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Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.
March 13, 2019, State v. Fede, New Jersey Supreme Court.
The court reversed the defendant’s conviction for the D.P. charge of obstruction the administration of justice. Specifically, in this case, the tenant living in a multi-family residential building refused to unchain his front door upon demand by the police. In this case the police did not have a warrant, but were dispatched to the location when police dispatch reported a call of domestic violence in that apartment.
The police attempted to gain entry to search the apartment under the “community caretaker” exception to the warrant requirement. When tenant refused to unchain the front door the police knocked the door in, and arrested the tenant.
The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the municipal court conviction for obstruction to the administration of justice. Note, there was nobody else in the apartment when the police searched the apartment.
The court held that the police did have the right to break down the door under the community caretaker exception, however, the charge and conviction of obstruction to the administration of justice could not be affirmed because in order to be found guilty of that statute the defendant must take an affirmative step in obstruction the administration of justice. The court held that the failure to act, to wit, removal of the chain lock, was not an affirmative step.
Note, if the tenant had got in the officers way, or pushed the officer, or attempted to stop them physically from entering, the conviction would have been affirmed.