“Truth is stranger than fiction” – How can this happen in America?

January 31, 2024

“Truth is stranger than fiction” – How can this happen in America?

In Chapper v. State, 351 So. 3d 235 (Fla. 2d DCA 2022), a three-judge panel of the appellate court reversed Mr. Chapper’s conviction for obstructing a police officer without violence. The “unique facts” of the case presented a “novel question: can talking loudly on the phone in the vicinity of a police officer’s investigation constitute obstruction without violence under section 843.02, Florida Statutes.” Id. at 236. Shocking to think anyone could ever be prosecuted and convicted of such an “offense,” but perhaps even more shocking is that one of the three panel judges dissented and would have upheld the conviction. The majority held: “Because our case law holds that words alone, without more, are rarely obstructive conduct, … we reverse”. Id.

The “arresting saga” of Chapper’s chatter  started when his wife called 911 due to a domestic dispute. At trial, the prosecution’s case entirely relied upon the testimony of the Lakeland police officer who responded to the call. Upon arriving at the family home, the officer saw injuries to the wife and began investigating a potential charge of domestic violence. During the interview of the wife inside the kitchen, Mr. Chapper stood outside, allegedly “speaking loudly” to his father on “speaker phone.”

And important to the arrest, Mr. Chapper’s voice was audible inside of the kitchen, but the record did not reflect the substance of the chatter. There was no evidence or suggestion that the chatter was threatening or that the conversation between father and son prevented the officer from hearing Mrs. Chapper’s answers to his questions.

During the defense’s case, Mrs. Chapper testified that she couldn’t make out the words that Mr. Chapper was saying. The police officer believed that the outside chatter was “agitating and distracting Mrs. Chapper from the interview.” Id. at 236. The officer then asked Mr. Chapper to lower his volume or get off the telephone. Mr. Chapper complied by walking away from the kitchen area and continuing his conversation in the carport, twenty-five to thirty feet away from the kitchen. Still not satisfied, the officer again demanded that Mr. Chapper lower his volume. When Mr. Chapper continued to talk loudly on the phone, the police officer arrested him for resisting an officer without violence. This happened right here in FLA. U.S.A. P.S. Mr. Chapper was charged for chatter not for domestic violence.

Trial counsel for Mr. Chapper moved for a judgement of acquittal arguing that the state prosecution could not convict Mr. Chapper of obstruction over his words alone.

Counsel likened Mr. Chapper’s case to D.A.W v. State, 945 So. 2d 624, 626-627 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006), where the Second District concluded that a juvenile’s refusal to stop taunting someone being arrested did not amount to an obstruction. Counsel argued that “simply talking on the phone” was no different. The trial judge denied the motion, relying upon Wilkerson v. State, 556 So. 2d 453 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990). The court found the prosecution presented evidence that Mr. Chapper had impeded the police officer’s investigation unlike the juvenile in D.A.W., who was merely “someone idly standing by” who had started “yelling or screaming” at the officer.

Fla. Stat. § 843.02 defines resisting an officer without violence, providing, in relevant part, that “[w]hoever shall resist, obstruct, or oppose any officer… in the lawful execution of any legal duty, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree….” (brackets added).

To obtain a conviction, the state must prove that “(1) the officer was engaged in a lawful execution of a legal duty; (2) the defendant’s action, by his words, conduct, or a combination thereof, constituted obstruction or resistance of that lawful duty.” Id. at 237 (quoting C.E.L. v. State, 24 So. 3d 1181, 1185-1186 (Fla. 2009)). The majority found it unnecessary to reach the first prong since the second prong was lacking. “Words alone rarely, if ever, rise to the level of an obstruction.” D.L.S v. State, 192 So. 3d 1273, 1274 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016); W.W. v. State, 993 So. 2d 1182, 1185 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) (explaining that physical conduct usually must accompany offensive words to support a conviction under § 843.02); cf. Francis v. State, 736 So. 2d 97, 99 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999) (finding that the defendant obstructed officers by both lying and physically blocking their path).

Courts have found words to be enough, where the defendant was a “lookout” and warned a suspect that the police were coming, or the defendant gave the police a false alias at the time of arrest. See, e.g., Porter v. State, 582 So. 2d 41, 42 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991).

On the facts presented, Mr. Chapper’s chatter or its loud volume was not enough to constitute an obstruction. The opinion noted that the majority conclusion is consistent with the intent of the statute meant to apply “where a person willfully interferes with the lawful activities of the police.” N.H. v. State, 890 So. 2d 514, 516 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005). Mr. Chapper’s chatter and his refusal to get off the phone may have been distracting or annoying, but the trial record lacked “competent substantial evidence” to support the guilty verdict, and the trial judge erred by denying the motion for judgment of acquittal.

That one of three Judges dissented and would have upheld that conviction was shocking to read, but reading how a Judge could find any rhyme or reason for this unique arrest serves the purpose of educating local criminal defense lawyers as to how a pro-police Judge can find support even for the most outrageous police misconduct.


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