Obstruction of justice is a criminal charge that often sneaks up on people — because they often don’t realize that what they’re doing is illegal at the time they’re doing it.

They may know that their actions are improper or morally wrong, but people often confuse “freedom of speech” to mean that they’re free to say anything they want — even lie — to the police.

That can land you in big trouble. Here is what you should understand about obstruction charges:

1. You can be charged with obstruction of justice for physically interfering in any police action in any way.

That means that if you grab an officer’s arm while he or she is trying to handcuff a suspect — even just to plead with the officer to relent — you could find yourself in handcuffs next.

2. Lying about your identity or lying to police during an investigation is considered obstruction.

If you don’t want to tell the police who you are, you’re better off saying nothing than lying about your identity in an investigation. Similarly, say nothing and ask for an attorney rather than lie in response to any questions from the police. Obstruction requires an affirmative action on your part — a failure to act (or respond to questions) doesn’t count.

3. Warning a friend or relative that the police are looking for them is also a crime.

It’s only human nature to want to look out for the people you care about. However, if you willingly hide someone that the police are looking for, lie about his or her presence in your home if the police come knocking or pick up the phone and warn that person that the police are on their way, that’s obstruction.

Obstruction of justice is a serious charge that requires serious consideration on your part. If you aren’t sure how to respond to the police, your best bet to avoid a criminal charge is to exercise your right to remain silence while you seek legal advice

Source: FindLaw, “Obstruction of Justice,” accessed Dec. 06, 2017