While the media decries the fact that President Donald Trump won’t be charged with obstruction for tweets critical of the investigation into the nonexistent crime of collusion, a man in Washington state knows what it’s like to be convicted of obstruction.
Solomon McLemore was loudly arguing with his girlfriend in 2016. The shouting got so loud that a neighbor called the police. Police arrived but no one answered the door. The yelling stopped, but police say they heard glass shattering and suspected domestic violence, according to Forbes. Officers proceeded to break down McLemore’s door, and he told them they needed a warrant to enter his home.
Police also, according to Forbes, said they heard McLemore “tell his girlfriend to tell police that she was ok.”
Police found that McLemore’s girlfriend wasn’t injured, but they arrested him anyway – not for domestic violence, but for “obstructing a law enforcement officer.” The statute says “A person is guilty of obstructing a law enforcement officer if the person willfully hinders, delays, or obstructs any law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties.”
McLemore was convicted of this crime and sentenced to 20 days of house arrest. One might think this punishment was light enough not to fight, but even with the short sentence, McLemore is a convicted criminal. When he and his attorneys appealed, they did not challenge police officers forcibly entering his residence.
The issue was never about whether police acted appropriately or reasonably – in this case, it appears they did. But Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in his lead opinion for the Washington Supreme Court that there was “no law requiring people to open their own doors to officers seeking warrantless entry.”
“While cooperation with the police might have been wise, the failure to do so was not criminal under these circumstances,” Gonzalez wrote, as reported by Forbes. “Lack of cooperation does not become obstruction of justice merely because it causes the police delay. ‘As a general proposition, there is no obligation to cooperate with the police.’”
For McLemore, the state supreme court divided evenly on his case, meaning the lower court’s decision to uphold his conviction will stand.
As Forbes noted, McLemore’s case makes Washington State “an outlier” when it comes to obstruction laws.
“In the vast majority of cases called to our attention, courts have held that there is no obligation to open a home to an officer’s warrantless demand for entry,” Judge Gonzalez wrote. He then referred to a recent case in New Jersey, in which the state’s Supreme Court “on almost identical facts, unanimously held failure to act was not obstruction.”
Originally, it looked like McLemore would get relief from the state Supreme Court, as in an odd twist the court decided to give the lead opinion additional weight to break the tie, but then retreated from that position and changed its conclusion.
“We in the lead opinion would hold the city presented insufficient evidence to sustain [Solomon] McLemore’s conviction and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. However, we recognize this opinion has garnered only four signatures. ‘Therefore, there being no majority for the reversal of the judgment of the trial court, it necessarily stands affirmed, and the order of this court is that the judgment appealed from be and it is hereby affirmed,’” the new conclusion reads, according to Forbes.