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Obstructing a Search

Everyone has constitutional rights under the 4th Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, that means that if law enforcement officers want to search you or your property — such as your home, your car, or your business — they have to first get a search warrant. But when police show up at your door with a warrant in hand, do you have to let them in?

The answer to that question can get complicated, but generally speaking Ohio courts have ruled that when you take an “affirmative action” to prevent police from lawfully executing a search warrant, you can be charged with a crime. If you’re convicted, the consequences may include:

  • Jail time
  • Court costs and fines
  • A permanent criminal record
  • Difficulty getting hired for jobs
  • Effects on your professional license if you’re a lawyer, doctor, teacher, or some other type of licensed professional

If you’ve been charged with an offense against a peace officer — or a crime for obstructing a search — a Columbus OH criminal lawyer can help protect your rights, explain what to expect from the legal process, and fight your charge in court.

Search Warrants in General

A valid search warrant is a court order that gives law enforcement officers the right to enter a residence, business, or other premises to look for evidence of a crime. However the warrant has to name a specific place that they’re allowed to search, for example by listing the address of your house.

The search warrant also needs to specify the type of evidence for which police are searching, which means they have to be investigating a specific type of criminal activity. They can’t just riffle through all of your belongings on a fishing expedition because they have a hunch that maybe you’re involved with some unspecified crime.

A search warrant may state that police are allowed to enter the premises without first announcing themselves. However, unless the warrant specifically authorizes them to enter unannounced, then police are required to knock and identify themselves as law enforcement.

If you refuse to allow police to search your property when they have a search warrant, you may be charged with obstruction of official business. Additionally, police may then force their way into your residence or business in order to execute the warrant and complete the search.

A conviction for obstruction of official business is a 2nd degree misdemeanor punishable by:

  • Up to 90 days in jail
  • A fine of up to $750

However, if your alleged obstruction causes a risk of physical harm to another person, you can be charged with a 5th degree felony. If you’re convicted, the penalty may include:

  • 6 to 12 months in jail
  • A fine of up to $2,500

Obstructing Search or Inspection of Premises for Liquor Control

In addition to the possibility of facing an obstruction of official business charge if you block police from performing a search, Ohio has a specific law that addresses the search or inspection of premises where alcohol is possessed, sold, kept, or given away.

Ohio Rev. Code 4301.66 makes it illegal to hinder or obstruct someone who works for or on behalf of the Division of Liquor Control in making an inspection or search of premises. There’s an exception when the premises is a private residence. But if it’s a business, warehouse, or any place other than a private residence and beer or liquor is kept or sold there, you can be charged with a crime for preventing an inspection or search.

A conviction for obstruction of an inspection or search of premises under the Liquor Control Act is a 1st degree misdemeanor. You can be punished with:

  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

Defenses to an Obstructing a Search Charge

If you’ve been charged with obstruction of official business, or obstructing an inspection or search of premises by liquor control agents, a Columbus OH criminal lawyer can help you fight the charge. Depending on the circumstances of your charge, you may have some good options for a defense strategy that a lawyer can discuss with you.

It may be that your actions didn’t amount to an “affirmative action” as that phrase has been interpreted by Ohio courts. For example, slamming the door shut on an officer has been ruled not to be an overt action that can support a charge of obstruction.

It also may be the circumstance that the search warrant wasn’t valid to begin with. There are a number of requirements in place for the kind of information a search warrant must contain. Additionally, a search warrant must be based on probable cause that police will find criminal activity or the evidence of a crime. A search warrant can’t be based on a simple hunch. It has to be based on evidence. When a search warrant is invalid, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to get your obstruction charge dismissed or your penalties reduced.

Because cases involving search warrants can be complex and turn on technical legal principles, we recommend contacting a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately about your charge at .

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Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP
580 E Rich St Fl 2
Columbus, OH 43215-5335
advice@columbuscriminalattorney.com

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