Appellate Court Holds That Material Impediment Is Required for Obstructing Officer
In People v. Gotschall, 2022 IL App (4th) 210256, ¶¶1, 30, the Fourth District Appellate Court reversed a conviction for obstructing a peace officer because the defendant’s conduct did not materially impede the officer who had arrested him.
The first officer testified at trial that he was monitoring traffic when the defendant and another person called him derogatory names. The officer asked the defendant and the other individual to leave the area, but they remained and continued insulting the officer. The officer pepper sprayed the defendant and the other individual. The defendant was arrested after other officers arrived. 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶4.
The second officer who testified at trial stated that he arrived on the scene for backup and saw the defendant and the other individual on the ground with other officers next to them. The officer escorted the defendant to his squad car and attempted to place the defendant in the back seat. However, the defendant only “partially” sat in the seat and one of his feet was still on the pavement. This prevented the officer from closing the door. 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶5. The officer asked the defendant to place his foot inside the squad car. The defendant asked, “What did I do?” The officer did not respond and asked the defendant to place his feet in the squad car. The defendant did not comply. Id.
The officer then tried putting the defendant’s foot inside the squad car, but the defendant resisted by pushing his leg down to the pavement. The officer threatened to pepper spray the defendant. The defendant then placed his feet inside the squad car. The testimony revealed that less than 30 seconds had elapsed between the time the officer told the defendant to get inside the squad car and when the defendant placed his feet inside the car. Id.
A jury found the defendant guilty of obstructing a peace officer, and the defendant appealed. 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶8.
On appeal, the defendant contended that the state was required to prove that his conduct created more than a de minimis imposition into the officer’s investigation. The appellate court looked to three Illinois Supreme Court cases for guidance. 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶13.
In People v. Comage, 241 Ill.2d 139, 946 N.E.2d 313, 319, 349 Ill.Dec. 119 (2011), the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a conviction for obstructing justice when officers located a cocaine pipe within 20 seconds after the defendant threw it away because the defendant’s conduct did not materially impede the officers’ investigation. Gotschall, supra, 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶¶15 – 16.
In People v. Baskerville, 2012 IL 111056, 963 N.E.2d 898, 357 Ill.Dec. 500, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a conviction for obstructing a peace officer when the defendant lied to police about his wife’s whereabouts after police observed her driving with a suspended license because the defendant’s false statement did not hinder the officer in executing the traffic stop. Gotschall, supra, 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶¶17 – 18.
In People v. Casler, 2020 IL 125117, 181 N.E.3d 767, 450 Ill.Dec. 415, the Illinois Supreme Court stated that its holdings in Comage and Baskerville established that a defendant’s actions must be a material impediment under the obstructing justice statute, 720 ILCS 5/31-4. Gotschall, supra, 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶20.
The appellate court also examined the Third District’s opinion in People v. Mehta, 2020 IL App (3d) 180020, 156 N.E.3d 608, 441 Ill.Dec. 273, in which the Third District upheld a conviction for obstructing a peace officer when the defendant refused to turn around for officers and instead walked toward them after being in a vehicle that was pulled over for a gun complaint. The Mehta court stated that the defendant’s conduct occurred in a high-tension situation and exacerbated the situation by ignoring orders that were for the officers’ protection. Gotschall, supra, 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶25, citing Mehta.
In the present case, the Gotschall court held that the charge of obstructing a peace officer required a material impediment. 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶27. The appellate court concluded that the defendant’s refusal to place his foot inside the squad car during a situation that lasted less than 30 seconds did not threaten the officer’s safety or delay the defendant’s transport. 2022 IL App (4th) 210256 at ¶29.
The appellate court emphasized that conduct that causes only a brief delay can materially impede an authorized act of a police officer if it threatens an officer’s safety. Id.
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