When Can A Hoosier Obstruct Justice In Indiana?
Hoosiers have a state created right that permits them to technically obstruct justice under certain circumstances. But this right is limited and Hoosiers need to fully understand this right before refusing to aid law enforcement when they come knocking on their door. The full text of the Indiana law can be found on codes.findlaw.com at Indiana Code (IC) 35-44.1-2-2 . In relevant part, the law reads:
“A person who: …
(A) withholds or unreasonably delays in producing any testimony, information, document, or thing after a court orders the person to produce the testimony, information, document, or thing; … commits obstruction of justice, a Level 6 felony, except as provided in subsection (b).”
This portion of the law outlining obstruction allows a Hoosier that is being questioned by a cop or any other public or private individual to withhold his or her testimony, information, document, or thing until a court orders him or her to hand it over. This gives Hoosiers a lot of power when confronted by law enforcement in Indiana. But instead of knowing this legal right, many Hoosiers quote CSI or Hill Street Blues for their legal rights. In every cop drama on T.V. at one time or another the witness (a suspect or otherwise) is usually ordered by an angry cop to provide the documents or information or face jail time for obstruction of justice. After being threatened the witness breaks down and gives the cops what they want.
But life isn’t a fast paced drama. And in Indiana every citizen has the right to keep their papers, videos, pictures, and any other “thing” private – including the right to keep their mouth shut and refuse to answer questions UNTIL a court orders it disclosed. No cop, no public official, no person can order a Hoosier to give up this right. Only the citizen can voluntarily give it up. Although it is seldom recommended.
So, let’s take a look at the law and facts as they play out in some hypotheticals below …
Let’s say a teenager is left at home alone. The cops come to the door. The teenager answers. The cops introduce themselves and let the young man know that a child was abducted last night. They say they have a few questions they would like to ask him. The teenager replies, “No, sir. I don’t want to answer any questions.” The cops insist. But the teenager is steadfast in his refusal. He politely asks the cops to leave. But before they go, one of the cops says, “You know, if you refuse to answer our questions we can have you arrested for obstruction of justice.” But the teenager, being knowledgeable in the law, tells the officer that he would be more than happy to answer his questions just as soon as he comes back with a valid Order from the Judge. The cops leave.
In this hypothetical, Mr. A broke into his neighbor’s barn and stole Mr. B’s shovel. The next day, a local cop stopped by Mr. A’s home and asked if Mr. A wouldn’t mind answering a few questions about the crime. Mr. did in fact mind, though. He only gave the cop his identifying information and handed him his Indiana ID card. When the cop tried to ask any other questions, Mr. A insisted the cop leave his property at once, told him that he would not be answering any more questions, and shut the door in the cop’s face. When the cop threatened Mr. A with Obstruction of Justice, Mr. A, not-so-agreeably, yelled back, “File the paperwork, Bi*ch!”
Sure, Mr. A is certainly guilty of stealing Mr. B’s shovel (assuming the cop’s trail of evidence shows as much.) But Mr. A, under Indiana law, is NOT guilty of obstruction of justice. Whenever a government person (law enforcement, prosecutor, judge, etc.) asks to speak to a Hoosier, the Hoosier should refuse to answer any questions outside of the courtroom – and answer only those questions his or her lawyer say are OK to answer. This is a protected right guarded under IC 35-44.1-2-2. So, as any Hoosiers now know, Mr. A had every legal right to refuse to talk to the cop about a criminal investigation (and anyone else), until a court ordered him to do so. While it may have been very polite to help the cop, Mr. A felt it best to give only identifying information to the cop (as required by Indiana law), then simply ignore the cop, refuse to answer any other questions related to the cop’s investigation, and just go quietly about his business. A wise choice, Mr. A.