Imagine something happens to your vehicle while driving, so you stop the car. The problem: it also stops other traffic. For whatever reason, if you refuse to move, other traffic is unable to move because you remain stopped. Depending on the circumstances, you could get charged with obstruction of a highway or impeding traffic. If so, you need an attorney who can commit to your case and knows how to fight this type of charge. There are times where we are able to get a driving while intoxicated DWI case reduced to obstruction of a highway charge because it does not carry the same stigma and legal consequences as a DWI charge, although they are the same level of class B misdemeanor criminal offense.
Doug Murphy, Board Certified in criminal law and a veteran trial attorney with two decades of practice under him, will aggressively pursue a comprehensive defense that works in your best interests. Contact Doug Murphy today if you have questions about your Obstruction of Highway charge or if you want to get started on your defense.
Obstructing a Highway: What it Means in Texas
According to Tex. Penal Code § 42.03, you commit this offense if you intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, and without privilege or authority either:
(1) obstructs a highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, hallway, entrance, or exit to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access, or any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances, regardless of the means of creating the obstruction and whether the obstruction arises from his acts alone or from his acts and the acts of others; or
(2) disobeys a reasonable request or order to move issued by a person the actor knows to be or is informed is a peace officer, a fireman, or a person with authority to control the use of the premises: (A) to prevent obstruction of a highway or any of those areas mentioned in Subdivision (1); or (B) to maintain public safety by dispersing those gathered in dangerous proximity to a fire, riot, or other hazard.
To obstruct statutorily means to make a passage impassable or unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous if you should attempt to take the passage.
Obstructing a Highway: How the State of Texas Prosecutes It
The State prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. To do so, all the elements of the crime must be satisfied, namely: (1) the criminal act was committed; and (2) the requisite mental state was present.
The State must prove that you obstructed a highway or other listed passageway or that you disobeyed an official request to move. To do so, the State must have evidence that proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The State must also prove that you had the mental state to commit the crime. You must have intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly obstructed a highway or other listed passageway or refused to move (e.g., yourself, a vehicle, or some other kind of obstruction) after a police officer or fireman requested you to do so. There is no requirement that you knew or did not know your actions were criminal; you only must have been aware of your actions, intended your actions, or acted in a way that established the possibility of creating an obstruction.
Furthermore, if you were charged Obstructing a Highway on the basis of refusing to move after requested to do so, the State must also prove (1) you knew the person requesting you to move was a person authorized to do so, like a peace officer or fireman; and (2) the request provided a reason (either to prevent obstruction or to maintain public safety) and was reasonable, the latter of which is to be determined by the judge or jury.
Obstructing a Highway: How an Experienced Attorney Defends Against It
The Obstructing a Highway statute provides an affirmative defense based on the First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of expression. According to Tex. Penal Code § 42.04, you can assert a defense if you committed obstruction of a highway or other passageway in accordance with the statute but that your obstruction constituted:
speech or other communication, of gathering with others to hear or observe such speech or communication, or of gathering with others to picket or otherwise express in a nonviolent manner a position on social, economic, political, or religious questions, the actor must be ordered to move, disperse, or otherwise remedy the violation prior to his arrest if he has not yet intentionally harmed the interests of others which those sections seek to protect.
The above-mentioned order can be given by (1) a police officer, fireman, or a person of some other kind of authority to control the use of the premises, (2) any person who is affected by the obstruction.
It is also a defense according to Tex. Penal Code § 42.04 if
- An order was required but it was not given;
- An order was issued but was manifestly unreasonable in scope; or
- An order was issued and was promptly obeyed.
Apart from these statutory affirmative defenses, your attorney will use any other defense or defense strategy that applies in your unique circumstances. The important thing about a defense attorney, however, is an attorney who does not settle via plea deal but commits to a trial if that is what it takes to have a case dismissed or to get you acquitted at trial. Plea deals, though packaged to appear as though in your best interests, are almost never in your best interests.
Obstruction of Highway & DWI: the Example of a Bad Plea Deal
Oftentimes, attorneys recommend plea deals. Obstructing a Highway is an offense that is often used in DWI plea deals. For example, you are charged with DWI, the prosecutor does not have a great case against you and offers a plea deal, such that you plead to Obstructing a Highway. Your attorney advises you to take the deal, citing fewer penalties and consequences:
- The ability to maintain your driver's license
- No surcharges
- No likely increase in insurance premiums, and/or
- The charge can't be used to enhance a subsequent DWI.
That sounds great to you, and upon the recommendation of your attorney, you accept. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, it could be a big mistake. The only way to ensure you don't receive a criminal record is to fight the charge. And that's true whether your charge is initially a DWI or Obstructing a Highway. You need an experienced Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney who can help you weigh the facts and your options on determining the best course of action for you and your legal situation.
Obstructing a Highway: The Penalties
An obstructing a highway offense is charged as a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction, therefore, can result in up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $2,000.
Obstructing a Highway: Finding the Right Attorney
If you have been charged with obstruction of a highway, you need legal representation from someone with the experience, skills, resources, and insight to deliver the best results in your unique circumstances. Doug Murphy, a veteran criminal defense trial attorney and Board Certified in criminal law, provides smart legal defense. His capabilities have been recognized by the legal community, which has endorsed his name through accolades and frequent invitations to speak at seminars so that he can provide his insight and teach legal defense skills to other criminal defense attorneys throughout Texas and the United States.
Doug Murphy is based in Houston, Texas, but represents clients throughout the region, including the counties of Austin, Brazoria, Colorado, Fayette, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Fort Bend, Lavaca, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Walker, Waller, Washington, and Wharton. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today.