Interference with Public Duties

Interference with Public Duty is a “Class B” misdemeanor under §38.15 of the Texas Penal Code. The maximum range of punishment for this offense is a fine not to exceed $2,000, and up to 180 days in the county jail. In practice, most of these charges are resolved via small fines, deferred adjudication, or probation. Prosecutions for these cases are not the most straightforward, and defending the cases requires a thorough understanding of the case law underlying the statute. 

Almost all Interference with Public Duty offenses are charged under §38.15(a)(1), although the analysis here applies to other subsections in the statute as well. A citizen commits an offense under §38.15(a)(1) if he or she, with criminal negligence, interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law. 

It is important to note that §38.15(d) provides a defense if the alleged interruption, disruption, impediment, or interference alleged consisted of speech only. 

This charge can be downright confusing to a citizen trying to understand what exactly they are charged with doing. When a statute is so broadly written, it creates the possibility for misinterpretation, overreach, and abuse by government agents. The charge has become much more common in recent years as police step up enforcement across East Texas. 

Thankfully, for lawyers and judges, there is a reasonable amount of case law available to help make sense of the statute. 

There are four essential requirements for an Interference with Public Duty charge to hold up in court. First, the government must prove that a suspect was criminally negligent in disobeying clear, repeated commands. 

Second, the government must show that the complainant peace officer was performing a specific duty or exercising authorized authority. Not every directive or action by a law enforcement officer falls within the Interference with Public Duty statute. Some duties that do include, preserving the peace within the officer’s jurisdiction, carrying out an arrest, conducting a criminal investigation, or ensuring safety of another officer performing a detention. Citizens are generally free to watch, photograph, or record police encounters, but citizens are not free to create an unreasonably dangerous environment through intrusion or threatening behavior. 

Third, the government must prove that a suspect interfered in a particular way with that specific duty or authorized authority. The officer must demonstrate how the suspect’s conduct specifically hindered  performance of the duty. This behavior from the suspect is typically physical action that prevents an officer from doing something, or the suspect engaging in an act or failing to act that creates a danger to the officer or other citizens. 

Lastly, the government must prove that the suspect’s interference was more than merely speech. Merely arguing with or criticizing an officer is generally insufficient to justify an Interference with Public Duties arrest, even if the speech stalled or delayed the officer in some way. 

Interference with Public Duty is often used as a backup charge when a citizen resists officers after being detained. While the resisting arrest statute criminalizes resisting arrest, search, or transport, it is silent as to resisting detention. This is a technical loophole under the law that the government often remedies with an Interference with Public Duties charge. 

If you’ve been charged with interference in East Texas, contact a knowledgeable and proactive defense attorney to help prepare your defense.  It is of critical importance to review all available dash and bodycam footage related to these arrests, to ensure the police did not violate your rights.