According to the Oxford English Dictionary, obstructing the police is, “The offense of hindering a police officer who is in the course of doing his duty (Police Act 1996 s 89). “Obstruction” includes any intentional interference, e.g. by physical force, threats, telling lies or giving misleading information, refusing to cooperate in removing an obstruction, or warning a person who has committed a crime so that he can escape detection (e.g. warning a speeding driver that there is a police trap ahead).
It is not, however, an offense merely not to answer, or to advise someone not to answer, police questions that he does not have to answer. A police officer is acting in the course of his duty if he is preventing or detecting crime (in particular, breaches of the peace) or obeying the orders of his superiors. However, he is not acting in the course of his duty when he is merely assisting the public in some way unconnected with a crime. When the obstruction amounts to an assault, the offense is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine.
One may be guilty of this offense even if the police officer was in plain clothes.”
The California legal system adheres closely to this definition.
Penal Code Section 148 deals with the legal ins and outs of obstructing the police. The purpose of the law is to make it possible for officers to investigate crimes without having to worry about outside influences having a potentially negative impact on the case.
If you take the time to read through Section 148(a)(1) you’ll discover that obstructing the police charges can be filed against you if you do anything that is considered resisting, delaying, or willingly obstructing the police’s ability to conduct an investigation. While obstruction charges typically involve police matters, they can also be filed against anyone who interferes with an EMT, peace offices, or firefighter.
Examples of obstruction include:
✦ Resisting arrest
✦ Deliberately delaying an officer from reaching the scene of a crime/accident/person of interest
✦ Attempting to communicate with a suspect that is clearly in police custody
✦ Actively giving the police wrong information
One of the interesting things about obstruction charges is that you have to willingly know you’re obstructing the police. Charges shouldn’t be filed against you if you didn’t know that an investigation was taking place or if you didn’t actually know the answer to a question a police officer asked you during the course of an investigation. The same is true if you inadvertently dispose of a piece of evidence that you didn’t know what part of a crime that was under investigation.
Obstructing the police in California is a wobbler defense. The exact circumstances of the case determine whether you’re charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
If you’re convicted of felony obstruction in California, you could be sentenced to up to 3 years in a state prison and have to serve felony probation.