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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

City Attorney Seeks to Broaden Obstruction Laws

posted by on June 25 at 12:22 PM

Last week, I wrote about how the City Attorney’s office handles obstruction charges, often filing cases under a broader state statute—which some defense attorneys believe makes it easier for the city to score convictions—rather than an existing city law.

Now, City Attorney Tom Carr and City Council Member Tim Burgess—a former Seattle Police officer—are looking at making changes to the city obstruction law, to more closely mirror the state statute.

In the state law, obstruction is vaguely defined as “”willfully hinder[ing], delay[ing], or obstruct[ing]” an officer, and does not contain language included in the the city law, which protects people from obstruction convictions that stem from officer misconduct.

Read on for the proposed amendment:

Apologies for all the legalese.

A. A person is guilty of obstructing a public officer if, with knowledge that the person obstructed is a public officer, he or she:

1. Intentionally and physically interferes with a public officer; or

2. Intentionally disobeys hinders or delays a public officer by disobeying an order to stop given by such officer; or

3. Intentionally refuses to cease an activity or behavior that creates a risk of injury to any person when ordered to do so by a public officer; or

4. Intentionally destroys, conceals or alters or attempts to destroy, conceal or alter any material which he or she knows the public officer is attempting to obtain, secure or preserve during an investigation, search or arrest; or

5. Intentionally refuses to leave the scene of an investigation of a crime while an investigation is in progress after being requested to leave by a public officer; or

6. Intentionally hinders, delays or obstructs a public officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties

The city’s current obstruction law doesn’t include the vague “hinders, delays or obstructs” language, the addition of which could increase the number of cases the city files and wins.

Of the 256 stand-alone obstruction cases the city has filed since January 2007, 106 were prosecuted under the broader state law. The city also dropped 75* obstruction charges in 2007.

While the language in the city law protecting people from bogus obstruction charges will likely remain intact, public defenders are currently working with the city to more clearly define “hinders, delays or obstructs.”

Burgess’s public safety committee should be passing the law change on to the full council in early July.

(*This number could be higher, but the city attorney’s office apparently doesn’t keep detailed records on the cases they decline to file.)

RSS icon Comments


I thought we had budget cuts - why are they trying to spend more tax dollars that we don't have?

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 25, 2008 1:16 PM

Until he can show he's competent to enforce the laws he's already got, he shouldn't be given any more.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | June 25, 2008 1:17 PM

Napoleon I don't see how you expect the city to score a conviction on a bogus charge. The point is to bend the law so that contempt of cop actually becomes a crime, because obviously the police can do no wrong.

Posted by Anon | June 25, 2008 1:29 PM

Broadening the Obstruction statute is horrible public policy and indicative of Seattle's slippery slide into a police state.

Under item "1." in this rewritten statute, a citizen could be arrested for simply asking a police officer for the time of day. And SPD will arrest you for something as minor as this. I have a photocopy of a $3500 check from the City of Seattle which says so.

Posted by DOUG. | June 25, 2008 2:52 PM

I, too, thought budgets were tight. Every time I see a story about some waste of money, I wonder about priorities.

Posted by Vince | June 25, 2008 2:58 PM

And this is a bad thing because obstruction of justice is a good thing?...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | June 25, 2008 4:09 PM

You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me, you might want to read about how Blacks are arrested on 'contempt of cop' charge at higher rate before spouting off about "obstruction of justice."

Posted by Anon | June 25, 2008 4:31 PM

I once heard a cop accuse someone tell someone who was filming a patently illegal arrest that that they needed to stop what they were doing because it created a risk of injury, and that they were required by law to surrender the tape from their camera. I assumed the cop was blowing ass but, evidently, under parts (3) and (4), the officer was correct.

That's just double plus good.

Posted by Judah | June 25, 2008 4:37 PM

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