The mayor of Lipscomb, just outside of Birmingham, was recently arrested on a charge of obstruction by a police officer from nearby Brighton at the scene of a late-night fire.
The mayor is fighting back with a claim of false arrest.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that while the facts and circumstances of the case are unique, the charge is not.
Obstructing governmental processes is a Class A misdemeanor as defined in Ala. Code 13A-10-2. The law is intentionally broad so as to give law enforcement officers ample discretion in their interpretation. The statute says that a person violates the law if he or she, by intimidation, physical force, interference or any other independently unlawful act either intentionally obstructs, impairs or hinders the administration of law or other governmental function or intentionally prevents a public servant from performing a governmental service.
It’s a separate charge from resisting arrest. It could be applied to a wide range of potential actions, from being disruptive in a city council meeting to blocking a government worker from responding to a certain scene.
A Class A misdemeanor in Alabama is the most serious level of misdemeanor one can face, with punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $6,000. Other examples of Class A misdemeanors in Alabama would be third-degree assault, third-degree domestic violence, possession of drug paraphernalia or second-degree criminal mischief.
In this case, at least according to accounts relayed by local media, it appears there were a lot of egos involved in this case. According to reports, the mayor had previously fired both the volunteer fire chief and his wife, who was a lieutenant with the department, citing disrespect from the chief and the lieutenant’s conduct at a recent emergency scene.
Council in short order reinstated the chief, but not the lieutenant.
A short time later, at the scene of a fire in Lipscomb, the mayor arrived and spotted the lieutenant on scene. The Brighton officer (who was there due to police shortages in Lipscomb during late-night hours) reported that the mayor approached her and demanded she be removed, as she no longer worked for the agency.
The officer refused to remove the lieutenant. When the mayor asked who authorized the lieutenant to be on scene, the officer responded that she did, to which the mayor countered that she did not have this authority. The officer in turn arrested the mayor for obstruction.
Later, the lieutenant would say that she was on scene, but was not working the fire. She was only there to wait for her husband to complete his duties so that she could then take him home.
The mayor contends he was never read his Miranda rights, though this alone would not void an arrest. The lack of this information would only impact the viability of statements made after an arrest. The mayor has vowed to fight back on the charge.
Anyone who has been arrested would be well-advised to do the same, or at the very least explore their options – even if the arrest is for a “minor” offense, such as a misdemeanor. The consequences to your pocketbook and even your freedom might not be so minor. What’s more, the charge will forever remain on your permanent record if you’re convicted, meaning you face the possibility of having to constantly explain yourself anytime you apply for a new job, a loan or possibly even in personal relationships.
Arrests for obstruction tend to be made in the heat of the moment. Upon careful review after the fact, there is always the possibility that the arresting officer lacked sufficient grounds for the charge.