Officers responding to a disturbance call arrested a man for obstruction of justice and illegally being in a roadway. During the process, an allegedly drunk driver struck an officer, sending him to the hospital in critical condition.
A tipster claimed a man was threatening a woman with a weapon at a gas station. Officers located the unarmed man and tried to speak to him, but police said he ran into a wooded area. Officers made a perimeter around the area and saw the man trying to escape. Atlanta Police said they followed the suspect on foot, attempting to detain him on a city street where cars were coming through. The department said the suspect was resisting arrest when the two were hit by a car “driven by what appeared to be an intoxicated male driver.”
Both men are now in custody.
In many ways, a police report is like a new story. When a Marietta criminal defense attorney evaluates a police report, or a new story, the details that are absent are often just as important, or even more important, than the details that are present.
Note that, in the above story, there’s no mention of a weapon, which is why officers responded to the scene in the first place. That doesn’t mean the witness lied, or at least doesn’t necessarily mean the witness lied. People see what they want to see. They also draw conclusions based on their observations. These conclusions are often inaccurate.
Informer reliability is often a critical factor, especially in felonies. Long ago, courts used an objective test, known as the Aguilar-Spinelli test, to determine reliability. Now, courts use a subjective approach. Some factors to consider include:
- Informer Identity: Anonymous reports are almost always unreliable. If the informer didn’t vouch for the information, a court shouldn’t give the information additional weight. On the other end of the scale, police officer tips, such as an outstanding arrest warrant from another jurisdiction, are almost always reliable. Everything else is somewhere in between.
- Specificity: Note that, according to officers, the initial suspect in the above story matched the informer’s description. That’s all fine and well. But a vague description, like a white middle-aged male, usually doesn’t hold up in court. A more specific description, such as a white male wearing a blue shirt, is much more reliable.
- Corroboration: This final element is especially important in paid informer cases. If the informer offers some corroborating proof, even if it’s unrelated to criminal activity, judges are more likely to let prosecutors use the information. For example, if Alan says a drug deal will happen at the corner of 4th street and D and the perpetrator will be driving a pickup, Alan’s tip is more reliable.
The process is all that matters. Alan may provide accurate information about the drug deal, but without that corroborating proof, his tip won’t hold up in court.
Speaking of paid informers, these individuals are under a microscope. Most people will say nearly anything for love or money. Most paid informers receive love (leniency) or money (in 2021, the FBI paid informants over $548 million). Therefore, most paid informant testimony is suspect. Once again, the result is irrelevant. A tip stands or falls on its own.
Usually, when police officers respond to disturbance calls, they expect to arrest someone for something. The extremely broad obstruction of justice law in Georgia is usually a very effective fallback provision in these situations.
Under OGA 16-10-24, misdemeanor obstruction of justice is “obstructing or hindering any law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of his official duties.” Obstructing or hindering doesn’t necessarily mean resisting or disobeying. If Officer Jane tells Sam to move along, and Sam doesn’t move fast enough to suit Officer Jane, she could arrest him for hindering or obstructing a police officer.
Note that this law only applies if officers are lawfully discharging their official duties. So, if the traffic stop or other law enforcement contact was illegal, a Marietta criminal defense attorney may be able to get the charges thrown out of court. More on resolving these charges below.
Felony obstruction of justice is “resisting or opposing” a peace officer “by offering or doing violence” to that person. Pulling away from or running away from an officer isn’t a violent act, according to the statute. Additionally, the officer must be lawfully performing lawful duties. In other words, the must be on official business and on his/her best behavior.
Resolving Nonviolent Crimes
Until recently, officer credibility was never an issue, even in a single-witness case. If the officer’s story differed from the defendant’s story, the jury always believed the officer, even if the officer’s testimony was a little shaky. Now, after a rash of recent high-profile police shootings and conviction reversals, the opposite is often true. Many jurors believe defendants in these situations. That’s especially true if the officer “accidentally” wasn’t wearing an active body cam.
Additionally, in the before times, if an officer had a mild disciplinary record, especially if the infraction was more than about five years old, judges usually excluded it, on the grounds that it wasn’t relevant. Now, judges are more willing to allow such questions. No one wants to be accused in the media of protecting a dirty cop.
These things make it easier to successfully resolve criminal cases, especially offenses like obstruction of justice, which is basically disrespecting an officer. This successful resolution could be a complete dismissal of charges a plea to a lesser-included offense, or a favorable plea bargain.
That third possibility is the most likely one. Since judges and juries have largely turned on police officers, if the case is the officer’s word against the defendant’s word, many prosecutors are no longer willing to roll the dice. Instead, they’re usually willing to offer a favorable deal, including something like deferred prosecution or deferred disposition. In both these cases, if defendants comply with all program requirements, they walk away without conviction records.
Prosecutors use whatever tools they can, including faulty eyewitness testimony, to convict defendants. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Our main office is conveniently located near downtown Marietta.