Obstruction of Justice

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If you read the police blotter in the newspaper or listen to the news in Champaign County,
you have probably noticed that “obstruction of justice ” is a charge that appears often.
Some high profile people have been charged with obstruction of justice, Former President
Clinton, Martha Stewart and our own former Governor George Ryan including. But the
majority of people who are charged with obstruction of justice are just ordinary people.
The legal definition for obstruction of justice is found in 720 ILCS 5/31 INTERFERENCE
Part of that code is as follows:
“A person obstructs justice when, with intent to prevent the apprehension or obstruct
the prosecution or defense of any person, he knowingly commits any of the following acts:
(a) Destroys, alters, conceals or disguises physical evidence, furnishes false information…”
(720 ILCS 5/31-4). Under this code section, obstruction of justice is a class 4 felony unless
it falls under 720 ILCS 5/31-4 d-(2), which has to do with street gangs.
A case in point is People vs. Antonio B. Brown (02-CF-1942). In this case from 2002, a
Champaign police officer was driving past 904 N. Fourth Street at 6:46pm on a Saturday
evening when he saw Brown, a Black man, standing alone in a parking lot. Brown was
standing in front of a grocery store and about 15 to 20 feet from a restaurant that was
closed. The police officer said he “thought it was odd” that someone was standing in front
of a closed business, so he circled around and pulled into the parking lot. Brown had not
moved, but as the squad car entered the parking lot Brown began to walk away. The officer
testified that at this point he “asked (Brown) if he would stop so (the officer) could talk to
him.” He told Brown that he wanted to speak to him about why he was standing in front of
a closed business.
When the officer asked Brown for identification, Brown replied that he had none. The
officer asked for Brown’s name, address and date of birth. Brown responded that he was
Tony B. Brown and gave his birth date. The officer then radioed Met cad, the computeraided
dispatch service, with this information. Finding an outstanding warrant in Champaign,
the officer arrested him. The State originally charged Brown with one count of
obstructing justice. The information alleged that Brown, intending to prevent his own
apprehension, “knowingly furnished false information to the officer namely: a name of
Tony B. Brown, as opposed to the correct name of Antonio B. Brown.” The State’s Attorney
later added two more counts, one alleging that Brown had falsely stated that he was not
carrying ID, and the other alleging that he had given a false name (Tony B. Brown) when
asked what name appeared on his birth certificate.
Brown’s attorney filed a motion to quash arrest. After hearing the evidence presented at
the hearing, the trial court found that Brown had been stopped without justification and
ordered that Brown’s answers to the police officer’s questions be suppressed. The State
appealed this decision, because without the officer’s testimony Brown could not be convicted
of obstruction of justice.
In the motion to quash arrest, Brown’s attorney argued that “Officer Baltzell had no reason
nor articulable suspicion that defendant was committing or about to commit a crime
when he stopped defendant and started questioning him” and that “the detention, questioning,
and subsequent arrest of defendant was in violation of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments of the US Constitution, Sections 2,5,6 of the Constitution of the State
of Illinois, and 725 ILCS 5/107-14.”
The State argued that under People vs. Abrams the Supreme Court held that when an
illegal search leads to retaliation by the person whose constitutional right have been violated,
state may use evidence of that retaliation. The Appellate Court in its decision stated,
“the thrust of these cases is clearly the protection of law enforcement officers from people
who PHYSICALLY resist unconstitutional searches and seizures.” “We decline to extend the
Abrams rule to cover Brown’s conduct in this case…. Brown falsely stated that he was not
carrying identification in answer to police officer’s question, when the officer had seized
him without justification…. Refusing to provide identification does not raise the same policy
concerns as assaulting a law enforcement officer.”
Justice Turners dissented, but still noted, “As a final matter, I note the dubious nature of
the charge against Brown.”
Brown gave his name, even his middle initial, and his correct birth date – who was he
trying to fool? The officer had no problem pulling up the warrant with the information
Brown gave him. He still charged him with felony obstruction of justice. Lots of people use
different forms of their given name everyday! Are we to attach some malicious intent to
every one of those?

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