Georgia Criminal Appellate Law Blog Offering Insight and Commentary on Appellate Law and Criminal Trial Practice

Defending the Worth County Sheriff

Posted in News

I make no judgment here about whether the Worth County Sheriff is a good man, a good sheriff, or whether it was a good idea to lock down a high school and conduct a massive drug search of the student body without probable cause (he sounds like he has poor judgment). I write about whether he is guilty of obstruction for what he did to stop the GBI from interrogating his son. Based on what I read so far, I’d take his case to trial.

The Sheriff’s son was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and criminal trespass. The young man, who was seventeen years old at the time, was being questioned at the Worth County Jail when the Sheriff and his wife (an employee of the Sheriff’s Department) burst into a room where the boy was being interrogated to advise him to invoke his right to remain silent. At this point, the GBI agents ceased the interview.

Under Georgia law,  “a person who knowingly and willfully obstructs or hinders any law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of his official duties is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Yet, for a youthful suspect, the absence or presence of a parent is a factor for voluntariness. And the young man had a right to remain silent (I bet the agents read to the young man from a form that said he had a right to remain silent). If a lawyer had been present, a lawyer would likely have advised him to remain silent. Would an attorney, giving the young man the exact same advice, be guilty of obstruction? Or, had the sheriff told his son not to go to an interview, would he be guilty of obstruction? What is different about these facts?

Finally, the fact that the agents chose to cease the interview makes the whole thing an inchoate act. We really do not know whether the young man would have taken dad’s advice. It may well be that the interview would have run its course. I wonder if the attorney general will seriously charge the Sheriff with criminal attempt to obstruct an officer.

Also, does the presence at the Worth County Jail make the difference? Could GBI agents come to the sheriff’s home, enter the son’s room and interview him? If so, would the same interruption be obstruction?

It is not as if the Sheriff ran in and tackled the agents to stop the interview. Here, the sheriff came inside a room at his sheriff’s department and gave his son a solid piece of advice that would be perfectly legal for me to give him as an attorney. Indeed, it is my job to “obstruct” interrogations per the Fifth and Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. How is it a crime for the Sheriff to do the same thing?