Obstruction of justice is a serious crime involving interfering with the government’s ability to investigate crimes or carry out government functions. When you obstruct justice, you can be charged with this specific crime, but any other offenses you commit in order to interfere with government functions could be charged separately.
If you or a loved one was accused of obstruction of justice, talk to an attorney about your case today. The Atlantic City obstruction of justice lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych represent the accused and fight to get their charges dropped and dismissed. For a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (609) 625-3006.
What is Obstruction of Justice in New Jersey?
New Jersey’s obstruction of justice statute is broad and includes many types of conduct. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-1, obstruction of justice includes interfering with any “administration of law or other governmental function” or otherwise stopping “a public servant from lawfully performing an official function.” This is a very broad statute that covers many types of behaviors, but the physical acts it covers are still limited to:
- violence, or
- physical interference or obstacle, or
- … an independently unlawful act.”
Unless you use one of these methods to stop government function, obstruction charges should be dropped. The last point does broaden the offense, such that any other illegal act, like pulling a fire alarm or stealing evidence, could also constitute obstruction of justice.
Under this definition, any attempts to use force, intimidation, or one of the other methods to interfere with a criminal investigation or court case could constitute obstruction. Generally, these charges apply to those who give police a hard time or actively prevent them from doing their job. For instance, the following are all examples of obstruction of justice in NJ:
- Bodily blocking a police officer who is chasing a suspect;
- Running from a police officer who is attempting to arrest you;
- Fighting back against a police officer who is attempting to arrest you;
- And more.
Interfering with government functions at trial could also be considered obstruction of justice. Things like tampering with or destroying evidence or pulling a fire alarm to prevent a trial from moving forward are all illegal acts that interfere with government operations.
Some of these acts may also constitute other offenses, such as assault, resisting arrest, evidence tampering, or false alarms. These acts can lead to obstruction of justice charges as well as charges for the conduct itself. If your obstruction occurred while being arrested for another crime, you can also face charges for that underlying crime.
Obstruction of Justice Defenses in NJ
Some things may interfere with a police officer’s ability to do their job, but that does not automatically justify obstruction of justice charges. Obstruction of justice specifically excludes failing to perform a duty unless that duty is part of your “official dut[ies]” as a government employee. Things like protesting or maintaining your own privacy should not lead to obstruction charges. For instance, simply saying no to a search when police have no warrant or probable cause is not obstruction as long as it does not involve force or violence to prevent the warrantless search. Though police may be unable to investigate and might become upset with you, this is well within your rights.
NJ courts have held that words, by themselves, cannot constitute obstruction of justice. One case dealt with an individual who refused to tell a police officer his identity, and the court held that this was not obstruction.
Penalties for Obstruction Charges in New Jersey
“Obstructing administration of law or other governmental function” under N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-1 is a fourth degree crime. Fourth degree crimes are the lowest level of “crime,” carrying higher penalties than “disorderly persons offenses.” In other states and the federal system, a fourth degree crime would be called a “felony” offense, but New Jersey does not use this term.
A fourth degree crime has potential penalties including up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000. There are also additional fees and costs you could face, including court costs.
In some cases, you may be able to get charges dropped. Especially in cases where obstruction was charged during an arrest for another crime, police and prosecutors may focus more on the charge you were originally arrested for. Your attorney may be able to work out agreements where you can get the obstruction charges dropped in exchange for a plea to the underlying charges.
Moreover, judges may be willing to sentence you below the maximum. Especially in cases that did not involve violence or serious harm, jail time and $10,000 fines may be excessive. Smaller fines and no jail time, or a sentence including probation, might be more appropriate.
Our Atlantic City Obstruction of Justice Lawyers Offer Free Consultations
If you or a loved one faces charges for obstructing a police officer or court official, contact an Atlantic City obstruction of justice attorney today. The attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych have decades of experience representing defendants in their cases and fighting to get penalties reduced and cases dropped. To set up a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (609) 625-3006.