Obstructing a public officer is a very serious crime that can carry with it some very serious penalties, especially because of the variety of ways in which you can be found to be obstructing. It is very important that you understand the definitions, penalties, and defenses to obstructing a public officer.

What is “obstructing a public officer”?

It is important to keep in mind that most public officer are aware that the general public is often nervous during their interactions. The adrenaline rush and the fear of saying the wrong thing can often cause misstatements when you are being questioned. Most people don’t realize that these little white lies can lead to harsh punishments. Whenever you are interacting with a public officer, it is best to try to remain calm and to be honest and straightforward whenever possible.

The first thing you need to know is the definitions of “obstructing” and “public officer” so that you can try to avoid being charged in the first place.

Then what is the legal definition of “obstructing”?

Obstruction takes a variety of forms. In its simplest terms, it means to hinder, delay, deter, or impede someone from a course of action.

In the context of obstructing a public officer, obstruction requires two things:

  1. Due notice – you must have been notified that you are supposed to act in a required manner, whether that is to furnish information to a police officer, or to physically act in conformity with a legal requirement;
  2. Failure to act accordingly.

So long as you have notice that you are legally required to act in a specific manner, obstructing can refer to any of the following:

  • Refusing to furnish information;
  • Intentionally making an untrue or misleading statement;
  • Resisting arrest;
  • Intentionally interfering with an officer making an arrest;
  • Neglecting to furnish information.

So what is the definition of a “public officer”?

A “public officer” is anyone who holds a public office or works for law enforcement. This can obviously mean police officers and other law enforcement agents, but it can also refer to meter-readers, senators, judges, and councilmen. Essentially, anyone who works for the government in a capacity related to the law is a public officer.

If I’m charged with Obstructing a Public Officer, what kind of penalties am I facing?

Obstructing a Public Officer is a misdemeanor in Nevada and carries with it a sentence of:

  • Up to 6 months in jail; and/or
  • Fines up to $1000.00

The judge will look at all of the surrounding circumstances when trying to decide the exact punishment including:

  • The facts of the case;
  • Your prior criminal record, or lack thereof;
  • What prior crimes you may have committed;

Please Note: If this is your first offense, the judge will often agree to “dismiss” the charge immediately after completion of your sentence, meaning that you can file to have the criminal record sealed as soon as you have served your time and/or paid your fine.

Do I have any defenses?

Any defenses will depend largely on the specific facts of your case, but some of the possible defenses that may apply are:

  • No intent – Intent is one of the main elements to a charge for obstructing a public officer. You must have known that you were lying or giving false information; you must have actually known the information you are being accused of omitting; and you must have known that any actions you took that interfered with a public officer would actually interfere, and that you intended to interfere with a “public officer” (if you had no knowledge that the person was a public officer, then you could not have had intent);
  • No notice – this is similar to no intent. As mentioned above, obstructing a public official requires that you had notice that you were legally required to act in a certain manner. It should be obvious that if you did not know that you were legally required to act in a certain manner, then you cannot be held accountable for not doing so (Please Note: This does not mean that you can claim ignorance of the law. This only refers to situations where you may not have known that the person you were obstructing was a public officer, or where you did not know that exactly what it was you were supposed to do. As a general rule of thumb, ignorance of the law is no defense);
  • No evidence, or lack of evidence – As with all other crimes, the government bears the burden of proving you guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the amount of evidence against weighing against you is always important. If there is not enough evidence to sufficiently show that you are guilty, then the charges should be dropped;
  • No illegal action – This is essentially a catch-all for situations that slip through the cracks of the first three defenses. If your attorney can show that your actions were either misconstrued or falsely stated by the accusing public officer, or that your actions were legal despite the claims of the officer, then you cannot be held criminally liable and the charges should be dropped.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with Obstructing a Public Officer?

You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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