Obstructing Governmental Administration (New York Penal Law 195.05): Can Words Alone be the Basis of the Obstruction

Often times confused with Resisting Arrest (New York Penal Law 205.30), Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree (New York Penal Law 195.05), occurs when a person intentionally obstructs the administration of law or attempts to prevent a public servant, such as a police officer, from performing an official function. This obstruction can be through intimidation, physical force or any independent unlawful act. In other words, if the police are trying to make a lawful arrest of another person and you prevent them from doing so by blocking the police or pushing them away, this charge would likely be applicable. If the police were trying t make an arrest of you and you conducted yourself in the same manner, the likely charge would be Resisting Arrest. Both crimes are “A” misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail. In Manhattan, Brooklyn or any other location in New York City, the one year in jail would be served on Rikers Island.

An interesting question that will be addressed in this blog entry is whether or not words alone can create a sufficient obstruction to sustain the charges of Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree. Fortunately, a recent decision may help shed light on this issue.

In People v. Theo Knight (2010NY052516), a Manhattan Criminal Court Judge found a criminal court complaint facially sufficient (meaning that the charging complaint would not be dismissed and made out all the elements of the crime) where the prosecution had charged the defendant with Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree. In the Knight case, the prosecution alleged that the defendant was at the location where marijuana was being sold by an individual who was ultimately not apprehended. As the detectives approached, the complaint stated that the defendant received a phone call and then yelled to the un-apprehended individual to “go in the building.” As a result, the un-apprehended man who was allegedly selling marijuana was not arrested. Instead, the police arrested Mr. Knight. The question raised before the court was whether or not the words by themselves were sufficient to establish the elements of New York Penal Law 195.05.

In finding that the complaint against the defendant was sufficient, the court stated:

“In the instant case, the accusatory instrument alleges facts showing that defendant was present at a place where police activity was apparent: another individual was being arrested; defendant acknowledges that an officer was approaching. Defendant yelled a warning to the un-apprehended person, frustrating the arresting officer’s efforts. These facts allege a prima facie case of obstructing governmental administration…While defendant’s words may have been innocuous at another location under other circumstances, his geographical presence at a place where an arrest was imminent change the nature of his utterance to a criminal act.”

The answer is clear. Words alone may form the basis and satisfy the elements of the charge of Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree as long as other factors are present. Whether those factors are present in your particular case is something you should discuss with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney.

Founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal lawyers at Saland Law PC represent the accused throughout the New York City region. For extensive information on New York criminal law as well as legal decisions and cases in the news, please review the Saland Law PC website and the New York Criminal Lawyer Blog (NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com).

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