as is the case – how easy it can be to get charged with Obstruction of Justice in Michigan, but how the law is on the side of the defendant.
If you’re facing an Obstruction of Justice charge, your story may have gone something more like this: you got pulled over for speeding and when the police officer approached your car and asked you to step out of the vehicle, you started to panic internally and hesitated to do what he asked.
Or, you are in a situation where an officer is yelling and demanding, making you feel like you have no rights and then when he threatens or starts to use physical force you stiffen up and try to move away.
Suddenly, you’ve been charged with resisting arrest, and police are claiming you deserve to be charged a felony (not a misdemeanor) for having done nothing other than react the way anyone would in a stressful situation.
Michigan Law: Definition of Obstruction of Justice
Here is what Michigan law calls Obstruction of Justice, set out in MCL 750.81d:
“Assaulting, battering, resisting, obstructing, opposing person performing duty; felony; penalty; other violations; consecutive terms; definitions.
…an individual who assaults, batters, wounds, resists, obstructs, opposes, or endangers a person who the individual knows or has reason to know is performing his or her duties is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both. …“
That’s multiple potential counts of Obstruction of Justice and some of those terms are not very specific: “resists, obstructs, opposes.”
Unfortunately, this charge can carry, as it says, a penalty of imprisonment for two years or a large fine – for each count. In addition, it could have consecutive sentencing for each count at the judge’s discretion.
In a July of 2012 case, People v. Moreno, the Michigan Supreme Court set out a new line of defense for dealing with Resisting and Obstructing charges.
The U.S. Supreme Court has also made rulings on First Amendment issues that may be able to get you a not guilty verdict.
If you have truly wounded or battered a police officer, these defenses will not work in your case, but either way if you’re facing 2 years in a state prison, great financial hardship, DNA sampling and a permanent record.