This case involves an interpretation of the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-7. It arises out of a judgment of conviction of defendants Mary Lou Greenberg and Sandra Lines for violation of that statute, entered by the Elizabeth Municipal Court. This is an appeal de novo on the record.
The following testimony was elicited at trial: At about 9:30 a.m. on May 23, 1980 Sgt. William Schneider of the Elizabeth Police Department was on a security detail at the State Unemployment Office in Elizabeth. At that time he was approached
by an unidentified woman who said that another woman was "badgering" her outside the unemployment office. He proceeded outside and observed defendants Mary Lou Greenberg and Sandra Lines with leaflets in their hands. According to Sgt. Schneider, Mrs. Greenberg, who was situated near the exit to the unemployment office, was engaged in an argument with a group of five to seven men about something "political." She was talking about the Socialist Revolution and the men were responding that "she should go to Cuba." Schneider said that the discussion was becoming "heated" and he "felt it was going to become hostile." He asked Mrs. Greenberg to move off the property; after continuing the argument, she finally did by moving down toward the front of the building where Mrs. Lines was standing. By this time, according to Schneider, the group of men had grown to ten in number and several participants were yelling and saying that Schneider should lock defendants up and that defendants were Communists. Schneider said that, in his opinion, "it was creating a hazard." "To eliminate the hazard mainly to themselves and to make my job easier" he asked defendants to move to the other side of the building. Schneider said that Mrs. Lines then used obscene language toward him while addressing the group (an offense with which neither defendant is charged), that both defendants refused to move, and that at that time he placed them under arrest. According to Schneider, Mrs. Greenberg had been obstructing the access to the entrance and exit of the claimants' room. On cross-examination Schneider conceded that actual access to the unemployment office was not obstructed at all but that "proper access," in his judgment, was obstructed insofar as people had to walk on the gravel and around cars to get in.
Defendants version of the incident is at variance from Officer Schneider's in several respects. Mrs. Lines testified that on May 28 she and Mrs. Greenberg went to the unemployment center as they had done regularly, once and sometimes twice a week for over a year. According to Mrs. Lines, Mrs. Greenberg was involved in an animated political discussion with a group, which
was not at all rancorous. She stated that Officer Schneider came out of the building and asked Mrs. Greenberg to move (which she did) and that the officer made some nasty remarks to Mrs. Greenberg. Mrs. Lines testified that she was on the sidewalk and that there was plenty of room for people to walk around her, but that, in fact, it was where the officer was standing at the corner of the building that people had no room to pass and had to walk on the gravel. She stated that the officer spoke to her about political matters for 15 or 20 minutes, after which he walked away. When he returned, two police cars pulled up. She said that at that time she was surrounded by four or five policemen who said, "Are you going to move?" When she asked why, she says she was placed under arrest.
Mrs. Greenberg testified that upon arrival at the unemployment office on May 28 she became involved in a peaceful political discussion with several people near the exit door of the office. She said she saw the officer coming and moved out on to the public sidewalk. She continued her discussions and observed the officer speaking to Mrs. Lines. As she moved down the public sidewalk toward the adjacent check-cashing establishment, she saw two police cars. The police exited the cars and surrounded Mrs. Lines, and when she questioned them, according to Mrs. Greenberg, they said "You'd better leave or you're going to be arrested too." When Mrs. Greenberg tried to alert the bystanders regarding the predicament of Mrs. Lines, Mrs. Greenberg says that she, too, was arrested. Both defendants offered a diagram of the scene which showed avenues of ingress and egress to the office other than that testified to by the officer. In addition, Mrs. Greenberg and Mrs. Lines each denied that the group was hostile or threatening.
As has been observed previously, there is a difference between the version of the incident related by the officer and that related by defendants. In this connection the State has suggested that the real issue in this case is a credibility issue which should be resolved in favor of Officer Schneider since this court must give due deference to credibility determinations made by
the municipal court judge. Even accepting the State's version of what occurred as entirely true, it is the opinion of this court that the State has failed to sustain ...