Interfering with Judicial Proceedings
Interfering with Judicial Proceeding under Arizona revised statute 13-2810 is normally charged in situations where a person was served with an order of protection or injunction against harassment. Most often these cases involve former spouses or relationship partners.
However the statute is broad and also covers disorderly behavior in court, making false reports in a court proceeding, refusing to be sworn as witness, and failing to attend trial. When the crime is charged between former spouses or individuals in a relationship it is charged as a domestic violence offense.
How is an order of protection or injunction against harassment served? What does it restrict?
A lawful order of the Court in the form of an injunction against harassment or an order of protection must be served by a police officer, constable, process server or other qualified person. If the document is not physically handed to you, you have not been served and the order is not in
The order will have a heading listing the plaintiff and the defendant. The defendant is who the order applies to. In the upper right hand corner the name of the court is listed. On the left had side is the case number. The order contains some biographical information of the plaintiff and defendant and lists the nature of the relationship between the parties.
At the bottom of the first page and possible on the second page the Court will issue its order. The judicial order is a set of instructions from the Court to the Defendant. It will lists actions that the defendant cannot participate.
Usually these actions are preventing contact from the plaintiff. In some cases contact will be restricted to specific forms of communication, like text messages or emails.
The Court can also restrict what is said between the defendant and the plaintiff. The Court may make rules that the order prohibits all communication except communication regarding child custody.
In all cases the Court will make an exception of communication and contact initiated through legal process, and attorneys.
The specific wording and order of the Court is extremely important when defending a case for interfering with judicial proceedings. If the Court’s order is vague or broad it is a defense to the charge.
I didn’t know that what I did violated the Court order.
In order to be found guilty of IJP a person must commit the offense knowingly.
So, if the order from the court contains vague language or is overly broad a defense to the charge can be that the order failed to notify the defendant of the prohibited behavior and the person did not act with knowledge of violating the order. Proving mental states in a criminal case is always the most difficult thing for the prosecutor to do.
Prosecutors try to prove mental state through a defendant’s actions. In the vast majority of cases the Court will accept the fact that a defendant was served, the Court will presume knowledge based on service and will not accept an argument that the Defendant did not read the document.
Will the Court consider the fact that the order should have never been issued?
No. An IJP case does not cover the underlying issues that created the Court order.
The information the plaintiff used to claim that they need an order is not directly relevant to the case. An order of protection or injunction against harassment can be challenged and dismissed by the Court, but an IJP trial is not an appropriate place to make that argument.
The scope of the IJP cases is limited to: 1) the action the Defendant is accused of, 2) does the order prohibit that action, and 3) did the court convey that order in a way that makes the Defendant aware of a prohibited behavior. If your defense does not address all three of those issues you will not be able to beat your case.
If a police officer serves you with a court order they may explain that order to you. If the police officer explains the order and the prohibited behavior write down what they say, or audio record them.
Relying on an officer’s interpretation of the order may be a legitimate defense. Even if the defense won’t be completely useful at trial it provides excellent information to us when negotiating with the Prosecutor.
If the plaintiff contacts me and I answer that is not a violation of the order, right?
If a court order states that the Defendant can have no contact with the plaintiff it does not matter that the plaintiff contacted you first. In an IJP case the court order restricts the Defendant, it does not restrict the actions of the plaintiff.
Legally it does not matter that plaintiff initiated contact. However, if the plaintiff initiates contact it is a very important part of the case.
Plaintiffs communicating to a Defendant when a court order has been issued undermine their own credibility. Court orders are most often granted to protect someone from harassment or physical danger, it does not make sense to contact someone you don’t want contact with.
If a plaintiff makes contact with you while a court order is pending and that contact encourages or initiates your response that information can help you negotiate with the prosecutor.
Likewise, if the plaintiff contact is significant and constant it could lead to a dismissal of the case.
What if there is an emergency, can I disregard the Court order then?
An emergency situation that requires contact with an individual is not a legal defense to the IJP charge. However, a true emergency will likely result in a dismissal of the case.
However, the emergency must be ab objectively emergency situation. For example, if a plaintiff contacts you and states that they are going to commit suicide, it would be understandable if you responded encouraging them to not act on that thought.
Nevertheless, it is important to limit communication and immediately inform the police about what is happening.
My girlfriend/boyfriend got a Court order and now she wants to talk to me again, can we both chose to ignore the order?
No, and be careful with plaintiffs who’s mood changes by the day. That type of unstable behavior will quickly lead you to a courtroom. An IJP charge can be on solid legal ground even if the plaintiff says they want to ignore the court order.
As long as the order is valid and in place violations of the order can be charged and prosecuted.
If the plaintiff changes their mind and wants contact, the only way to avoid an IJP charge is to have the plaintiff go back to court and withdraw their request for the court order.
Nothing but that will prevent an IJP charge. As noted above, if the plaintiff voluntarily wants contact and initiates contact with the Defendant it can be helpful in an IJP case, but that fact itself does not provide immunity.
Can I be given a diversion plea for an Interfering with Judicial Proceeding case?
Yes. Because IJP cases are, most of the time, domestic violence crimes diversion is available.
Most prosecutors will offer diversion when an IJP violation lacks any sense of danger or hostility.
A great example of this is if the order prohibits contact except for discussing the mutual children through email, but the Defendant sends a text message.
Obviously this is not an egregious case and diversion should be an option available as a resolution.
On the contrary, a case that involves veiled threats, or threats of physical violence, harassment, vulgar language, or language designed to intimidate and scare a plaintiff, will not be a case where diversion is a reasonable resolution.
Should I hire a lawyer for my Interfering with Judicial Proceeding case?
An experienced attorney will always give you the best opportunity to prevail in any criminal case. In cases where there are a significant amount of personal emotions it is best to hire an attorney as they are a third party and can give a frank assessment of the case.
Likewise, IJP cases can be nuanced in their scope. The limitations of the elements needs be understood in order to effectively defend against an IJP charge.
Hiring an attorney will help you understand the limited scope of the charge. An experienced attorney will understand where the focus on the case needs to be and help you prepare a defense that is designed to focus on the case.
If your defense is that your action was not a knowing violation of the order it is best to have an attorney.
How do I prevent an Interfering with Judicial Proceeding charge?
The best way to prevent an IJP charge is to follow the court order.
If you disagree with the order then you need to take steps to challenge that order in Court.
That is a separate hearing.
Likewise, even if the plaintiff initiates contact do not respond.
Disengaging from communication is the only truly safe way to avoid an IJP charge and will always be the best advice for any situation.