Interfering with police is a serious matter. Obstructing justice can occur when a person is hoping to protect a friend or family member who he/she feels is innocent. It can also occur when a person is scared and worried about being charged with a crime, even if he/she did nothing wrong.
One of the most common ways a person can be charged with obstruction is simply by running away from police!
Regardless of why it happened, obstruction of justice is a crime that could land a person behind bars, result in a criminal record, and forever mark someone as a vagrant in the eyes of law enforcement officials. Consequently, it is crucial to understand what obstruction of justice truly is and the penalties associated with it.
What is Obstruction of Justice
New Jersey labels “Obstruction of Justice” as “Obstructing the Administration of Law,” but both terms mean the same thing. It is also sometimes called obstructing a criminal investigation. Regardless of the term, obstruction is a very broad crime that involves almost any interference with a police officer’s attempt to carry out his/her job.
More specifically, under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1, obstructing the administration of law involves purposefully obstructing, impairing, or perverting the administration of law (or another governmental function) or attempting to prevent (or actually preventing) a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence, physical interference, or through any independently unlawful act.
The key here is the method of interference that the law prohibits. As noted above, flight, intimidation, force, violence, physical interference, and independently unlawful acts are the types of obstruction that the law penalizes. This means any act of interference that is not a crime of its own (an “independently unlawful act”) or one of the other methods of interference cannot be considered obstructing the administration of law.
For example, New Jersey courts have determined that mere words are not enough to constitute an interference that could give rise to a charge for Obstructing the Administration of Law. Likewise, in order to get convicted, a person must have taken an affirmative step to actually prevent the officer from doing something.
Examples of things that can be considered obstruction are:
- Lying to police
- Threatening an officer, witness or juror
- Refusing to allow police to enter a building when they have a warrant
- Locking away or hiding evidence
- Providing false evidence
Obstruction charges are often coupled with other charges, such as fleeing police, resisting arrest, tampering with evidence, perjury, and criminal coercion. Often these are the very same actions that were also responsible for the obstruction charge.
Lastly, a person’s interference must have prevented the officer from doing something he/she had the proper legal authority to do. As such, preventing an officer from doing something unlawful will not usually amount to Obstructing the Administration of Law.
Penalties and Fines
Obstructing the Administration of Law (i.e. Obstruction of Justice) is usually charged as a disorderly persons offense. However, if a person obstructs the detection or investigation of a crime or the prosecution of a person for a crime, he/she can be charged with a fourth-degree crime.
If the crime is charged as a disorderly persons offense, the penalties can include up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the crime is elevated to a fourth-degree crime, the penalty can be up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In addition, a conviction results in a criminal record. This will make getting a job (or keeping one) difficult. Therefore, be sure to contact an experienced NJ criminal defense attorney who can help avoid the conviction in the first place.
How To Beat An Obstruction of Justice Charge
A person charged with Obstructing Justice is facing very serious accusations. It is critical that a person have a skilled criminal defense attorney evaluate his/her case. An attorney can consider the facts and develop a defense strategy with the best chance of avoiding a conviction and keeping the accused out of jail.
An attorney will know what truly constitutes obstruction under the law and what does not. For example, refusing the answer an officer’s questions is not obstruction, regardless of whether or not one is a suspect—you have the right to remain silent!
Case Law Analysis
State v. Kent, 173 NJ Super. 215 established firm limits on what could be considered obstruction. An officer can make an arrest for obstruction only in instances involving flight, intimidation, force, violence, physical interference, or through any independently unlawful act.
This is affirmed in State v. Camillo, 887 A. 2d 1151, in which the defendant was arrested on a count of Obstruction of the Administration of Law for refusing to provide his name, address, and social security number to police as part of an incident report.
The defendant, in this case, was attempting to repair a van that had broken down while driving on private property. The property owner and the defendant got into an argument that resulted in police being called. The property owner did not want a police report filed, but the officer went ahead and filed one anyway. When the defendant refused to provide personal information, he was arrested for obstruction and convicted in the lower court.
The Appellate Court ruled otherwise. The judges noted that while the refusal did in a real sense prevent the officer from carrying out his duties, it did not involve violence, physical interference, or any inherently unlawful act.
Consequences for a First Offense
Technically, obstruction of justice is one of many offenses that carry a presumption of non-incarceration. This means in most circumstances a person can expect a sentence that does not include jail time for a first offense.
However, judges and police see obstruction as a serious matter that makes it difficult to do their jobs properly. As such, it would be unwise to presume that a person can plead guilty to obstruction and avoid going to jail.
Further, a guilty plea also ensures that a person will have a permanent criminal record and the stigma that comes with it. Before accepting a conviction for obstructing justice, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can evaluate the case and develop an effective strategy that will minimize the consequences.
Consequences for Juveniles
Children under the age of 18, especially those who may be distrusting of police for any reason, need to be mindful of their rights. However, they also need to be aware of what actions they can take that can be considered Obstructing the Administration of Law.
Remember, to be convicted of obstruction, one must have interfered in a manner that was violent, threatening, physical, or otherwise unlawful. If a child has done something that crosses this line, he/she can be facing serious consequences that will harm them well into adulthood.
Any parent or guardian whose child has been charged with Obstruction of Justice must get immediate help from a skilled criminal defense attorney.
Expunge Obstruction of Justice Charge
A person who has already been convicted of Obstruction of Justice may be eligible to have the criminal record cleared. Filing for an expungement (as New Jersey calls it) is not a simple process and not all who apply get their criminal records cleared. The most important first step in determining if one is eligible for expungement is to learn more about the process. The second is to contact an attorney with experience filing expungement petitions in New Jersey.
Frequently Asked Questions
Obstruction of Justice – N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with Obstructing the Administration of Law (i.e. Obstruction of Justice in NJ), contact the attorneys of Rosenblum Law. Our team of New Jersey criminal defense attorneys will do what they can in order to protect your legal rights and fight to keep you out of prison. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 today.