Obstructing Official Business: Affirmative Act vs. Uncouth Conduct

There is no doubt in my mind that police officers deal with a ton of bullshit on a daily basis.  Their lives are on the line every day and to make things even better they deal with some real annoying jackasses.  And when these individuals get in the way of police business, a real quick arrest charge an officer can utilize is charging this individual with obstructing official business.  However, as State v. Morris, 2016-Ohio-8325, points out, courts have not interpreted the obstructing official business statute to criminalize uncouth and/or uncooperative conduct.

In Morris, Morris helped out his daughter raise her two children that she had with a one Robert Wade.  Wade, being a deadbeat dad, has not helped with the children.  The children are a five-year old and a baby.  To help his daughter out, Morris would go to his daughter’s house every morning to pick up his grandchildren, take the five-year old to school, and care for the baby while his daughter worked during the day.

One morning, Morris went to his daughter’s house per usual to pick up the children.  While inside the house, he noticed Wade sleeping in a bedroom.  Morris was surprised to see Wade’s presence and confronted him about being a deadbeat dad.  This verbal confrontation soon turned into a physical altercation.  Wade managed to get on top of Morris and proceeded to beat Morris.  Morris, in self-defense, stabbed Wade with a pocket knife.  This did not faze Wade and he continued his onslaught of punches to Morris’ face and body.  Morris’ daughter was eventually able to remove Wade from Morris.  Upon doing so, Morris went outside to call police officers.  Morris remained outside while the police officers were en route.  Shortly thereafter, two officers arrived on scene.

When the officers arrived to investigate, Morris approached them and informed the officers that Wade jumped him and that he stabbed Wade.  The officers immediately detained Morris, handcuffing him and placing him in the back of a patrol car while they investigated the stabbing incident.  Morris, unfortunately, had a difficult time sitting up in the patrol car as he is a 6’2 man weighing in at a solid 300 pounds.  Morris became agitated and confused as to why the police arrested him when he was the person that called the police to report the incident.

The officer’s testified that when transporting Morris to the police station for booking, Morris laid on his side in the back seat and refused to sit up, complaining of discomfort.  The officers had to pull over their cruiser at one point because of Morris’ continual complaint of discomfort.  The officers instructed Morris to sit up and he could breathe better.  Morris refused to do so and began to call the officers names.  At one point, Morris decided it would be in his best interest to spit at the officers.  Morris tried to explain to the officers that he had breathing problems, his back hurt, and that is why it took him a little while to get out of the police car.  It took the officers 20 to 30 minutes for the officers to remove Morris from the vehicle.  Once removed, Morris was cooperative with the officers.

Morris was indicted on two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of endangering children, and one count of obstructing official business.  Morris was found not guilty for the aggravated assault and endangering children.  The jury, however, found Morris guilty of obstructing official business.  The judge sentenced Morris to 30 days in the county jail.  Morris appealed.

Obstructing official business as defined in R.C. 2921.31(A) has five essential elements: 1) an act by the defendant, 2) done with the purpose to prevent, obstruct, or delay a public official, 3) that actually hampers or impedes a public official, 4) while the official is acting in the performance of a lawful duty, and 5) the defendant so acts without privilege.  Brooklyn v. Kaczor, 2013-Ohio-2901.

The state argued that Morris’ refusal to exit the vehicle on his own, lying down and spitting in the back seat of the police vehicle, and verbal outbursts constituted the offense of obstructing official business.

The appellate court found that the officers’ testimony, even viewed in light most favorable to the state, was, as a matter of law, insufficient to support a conviction for the criminal offense of obstructing official business.

Refusal To Exit Vehicle & Verbal Outbursts

Looking at Morris’ refusal to exit the police vehicle, the appellate court found that case law has required more than a mere failure to obey or respond to a law enforcement officer’s request in order to support a conviction of obstructing official business.  Garfield Hts v. Simpson, 82 Ohio App.3d (1992).

Likewise, the appellate court found Morris’ verbal outburst while in the backseat of the police car were offensive and ill-advised.  However, it was still insufficient to support a conviction.  Courts have required evidence reflecting “affirmative acts, not oral statements or inaction, which hamper or impede a public official in the performance of lawful duties.”  Dayton v. Rodgers, 60 Ohio St.2d 162.

The appellate court noted that there was no testimony from the officers that Morris engaged in affirmative acts such as struggling with, kicking, or striking the officers, stiffening his body, or otherwise physically resisting the officers’ efforts to remove him from the vehicle.  Further, even if there were such an affirmative act, the state must prove not only that the act was committed with an intent to obstruct the officers but also that the defendant succeeded in actually hampering or impeding them.  State v. Crowell, 2010-Ohio-4917.

Obstructing official business is established where there is both an illegal act which quickens the duty of the police officer to enforce the law, and interference with intent to impede that enforcement.  Middleburg Hts. V. Szewczyk, 2008-Ohio-2043.

Viewing the officers’ testimony in light most favorable to the state, the appellate court found there was no necessary convincing evidence that Morris refused to exit the police vehicle on his own with an intent to impede the officers’ duty.

Lying Down In The Back Seat & Spitting

Looking at Morris’ lying down in the back seat and spitting, the appellate court noted that they consistently required conduct substantially more egregiously obstructive than Morris’ conduct in order to establish the element of an affirmative act done with an intent to impede law enforcement.  see State v. Vargas, 2012-Ohio-2768; State v. Wilson, 2011-Ohio-6886; State v. Williams, 2004-Ohio-4476.

Distinguishing the above cases from Morris’ case, the appellate court found that the conduct of lying down in the back seat of the police vehicle does not rise to the level of obstruction required for a conviction.  Moreover, the evidence does not establish Morris was lying down on the seat with an intent to impede the officers’ duty.

In addition, the appellate court found Morris’ spitting as being noxious, but it did not interfere with the officers’ duty of transporting him to the police station.

The appellate court noted that the evidence presented by the state at most reflects a highly agitated grandfather who believed he was aggrieved and his resultant lack of cooperation.  Based on all of the evidence, the appellate court held this is insufficient to support a conviction for the serious matter of obstructing official business.

Lesson learned…don’t mess with a pissed off grandfather!


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