Obstruction of Justice in New Jersey

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Obstruction of Justice in New Jersey

“Why did the police arrest me?  I wasn’t doing nothing!

All of our clients are confused about why they were arrested. In New Jersey, Obstruction of Justice is found under NJSA 2C:29-1.

Subsection (a) states: a person commits an offense if he purposely obstructs impairs a perverse 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 and 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.

Obstruction of Justice charges are frequently added to other charges for which the police arrested you.  At some point during the police officer’s investigation or arrest, he will claim that you were either uncooperative, disrespectful, difficult to deal with, or simply out right obnoxious.

Typically, this charge is added to strengthen the state’s case and give the Prosecutor leverage during plea-bargaining negotiations.

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Common examples of Obstruction of Justice

You may be standing on the sidewalk watching some cop arrest a stranger.  For some reason your presence bothers the cop and he asks you to leave the scene. You become confused as to why you cannot watch what is happening.

Now, the situation escalates. The police officer orders you to leave.

You remain confused and refuse to leave. The police officer loses his patience and arrests you. You quickly learn that you are being charged with Obstruction of Justice.

These scenarios are played out hundreds of times a day throughout the country and throughout the world. There are two sides to every story and these issues should always be ironed out in court. It is in your best interest to simply walk away. But now you’re charged with a crime and it is what it is.

New Jersey Case Law – Obstruction of Justice

There is a case on this issue.  In State v Berlow (284 NJ Super 356) the Law Division discusses whether the elements the State must prove when charging a person with obstruction based on physical interference. The prosecution must show that the defendant physically interfered with the governmental officer, that the defendant acted purposely, and that the defendant knew the action would interfere with the stated governmental purpose. In our example we have no evidence that the defendant’s initial contact with the police involved physical interference. Berlow provides an excellent analysis outlining physical interference.

There have been Obstruction of Justice cases in New Jersey where the defendant was ordered to leave the scene of an arrest and refused to do so. In State v Hernandez (338 NJ Super 317) the Appellate Division decided that a defendant who admitted to cursing at police and refusing to leave the area during the arrest of his defendant’s brother, constituted a physical interference and provided sufficient factual basis to support the defendant’s guilty plea.

In another Appellate Division case from 2009 State v Rone (410 NJ Super 589) a Newark city councilmember was found guilty of obstructing justice when she refused to comply with the police officers order. Specifically, the police officer directed the defendant to move away from her nephew’s car. The police officer was conducting a traffic stop of the council member’s nephew.

The councilmember was driving her own car and after observing the traffic stop, the councilmember pulled over and interfered. The police officer told her to get going, but she refused to do so. She was subsequently arrested, charged with Obstruction of Justice and convicted. This case was appealed and affirmed in the Appellate Division

Obstruction of Justice New Jersey must be distinguished from Resisting Arrest or Eluding a police officer under section 2C: 29-2. We will revisit the resisting arrest and eluding officer statute in another article.

For now, please understand that Obstruction of Justice is a common charge, yet a serious charge. To learn more about NJ’s Criminal Process, click here.

Do you have a better understanding of why clients are so confused when come to my office? Although there was no physical interference in our example, the defendant interfered with the governmental function by refusing to cooperate with the police officer’s directive. We have a case in New Jersey where the driver of the stopped vehicles refused to provide her driving credentials to a police officer. 

She was arrested and charged with Obstruction of Justice.

Penalties for Obstruction of Justice in New Jersey

Most often, Obstruction of Justice charges in New Jersey result in a Disorderly Person’s offense. A defendant may face up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine.

If the defendant’s conduct is deemed to be beyond the scope of the usual obstruction of justice, the charges may escalate to a Fourth degree Indictable Offense. If the defendant is charged with a Fourth degree Indictable Offense for Obstruction of Justice New Jersey, that defendant will face up to 18 months in jail and the court may impose a $10,000 fine.

Click here to learn more about How Crimes Are Graded in New Jersey.

As we tell all of our clients, it is in your best interest to retain legal counsel. The facts of your case may be such that you did not behave or conduct yourself in a way that constitutes Obstruction of Justice under New Jersey law.

Take advantage of our FREE consultation.

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