ARS § 13-2409 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of obstruction of justice. People commit this offense if they knowingly try to obstruct, delay, or prevent the communication of information to the police regarding the commission of a crime. Most violations of this law are Class 5 felonies punishable by over two years in state prison.
The language of ARS § 13-2409 reads as follows:
A person who knowingly attempts by means of bribery, misrepresentation, intimidation or force or threats of force to obstruct, delay or prevent the communication of information or testimony relating to a violation of any criminal statute to a peace officer, magistrate, prosecutor or grand jury or who knowingly injures another in his person or property on account of the giving by the latter or by any other person of any such information or testimony to a peace officer, magistrate, prosecutor or grand jury is guilty of a class 5 felony, except that it is a class 3 felony if the person commits the offense with the intent to promote, further or assist a criminal street gang.
- threatening to “end” a person if he/she tells the police of a crime involving the tampering of evidence.
- bribing a person with $5,000 if he/she does not report a DUI offense.
- offering a person a favorable gift in a will if he/she keeps a perjury charge a secret.
People facing obstruction of justice charges can challenge it with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
- they were falsely accused,
- a police officer gave a misleading statement, and/or
- law enforcement violated one of their constitutional rights.
- custody in state prison for up to two years and six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $150,000.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define obstruction of justice?
Under Arizona laws, people are liable for obstructing justice if they:
- knowingly try to obstruct, delay, or prevent the communication of information to the police regarding the commission of a crime, and
- do so by means of bribery, misrepresentation, falsification, intimidation, force, or threats of force.i
Note that a violation of this criminal code section requires three people: a defendant, an officer (or other specified official), and another (a prospective informant or witness).ii
The crime of obstruction of justice is also referred to as “obstructing a criminal investigation” or “obstruction of criminal investigations.”
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-2409 charges?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to contest charges in these criminal cases. Three common ones include lawyers showing that:
- an accused was falsely accused.
- a peace officer gave a misleading statement.
- law enforcement violated one of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
2.1 Falsely accused
Unfortunately, people often get falsely accused of obstructing justice. People usually suggest another person committed this crime to cover up their own wrongdoings. A defense is for an accused to show that he/she was unjustly blamed.
2.2 Misleading statement
When making reports of this offense, law enforcement officers sometimes write down misleading statements to help show that a suspect committed a crime. Defendants, therefore, can use the defense that police exaggerated the facts of a case or ignored the truth.
2.3 Violation of a constitutional right
Defendants can always try to challenge charges of obstructing a criminal investigation by showing that law enforcement violated one of their constitutional rights. For example, maybe the police:
- conducted an unlawful search or seizure,
- stopped or arrested the defendant without probable cause, or
- coerced a confession.
In these situations, a defendant can use the violation to try and exclude certain evidence from the case or get a case dropped in its entirety.
3. What are the penalties?
Obstructing justice will result in felony charges under Arizona law. Most violations of this law are Class 5 felonies that are punishable by:
- a state prison term of up to two years and six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $150,000.iii
If the offense gets classified as a “dangerous offense,” then the crime is punishable by up to four years in prison.
If a person is guilty of obstructing a criminal investigation and violated the law to further or assist a criminal street gang, then the crime is a Class 3 felony. A Class 3 felony is punishable by up to eight years and nine months in state prison.iv
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to the obstruction of justice. These are:
- bribery – ARS 13-2602,
- extortion – ARS 13-1804, and
- threats and intimidation – ARS 13-1202.
4.1 Bribery – ARS 13-2602
Under ARS 13-2602, bribery is the offense where:
- a person, with corrupt intent, offers or agrees to provide any benefit upon a public servant or public officer, and
- does so with the intent to influence the public servant’s or public officer’s vote.
Note that unlike with bribery, a person does not have to show a corrupt intent to be guilty of obstructing justice. The person just has to act knowingly.
4.2 Extortion – ARS 13-1804
Per ARS 13-1804, extortion is the crime where people take or try to take another person’s property by threatening to do some future act (like break the “victim’s” arm).
Arizona law treats extortion as a more severe offense than obstruction of justice. Extortion can lead to a Class 2 felony punishable by over 12 years in state prison.
4.3 Threats and intimidation – ARS 13-1202
Per ARS 13-1202, threatening or intimidating is the offense where people either threaten to:
- physically injure someone, or
- cause a serious public inconvenience (such as a building evacuation).
If a person threatens to injure someone to prevent the communication of a crime, then a prosecutor could charge the person with both:
- threatening and intimidating, per ARS 13-1202, and
- obstruction of criminal investigations, per ARS 13-2409.