Challenging the legal or facial sufficiency of a complaint against an accused is a common if not routine motion made by criminal defense lawyers. When a prosecutor proceeds on a complaint it becomes was is termed an information. The information must be legally sufficient to provide for the elements of the crime charged and notice to the accused. However, the evidence or allegations contained within the four corners of the document need not reach the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold. While the standard may be fairly low, a defendant who is wrongfully arrested without the bare level of evidence should not be forced into the criminal justice system whether he is from New York City, White Plains, or New York’s Southern Tier. Simply, it is critically important to examine any complaint or information to see whether or not there are grounds to make a challenge.
This particular blog entry will address a recent decision dismissing one count of Resisting Arrest pursuant to New York Penal Law 205.30 and one count of Second Degree Obstructing Governmental Administration pursuant to New York Penal Law 195.05.
Before jumping headfirst into the court’s decision to dismiss the information in People v. Estime, 2016 NY Slip Op 51384 (NYC Crim. Ct. 2016), I would like to very briefly define the relevant sections of the New York Penal Law. A person is guilty of PL 205.30 “when he intentionally prevents or attempts to prevent a police officer or peace officer from effecting an authorized arrest of himself or another person.” A person is guilty of PL 195.05 when he intentionally obstructs “the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from performing an official function, by means of intimidation, physical force or interference, or by means of any independently unlawful act.” Both of these crimes are Class “A” misdemeanors and are punishable by up to a year in jail.
In pertinent part, the facts on the complaint stated that the police reported to a building where there was a call about a person trespassing. When the police arrived, the defendant did not get physical, but cursed and yelled at the police asking what they were doing in the lobby. The police demanded the defendant provide identification or they would arrest him and take him to the precinct. Again, the defendant cursed out the police and refused to provide the information. When the police then attempted to arrest the defendant, he refused to put his arms down and swung them away.
Tasked with deciding the legal sufficiency of the the information, the Court first looked at the charge of Second Degree Obstructing Governmental Administration. In finding it insufficient, the Court first recognized the police where certainly there for an official function responding to a trespass report. However, the Court also recognized that “an essential element of the crime of obstructing governmental administration, to be charged in an information, must be an act of either (1) intimidation or (2) physical force or interference or (3) an independently unlawful act.” People v. Offen, 96 Misc 2d 147, 150 (Crim Ct, NY County 1978). Penal Law § 195.05 “has been uniformly interpreted to the effect that mere words alone do not constitute physical force or interference’ such as to support the charge of obstructing governmental administration.” People v. Case, 42 NY2d 98, 102 (1977); see also, Matter of Davan L., 91 NY2d 88 (1997). Moreover, while being respectful and compliant is likely a better approach, telling the police to take a proverbial hike by itself is not and independent unlawful act. See, People v. Thomas, 51 Misc 3d 341 (Crim Ct, Kings County 2016); People v. Alston, 9 Misc 3d 1046 (Crim Ct, NY County 2005).
Turning its attention to the Resisting Arrest charge, the conclusion was much easier. There the Court noted that a “‘pleading charging a defendant with resisting arrest is facially sufficient only where facts in the pleading itself allow the Court to independently determine that reasonable cause existed for the arrest which the defendant is accused of resisting.'” People v. Goshorn, 35 Misc 3d 1244(A), *4 (Sup Ct, Bronx County 2012). In sum, without reasonable cause to make an authorized arrest, there is no resisting of an unauthorized arrest. As such, the Court dismissed the PL 205.30 as well.
Make not mistake. This decision is a valuable one for your criminal defense attorney in the event you are charged with Resisting Arrest and Second Degree Obstructing Governmental Administration. However, battles such as these are not meant to be had in the streets of New York. Do not think that an arrest is unauthorized so therefore you can just resist. Not only can you be making a grave mistake, but one that can leave you with a permanent criminal record. Instead, be respectful while exercising your rights and make sure you and your counsel are aware of the applicable laws so he or she can put your defense into motion that may ultimately secure a dismissal.
The New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC represent clients accused of criminal conduct throughout New York City and the region. Both founding members served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.