CAV REVERSES OBSTRUCTION CONVICTION
(Posted July 16, 2019) The Court of Appeals of Virginia announces four published rulings today. Among them is a fascinating decision in a criminal appeal. Maldonado v. Commonwealth is the tale of a father who lied to investigating officers to protect his son. The son had borrowed his father’s truck one night for an evening at a bar in Cape Charles, in Northampton County. Leaving the bar after last call, the son drove the truck off the road where it hit a ditch and rolled over.
A deputy sheriff, dispatched to the scene, found the truck empty of occupants but discovered a cell phone inside. Minutes later, the owner’s daughter – this would presumably make her the son’s sister – showed up. She told the deputy that “someone took the truck” from her father’s home, and she wanted to know how to report it as stolen.
As you’ll readily appreciate, this is not headed in a good direction. Investigators came to the father’s home and spoke with him, but the record doesn’t include the contents of that discussion. A few hours later, a State Trooper visited the father and spoke with him at the door to his home. The father volunteered that his truck had been stolen, and pointed to an empty parking space. In response to a question about the son’s whereabouts, the father said he wasn’t at home.
That turned out not to be quite correct. After extended conversations lasting 40-45 minutes, the father went inside and brought the son out. The son initially denied being involved and said he hadn’t left home the previous evening.
Unfortunately, that all unraveled when the police discovered that that lonesome cell phone belonged to a person who had been a passenger in the truck, and was in a Norfolk hospital. That passenger sang like a whippoorwill to a deputy, blabbing in a way that led to an indictment of the father for making a false police report and obstruction of justice.
At a bench trial, the circuit court dismissed the false-report charge, but it convicted the father of obstruction and sent him to jail. Today a unanimous panel of the CAV reverses that and enters a judgment of dismissal. Relying on prior holdings on what constitutes obstruction, the court finds that the father’s actions may have made the investigators’ work less convenient, but it didn’t actually hinder them. The record doesn’t show that this 40-minute delay affected them in any meaningful way. Conceivably the first conversation, several hours earlier, might have done so; but as noted above, the record doesn’t indicate what the father said then.