Lying to Police Results in Felony Obstruction of Justice Charges

A Utah woman arrested for felony obstruction of justice for initially lying to police about teens’ deaths in Utah.

Lying to police

Photo by: Carmello Fernando

34 year old Morgan Reannon Henderson of Mammoth, Utah was arrested on felony charges of obstruction of justice after she finally released information regarding two Utah teens who had been missing for nearly three months. Henderson was questioned twice early on in the investigation of the teen’s disappearance but was dishonest in her response to investigators. It wasn’t until Henderson was arrested for drugs and weapon charges that she told the truth about the night the teens went missing. The whereabouts of 17 year old “Breezy” Otteson and 18 year old Riley Powell remained unknown to the teens’ families or authorities until Henderson eventually told police her live in boyfriend, Jerrod William Baum was responsible for the death of both teens. She then led them to the location of the bodies and Baum was arrested for aggravated murder.

Obstruction of Justice

Henderson admitted to police that the teens had been at her when Baum became upset at the visitors and tied them up. She saw Baum kill the teens before dumping their bodies in an abandoned mine. She then assisted Baum in hiding their vehicle while he also stashed their personal belongings. Utah Code 76-8-306 states: “An actor commits obstruction of justice if the actor, with intent to hinder, delay, or prevent the investigation, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person regarding conduct that constitutes a criminal offense:

(a)provides any person with a weapon;
(b) prevents by force, intimidation, or deception, any person from performing any act that might aid in the discovery, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person;
(c) alters, destroys, conceals, or removes any item or other thing;
(d) makes, presents, or uses any item or thing known by the actor to be false;
(e) harbors or conceals a person;
(f) provides a person with transportation, disguise, or other means of avoiding discovery or apprehension;
(g) warns any person of impending discovery or apprehension;
(h) warns any person of an order authorizing the interception of wire communications or of a pending application for an order authorizing the interception of wire communications;
(i) conceals information that is not privileged and that concerns the offense, after a judge or magistrate has ordered the actor to provide the information; or
(j) provides false information regarding a suspect, a witness, the conduct constituting an offense, or any other material aspect of the investigation.”

Since Henderson helped dispose of evidence and withheld information that would have led to the arrest of her boyfriend and recovery of the two teens, she was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. Section 76-8-306 goes on to note that “Obstruction of justice is a second degree felony if the conduct which constitutes an offense would be a capital felony or first degree felony [such as murder]”. Each second degree felony is punishable by one to 15 years in prison.

A fearful choice?

Photo by: cvmz22

Although Henderson should have been upfront with authorities during her initial questioning, there is a possibility she chose to lie out of fear for her own safety. Baum had allegedly killed the teens to punish Henderson for allowing another male in the house while Baum was gone. If Baum was capable of such a heinous act, it would be reasonable to assume Henderson may be terrified to speak out against him. The fact that he threatened her life would have cemented that fear of telling the truth. It wasn’t until she was safe behind bars for another crime that she might have felt safe enough to share the truth. For that reason, lying to police or otherwise obstructing justice would have seemed the only choice to guarantee she was protected from harm. For those who are facing charges stemming from fear of domestic violence, contact a reputable criminal defense attorney. Those living in a situation where they are fearful for their safety or the safety of their family members are encouraged to call The National Domestic Violence at 1-800-799-7233.

Providing False or Misleading Information to Law Enforcement

Those who are speaking to police regarding a crime may choose to withhold details or lie about facts; yet providing false or misleading information of any kind to law enforcement is against the law.

Wrong personal information

Photo by: Paul Joseph

Photo by: Paul Joseph

A person may lie about their own identity to police, which is often done to avoid warrants or probation violations. When a person lies about who they are to police officers, they are providing false or misleading information and could face anywhere from 90 days to a full year in jail.
Utah Code 76-8-507 states: “A person commits a class C misdemeanor if, with intent of misleading a peace officer as to the person’s identity, birth date, or place of residence, the person knowingly gives a false name, birth date, or address to a peace officer in the lawful discharge of the peace officer’s official duties. A person commits a class A misdemeanor if, with the intent of leading a peace officer to believe that the person is another actual person, he gives the name, birth date, or address of another person to a peace officer acting in the lawful discharge of the peace officer’s official duties.”

Being a bad witness

Photo by: Sean Riley

Photo by: Sean Riley

Those who witness a crime involving a friend or family member may intentionally become a bad witness who doesn’t convey information accurately to police officers. It is common for eye witnesses to not get every detail correct, especially when describing an assailant. However if officers believe that someone is lying to cover for another person, especially by putting the blame on another, they can face charges of providing false or misleading information. According to Utah Code 76-8-506, “A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if he: knowingly gives or causes to be given false information to any peace officer or any state or local government agency or personnel with a purpose of inducing the recipient of the information to believe that another has committed an offense.” While there is a small chance that the person may help protect their friend from charges by lying, they will likely end up with their own charges to deal with.

Making a false police report

Photo by: Tripp

Photo by: Tripp

Occasionally, it isn’t answering questions dishonestly that gets people into trouble for providing false or misleading information. It could also be due to lying while filing a police report. Providing law enforcement with a written police report that has known false information is also a class B misdemeanor. (76-8-504) There are numerous misguided reasons in which an individual would file a false police report.

• Being angry after an argument or when wanting revenge on another person may drive an individual to construct up a crime. A few scenarios when this could be the motive for providing false or misleading information to police are: disputes between ex-lovers, when business deals go bad, or even after neighborly disputes. Regardless the motive, making not-so-true accusations when emotions are running high will hurt both parties in the end.

• When trying to hide a truth about themselves, fashioning a story may seem an easy way around getting caught. A woman in Southern Utah made this mistake last year when she had an affair then claimed she was raped by a random man while out on the city trails. Her lie was eventually uncovered by police, and beyond marital problems she now has a criminal record.

• There are some people who simply want attention or validation and will do ANYTHING to get it. These individuals seek attention by becoming a victim. Unless they are unfortunate to actually be a victim in a crime, they may generate one instead. Earlier this year, a homosexual Delta Utah man claimed he was the target of a LGBT hate crime when in fact the only person involved was himself. While he will most likely face charges for providing false or misleading information to police, he was also encouraged to seek mental health counseling.

Keep it short, sweet, and honest

Photo by: alexisnyal

Photo by: alexisnyal

When speaking to law enforcement, it is best to keep your answers short, sweet, and completely honest. If you are concerned that you may be offering information to police that you shouldn’t do without counsel present, never succumb to providing false or misleading information. You have the right to remain silent until you can contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you how to best deal with police questioning.