New Jersey’s obstruction of justice law can apply in a wide range of cases and carry serious penalties. Preventing a police officer from arresting you or someone else can lead to obstruction charges on top of whatever charges you already face, potentially increasing your overall penalties or making it more difficult to negotiate a plea deal. The Atlantic City obstruction of justice lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain the penalties for obstruction of justice in New Jersey.
What Constitutes Obstruction of Justice in New Jersey
Before understanding the penalties, it is important to understand what exactly obstruction of justice is. N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-1 defines the crime of “[o]bstructing administration of law or other government function” as doing one of the following to prevent the “administration of law or other governmental function”:
- Running away,
- Intimidating someone,
- Using force,
- Using violence,
- Physically interfering or placing an obstacle in someone’s way, or
- Committing another crime.
This means that it is not obstruction to do something you are legally allowed to do. Something like refusing to open the door to a police officer who has no warrant or probable cause is not obstruction, nor is using words alone to object to a police officer’s questions. Similarly, taking advantage of your constitutional rights by asking for an attorney or refusing to answer incriminating questions should not cause obstruction charges, either.
Many obstruction charges come from interactions with police officers. Resisting arrest by fighting the cop or going limp may be considered obstruction in many cases, as would running from police or attempting to stop an officer from arresting someone else. Other crimes that interfere with a court case or arrest could also be obstruction of justice, such as destroying evidence or issuing a bomb threat to clear a courtroom.
There is a series of separate federal offenses for obstruction of justice as well. The federal statute breaks obstruction down depending on the circumstances, and there are a series of statutes that the crime could be charged under. A federal crimes defense attorney can help you understand whether obstruction charges are appropriate in your case.
How is Obstruction of Justice Punished in New Jersey
Obstruction of justice is a lower-level offense, but it can still carry substantial jail time. New Jersey separates its offenses into “indictable crimes” and “disorderly persons offenses.” Indictable crimes are similar to what other states and the federal system call felonies, while disorderly persons offenses are similar to misdemeanors in those systems. Indictable crimes are further separated into four “degrees,” with first degree being the most severe and fourth degree being the least severe. All crimes are punished by a potential of over a year in prison.
Obstruction of justice is a fourth degree crime in New Jersey. This means that this offense can carry penalties of up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
When you are charged with obstruction, you could face additional charges for the same or related conduct. Obstruction of justice is usually charged for things like resisting arrest or trying to stop police from performing an illegal search or arresting someone else. This means that you may still face penalties for any underlying crimes you committed that lead to police getting involved. Additionally, things like assaulting a police officer or resisting arrest carry their own penalties, even if they were the things you did to obstruct justice.
When determining whether you can face charges for two crimes for the same conduct, e.g., resisting arrest and obstruction of justice, courts use a complex legal test. Basically, courts look at whether there is an element of one crime that does not overlap with the other crime. However, prosecutors may not always follow through with both charges. Prosecutors can decide to drop overlapping charges, only charging you for the most serious of the choices. Alternatively, prosecutors may be willing to charge you with only the lightest offense if that is the most just outcome.
When you are charged with a serious crime, your defense attorney may be able to fight the charges and avoid penalties in various ways. First, the attorney can challenge the charges and get them dismissed on legal grounds. For instance, if the conduct you are accused of does not legally qualify as obstruction of justice, the charges should be dropped. Second, your lawyer can fight the facts of the case at trial, potentially getting you acquitted of all charges. Lastly, your lawyer can work to form agreements or reduce your sentencing to ensure that, if you are convicted, you do not face the full penalties of your case. Talk to an Atlantic City criminal defense attorney today for help understanding your case and your options.
Our Atlantic City Obstruction of Justice Lawyers Offer Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was charged with obstruction of justice or otherwise interfering with an arrest or investigation, contact our law offices today. The Law Offices of John J. Zarych’s criminal defense attorneys represent those accused of serious crimes throughout New Jersey and fight to get their cases dropped and penalties reduced. For a free consultation, call our lawyers today at (609) 616-4956.