What is obstruction of justice?

Posted March 19th, 2015 by .

Categories: Criminal Defense, Legal Topics.

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To some, it may appear that police officials routinely issue obstruction of justice charges for anyone who refuses to cooperate with them.  Obstruction of justice charges are criminal offenses, but are not lawful in some circumstances.

What is Obstruction of Justice?

The law pertaining to the charge of obstruction of justice is found in N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a).  Here, obstruction is defined as an individual who “purposely obstructs, impairs, or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of an independently unlawful act”.

Obstruction of justice is considered an indictable offense and may result in either penalties for fourth degree crimes or disorderly person charges. Fourth degree crimes can carry a penalty of up to 18 months in jail.

Does this mean that refusing to produce identification to assist an officer in completing a report is an obstruction of justice?  The New Jersey courts do not think so.  In fact, there is a ten-year-old case on the books that deals with this issue.

Obstruction of Justice to Refuse to Produce Identification?

State v. Camillo, 382 N.J. Super. 113 (App. Div. 2005) is considered the authoritative case on the issue of whether refusing to produce identification is a valid reason to charge someone with obstruction of justice.  In this matter, a New Jersey state trooper was dispatched to a residence in response to a 911 call.

When the trooper arrived at the location, he discovered that there was a couple in front of the house with a disabled van.  The owner of the premises was annoyed that the two were on his private property.  When he went to confront them, an argument ensued. Subsequently, the call for emergency assistance was placed.

After reviewing the circumstances, it was determined that the couple planned to leave as soon as they could remove their vehicle.  The trooper decided not to pursue the case, but wanted to document the incident in a report.

The property owner and the van operator agreed to give the trooper their credentials for his report.  However, the man who was standing outside with the vehicle declined to produce his identification.  He said he “knew his rights.”  Although he was arrested for “obstruction of the administration of law”, it turns out the gentleman was correct.  The Appellate Division found the arrest to be unlawful.  In order to be considered a criminal act under this statute, the defendant’s actions would have required physical or violent interference.

A criminal charge of any type can be life changing.  If you are faced with an obstruction of justice complaint or any other charge, you need experienced counsel.  Contact us to receive a clear understanding of your rights.

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