Does Failing to Allow Police in Your Apartment Without a Warrant or an Emergency Constitute Obstruction of Governmental Administration (PL 195.05)

Simply, we can all appreciate and respect the fact that just as the police act on calls, information and statements with the goal of providing safety and security to residents of New York, there are times when the police are not needed or warranted. Practically speaking, it is often difficult for law enforcement to ascertain whether their services and presence is truly necessary without further investigation. Many times it is essential for the police to get involved while other times it is not. An interesting question arises where the police come to your house and want to gain access. In such a circumstance, can you deny them entry and if you do deny them access, can you be prosecuted for a crime such as Obstructing Government Administration in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 195.05)? Addressing this exact circumstance (but remember each case is unique and the facts of the case dictate what law applies), People v. Holmes, 2014 NY Slip Op 51099 (NY Crim. Ct.)  sheds some light on this issue.

In Holmes, the police responded to a radio run at the Manhattan apartment of Holmes. Upon knocking on the door, they heard a woman (the complainant) crying inside while the defendant (Holmes, a man) yelled. Officer Sullivan knocked on the door and Holmes asked what he wanted. The officer told the defendant to open the door, the complainant cried, the defendant said the police were not required and that he would not allow them inside. In addition to the repeated demands to open and refusal to do so, Officer Sullivan stated in the complaint (an information) that he heard the woman tell the defendant to take responsibility. It was alleged that she further stated that he had done something to her face. Finally, upon gaining entrance after 45 minutes, the complainant was still crying and was observed with marks to her face.

Although there were many legal issues addressed in this case, this blog entry will only address the legal or facial sufficiency of PL 190.05, Second Degree Obstructing Governmental Administration, for the failure of the accused to allow the police to access his apartment. As a preliminary matter, where there is an official function of law enforcement that is inhibited by the actions of a defendant, that official function pf the police must be an authorized one.  As such, it must be lawful. See People v. Graham, 54 AD3d 1056, 865 N.Y.S2d 259 (2d Dept 2008) (conviction for violating PL 195.05 upheld where the lawful act was a legitimate traffic stop); See also  (People v. Small, 109 AD3d 842, 971 N.Y.S2d 212 (2d Dept 2013); People v. Lupinacci, 191 A2d 589, 595 N.Y.S2d 76, 77 (2d Dept 1993) (unauthorized acts of the police do not provide the basis of a PL 190.50 conviction).

Although it pains me to do so, the following is a cut and paste right from the decision and clearly analyzes when the police must be allowed in one’s home and when they can be denied:

1. Refusals to Admit the Police Generally

Ordinarily, a citizen’s refusal to admit the police does not violate § 195.05. In People v. Offen, 96 Misc 2d 147, 148, 408 N.Y.S.2d 914, 915 (Crim Ct NY County 1978), defendant, a shopkeeper, cursed at a police officer who announced that he was going to issue the defendant a summons for littering. Defendant returned to his store, closed and locked the door and rebuffed police officers’ numerous requests to open it. 96 Misc 2d at 149, 408 N.Y.S.2d at 915. The court concluded that this refusal did not violate § 195.05. “[I]t is no crime to refuse to open a door to police officers,” although the defendant of course assumes the risk that such a refusal might result in additional rights, duties or actions by the officers. 96 Misc 2d at 150, 408 N.Y.S.2d at 915.

Subsequent cases have confirmed that, except in cases where there is a “legal obligation to open the door,” a refusal to do so, without more, does not obstruct, impair or prevent the administration of any law or governmental function, nor does it prevent the police from performing an official function. People v. Martin, 35 Misc 3d 133(A), 951 N.Y.S.2d 88 (App Term 9th and 10th Dists 2012). Such a legal obligation will arise, however, where the police seek entry pursuant to a valid warrant. See People v. Paige, 77 AD3d 1193, 911 N.Y.S.2d 176 (3d Dept 2010) (evidence legally sufficient where officers reasonably believed that subject of an arrest warrant was present in residence, but defendant refused to admit them so that they could execute the warrant). Cf. People v. Rodriguez, 19 Misc 3d 302, 851 N.Y.S.2d 342 (Crim Ct NY County 2008) (where information alleged that defendant refused to admit police officer, it was insufficient absent facts showing that the warrant was being lawfully executed).

2. Refusals to Admit the Police Where Exigent Circumstances Are Present

Absent a warrant, however, a legal obligation to admit the police only arises where there exists an exception to the warrant requirement, such the presence of exigent circumstances. Rodriguez, 19 Misc 3d at 306, 851 N.Y.S.2d at 346 (without a valid warrant or exigent circumstances, officer “officer had no authority to demand entry”). See also Martin, 35 Misc 3d at 133(A), 951 N.Y.S.2d at 88 (information was insufficient; it pled neither a warrant nor exigent circumstances permitting a forcible entry); People v. Briggs, 24 Misc 3d 1217(A), 890 N.Y.S.2d 370 (Crim Ct NY County 2009) (same); People v. Williams, 16 Misc 3d 1109(A), 847 N.Y.S.2d 898 (Crim Ct Bronx County 2007) (bare allegation that police were investigating “gang activity” did not create an exigent circumstance; defendant’s refusal to admit police if they lacked a warrant did not violate § 195.05).

In dismissing the information against Homes for facial insufficiency, the Court concluded that there exigent and emergency circumstances were not properly articulated. Could this decision have changed with additional facts? Certainly. But the law applies equally in all cases.

To learn more about Obstructing Government Administration in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 195.05), review this blog or the Crotty Saland PC website. The New York City criminal lawyers and metro New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC serve clients in all criminal investigations, arrests, indictments and trials throughout the region. Before representing the accused, the founding criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

 

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