Interfering with the Police
There is no crime in New York State for "obstruction of justice" as we commonly hear on television and in movies. Instead, a person who interferes with the police or other public servants may be charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree.
In order to charge this offense, a prosecutor must be able to show that the individual in some way hampered or obstructed a public servant who was performing an "authorized official function." There is no requirement to prove that any person was injured, or even that the attempted interference was successful. All the prosecutor must show is that the police officer was in the process of performing an official function and that the defendant in some way attempted to keep the officer from achieving whatever goal they had.
While this seems as though this should be a fairly black-and-white situation, in practice this charge is not as easy to prove as most prosecutors would like. There is no definition in the penal law or through the New York State Courts which specifically explains the term "official function." Rather, the courts have explicitly noted that it is for a jury to decide whether the officer was performing an official function at the time of the alleged obstruction. This can be confusing for a jury, and can present a significant opportunity for a defense. Since there is no concrete explanation for what constitutes an official action, the defense is free to argue that the police officer was going beyond the bounds of their authorization in doing what they were doing before they were in some way impeded.
The most common example of when this crime is charged is when an individual in some way tries to prevent the arrest of another individual. For example, an individual may happen upon members of the police department attempting to handcuff a friend or family member, and they immediately attempt to restrain the police and prevent the arrest from taking place. Most prosecutors will claim that this is a cut and dry, textbook example of Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree. But the best New York criminal attorneys will understand that in order to convict for Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree, the officer must be performing an "official action" which is also "authorized." If the police officers were attempting to arrest someone without probable cause, or were using excessive force during the arrest, their actions would no longer be considered "authorized," and thus the defendant could not be convicted of obstructing that action. And since the jury has the obligation to determine whether there was or was not an authorized official action, the defense attorney can forcefully argue any number of situations were present which would negate the police officer's claims of authorization.
Our firm recently tried a case where our client was accused of Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree, and Assault in the Second Degree. The client's ex-wife contacted the police claiming she believed our client had possibly stolen her wallet. When they arrived, she then told them that she believed our client may have been in possession of a knife from her kitchen drawer. The police demanded that our client remove his hands from his pockets, and our client refused. The officers then physically removed our client's hands from his pockets, which ended up with everyone falling to the ground together and an officer injuring his thumb. During the trial, the jury struggled with the question of whether the actions taken by the police were an authorized official function, and ultimately we were able to secure a favorable outcome by arguing that the officers were acting outside their legal capacity when they removed his hands from his pockets.
Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. While a judge may certainly impose jail time on a conviction for this charge, it is the collateral consequences of getting a criminal record which are potentially more disruptive to a person's life when charged with this offense. A criminal record will make it difficult to get a job, go to school, buy a car, or lease an apartment. Hiring a top New York criminal defense attorney is the best way to avoid this situation and ensure that your future remains intact.
If you, or you know, has been charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree, you should contact the experienced New York attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman immediately. We will tirelessly investigate your case and determine the strongest defense to put forward to achieve the best outcome possible for your case. Call us today at (212) 581-1001 for a free case evaluation.