Obstruction of Justice or obstructing arrest, as it is commonly referred to, can be charged as a disorderly persons offense, or a 4th degree indictable (felony) offense. A disorderly persons offense carries up to 6 months in jail and $1000 fine. A fourth degree offense in NJ carries up to 18 months in prison. Todd Palumbo is a New Jersey criminal defense attorney who routinely defends those charged with and arrested for obstructing the administration of justice in New Jersey. If you have been charged with obstruction of justice, please take a moment to review the obstruction statute and an explanation of New Jersey obstruction laws that follow. If you need further information and require the assistance of a lawyer, or need representation in the municipal/ superior courts, please call for a free consultation
NJSA 2C:29-1. Obstructing administration of law or other governmental function
a. A person commits an offense if he purposely obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act. This section does not apply to failure to perform a legal duty other than an official duty, or any other means of avoiding compliance with law without affirmative interference with governmental functions.
b. An offense under this section is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor obstructs the detection or investigation of a crime or the prosecution of a person for a crime, otherwise it is a disorderly persons offense.
Nut Shell Explanation
The obstruction statute is broadly construed and vaguely drafted to include a wide variety of conduct that may interfere with law enforcement in their official capacity. Typically speaking, conduct that prevents law enforcement from performing their official function will typically fall within the purview of this statute. However, it must be proved by the prosecutor that it was the actor’s conscious object to obstruct, impair, pervert, the administration of justice or prevent law enforcement from lawfully performing an official duty by physical interference, flight, intimidation, force, violence, or some independent unlawful act. This is a confusing concept. The case snippets and explanation below will provide some guidance. In addition, it is this same confusion that provides fertile ground for winning defense strategies.
In addition to acting with purpose, the state may be required to prove that the actor knew that the actions would interfere with the government purpose. Both purpose and knowledge may be inferred from the surrounding circumstances.
Even if law enforcement’s actions are later found to be unlawful, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has held that a conviction still may be sustained under the obstruction statute, if the law enforcement official was acting under the color of law and had a good faith basis for those actions, See State v Crawley.
In contrast, the Court held in State v Berlow that a person is not guilty of obstruction if in exercising his constitutional right to privacy, closes the door on law enforcement who have neither probable cause or a search warrant to search the premises. This case may have turned out differently had there been a bona fide exception to the search warrant requirement available to law enforcement on this occasion.
Contrast State v Crawley, holding that fleeing from an investigatory detention, later held to be unconstitutional, is still a violation of the obstruction law.
There is a distinction between unlawful and unconstitutional. Yet unconstitutional actions on the part of law enforcement may still result in an obstruction conviction as scene in the examples above. This may hinge on the objective good faith of the officer’s involved, and the totality of the circumstances.
In other cases, the courts have held that refusing to produce a license and registration in connection with a motor vehicle offense may be prosecuted under this section.
The obstruction statute’s breadth is also its downfall in many cases. In my experience, there is a tremendous amount of gray area. Thus, defenses to an obstructing the administration of justice charge are easier to come by. But it requires a skilled advocate to eloquently argue the intricacies of the statute. Given the penalties one my face as a result of a obstruction conviction, it is wise to contact a lawyer who frequently deals with and defends those arrested and charged with this offense.
If you need a free consultation, I can be reaches 24/7 at 908-451-2667. The Firm services all of New Jersey, including Essex County, Hudson County, Union County, and all areas of the state.