Interfering with the Police in New York City
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 in New York City may be charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree. This is a serious crime that should not be taken lightly. As such, if you have been charged, reach out to our skilled and aggressive defense attorneys who could fight for your rights and freedom.
How is Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree Charged?
In order to charge this offense in New York City, a prosecutor must be able to show that the individual in some way interfered with or obstructed a public servant or police officer who was performing an “authorized official function.” There is no requirement to prove that any person was injured, or 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.
What Actions Constitute Interfering with the Police in New York City?
In New York City, the most common example of when obstructing the police 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.
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.
What are the Defenses to Obstruction of Governmental Administration?
One of the strongest defenses to this charge is the claim that the government official was not performing an “official action” that was “authorized.” Because these terms are not defined by statute, a skilled attorney could establish to a jury that this element of the offense was not met by prosecutors. If a defendant allegedly interfered with something other than an “official” action, this offense is not an appropriate charge.
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, a defense attorney could forcefully argue any number of situations were present which would negate the police officer’s claims of authorization.
Lack of evidence is another common defense in these cases. Ultimately, the state has the burden of proving that the defendant broke the law. In some cases, their evidence could consist of little more than the arresting officer’s word. If the officer’s account is not believable, the jury could acquit. It is the defense attorney’s role to highlight any misstatements, confusion, or inconsistencies in the officer’s statement.
Mistaken identity is also a possible defense. In large, chaotic incidents the police routinely misidentify the perpetrator of a crime. If an officer arrested the wrong person, a lawyer could make the case that the police wrongly accused the defendant.
Consequences of Charges for Interfering with Law Enforcement
In New York City, 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 criminal defense attorney is the best way to avoid this situation and ensure that your future remains intact.
Another potential collateral consequence is the loss of a professional license. Professions like nurses, doctors, and lawyers all require a professional license. The governing bodies that regulate these licenses typically have the power to suspend or revoke these licenses based on certain behavior, including a criminal conviction. While a misdemeanor conviction may not be enough to cause the revocation of a professional license, it could be a possibility in some professions.
Speak with a New York City Attorney About Charges for Obstructing the Police
If you have been charged with Obstruction of Governmental Administration in the Second Degree, you should contact the experienced New York attorneys at our firm immediately. We could tirelessly investigate your case and determine the strongest defense to put forward to achieve the best outcome possible for your case. For more information on charges for interfering with the police in New York City, call today.