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What is misconduct at an emergency?

Recently we have been involved with the defense of clients charged with the offense of misconduct at an emergency. Ohio Revised Code § 2917.13 prohibits misconduct at an emergency. It states:

No person shall knowingly do any of the following:

(1) Hamper the lawful operations of any law enforcement officer, firefighter, rescuer, medical person, emergency medical services person, or other authorized person, engaged in the person’s duties at the scene of a fire, accident, disaster, riot, or emergency of any kind;

(2) Hamper the lawful activities of any emergency facility person who is engaged in the person’s duties in an emergency facility;

(3) Fail to obey the lawful order of any law enforcement officer engaged in the law enforcement officer’s duties at the scene of or in connection with a fire, accident, disaster, riot, or emergency of any kind.

The culpable mental element is knowledge. To violate the statute, an individual must engage in conduct which he knows hampers the lawful operations at the scene of an emergency, or fail to obey a lawful order which he knows has been issued. “Emergency” has not been defined by statute. As a results, courts have looked to the dictionary to define it and have held an “’emergency’ is, ‘an unexpected situation or sudden occurrence of a serious and urgent nature that demands immediate attention.'”

The Ohio Legislature’s notes accompanying the statute are very telling in outlining what is and is not a violation of this statute. They state:

This section retains a former measure aimed primarily at controlling bystanders and curiosity seekers at emergency scenes, in order to permit police, fire brigades, rescue and medical personnel, and others, to perform their duties with the utmost efficiency at such times.

Although the section is a specific tool for crowd control at emergencies, an offense under it need not necessarily arise from the collective conduct of a crowd but may be committed by one person.  For example, one who simply gets underfoot at an emergency and is consciously aware he is doing so is guilty of a violation of the section.  If he is at first unaware that he is in the way, but then ignores the reasonable order of a policeman to move along, he is also guilty of a violation.

Under the section, “emergency” is to be broadly construed.  It may be an emergency created by a leaking gas main, or by a severe storm, or by sudden illness, or by a false bomb threat, or by a disorderly crowd in an ugly mood, or by any other combination of circumstances calling for action to save or protect persons or property.

Some examples of this offense include a defendant’s deliberate failure to evacuate a building in response to a fire alarm, a pilot disobeying a state trooper’s order to not attempt to move a wrecked plane at its crash site, an individual who continued to interrupt paramedics who were treating another individual following a 911 dispatch.

Unfortunately, our office has seen a rise in this charge following protests in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. If you or a loved have been charged, we can assist you and aggressively defend these charges utilizing our experience and expertise.

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