Private Citizens and Obstruction of Justice
In a recent SC Court of Appeals case, State v. Singleton, a defendant was charged with obstruction of justice for lying to law enforcement. The defendant told law enforcement that Person A shot at people while he was in the defendant's car. Person A was not in the car. Person A was arrested for attempted murder, jailed for two months, and indicted for the charge.
Obstruction of justice is a common law offense: "[a]t common law it is an offense to do any act which prevents, obstructs, impedes, or hinders the administration of justice."
The issue presented in this case is whether a private citizen can be charged with obstruction of justice, as opposed to a public official acting in their official capacity. The defense also argued that if a private citizen is charged with obstruction, then they have to show that the lie not only hindered law enforcement, but also hindered/involved an actual judicial proceeding.
The second issue presented, whether a private citizen's obstruction has to involve an actual judicial proceeding, was not preserved for review, so the court did not address it directly. However, they did note that because of the lie by the defendant, the other person was arrested and indicted for attempted murder and jailed, thus involving a judicial proceeding:
The court holds that even though most obstruction cases in SC involve public officials, this does not prevent a private citizen from being charged with obstruction of justice:
Putting the facts of the case to the law, the court upheld the obstruction of justice charge against the defendant. The court emphasized "any act" in it application:
State v. Singleton, No. 2016-002079, 2020 WL 2182244, (S.C. Ct. App. May 6, 2020)