In Texas, it is illegal to interfere with the work of law enforcement, first responders, and even police dogs while they are performing official duties. This offense is called “interference with public duties” and is commonly used to arrest individuals who insert themselves into police activities or video law enforcement.
Locally, “cop watchers” have gotten in trouble – and have even been convicted – when their act of recording the police rose to the level of interfering. But how do you know when you’ve crossed the line – or when an officer is out of line? Here’s a look at the law on interference with police and other public duties and possible defenses.
What is Interference with Public Duties?
Under Texas Penal Code 38.15, a person commits the offense of Interference with Public Duties if the person, with criminal negligence, interrupts, disrupts, impedes or otherwise interferes with:
- A peace officer while the officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law;
- A person who is employed to provide emergency medical services including the transportation of ill or injured people while the person is performing that duty;
- A firefighter while he or she is fighting a fire or investigating the cause of a fire;
- An animal under the supervision of a peace officer, corrections officer, or jailer, if the person knows the animal is being used for law enforcement, corrections, prison or jail security, or investigative purposes;
- The transmission of a communication over a citizen’s band radio channel if the purpose is to inform or inquire about an emergency;
- An officer with the responsibility for animal control in a county or municipality, while he or she is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted under Chapter 821 or 822 of the Health and Safety Code; or
- A person who has responsibility for assessing, enacting, or enforcing public health, environmental, radiation or safety measures for the state, a county or municipality; is investigating a particular site as part of their responsibilities; is acting in accordance with policies and procedures related to the safety and security of the site; and is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted under the Agriculture Code, Health and Safety Code, Occupations Code or Water Code.
Are There Any Defenses to Interference with Public Duties?
Yes. There are two defenses to interference with public duties, which are outlined in the Texas Penal Code. Specifically, it is not against the law to:
- warn a motorist about the presence of a police officer that is enforcing Title 7 of the Transportation Code. Simply put, it’s not illegal to warn a motorist about a speed trap ahead by flashing your lights or other means.
- interrupt, disrupt, impede or interfere using speech only. For example, arguing with an officer over the validity of a search warrant is not unlawful. Speech is generally protected.
Why Do People Get Arrested for Recording the Police?
Citizens have a Constitutional right to publicly record police activity, as long as it does not interfere with officers’ duties. Problem is, many officers frown on so-called “cop watching” or videoing law enforcement and sometimes citizens get too close to the action. This can make for a volatile situation and can often result in an arrest. The charge may not stick, but it is an inconvenience nonetheless and may cost time and money to fight. If you record the police, do so from a distance and be respectful.
What is the Punishment for Interfering with Public Duties?
Interfering with Public Duties is a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. Probation or deferred adjudication may be options for individuals charged with interfering with public duties.
Facing Charges of Interference with Public Duties? Contact Us.
If you or a loved one is facing charges stemming from allegations of interfering with public duties, you will need an experienced attorney to thoroughly evaluate your case, guide you through the process, and aggressively fight on your behalf. At the law firm of Varghese Summersett, our criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience handling all types of criminal cases, ranging from DWI to murder. We have a proven track record and have successfully defended people accused of interfering with public duties, including a client who was acquitted of the charge during a jury trial in Fort Worth in Tarrant County.
If you or a loved one is facing charges of interfering with police duties in Fort Worth or the surrounding area, call us today for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply to your plan and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.
Call: (817) 203-2220