On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, 50-04.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Winkelstein, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Conley,*fn1 Weissbard and Winkelstein.
In this appeal, the question presented is whether defendant's refusal to provide his name, date of birth, and social security number to a state trooper who required the information to prepare an incident report constituted an obstruction of the administration of law pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1a. We conclude that under the facts of this case it did not, and consequently we reverse defendant's March 24, 2004 conviction of that offense.
We take the material facts from the March 24, 2004 municipal court trial in Southampton Township. On November 2, 2003, at approximately 6:45 p.m., New Jersey State Trooper Daniel Deichman, Jr. was dispatched to a location on a dirt road off of Mill Street in Vincentown to investigate a verbal dispute. Information had been received in a 911 call that a man threatened to burn someone's house down.
When the trooper arrived at the scene, defendant and his girlfriend were standing by a van that had broken down on private property. The property owners, later identified as Mr. and Mrs. Good, were standing along Mill Street about 150 feet away from the van. Defendant told the trooper that after his girlfriend's van broke down, he arrived to help her. Mr. Good approached him, pointed a finger at his chest, and told him to leave; Good threatened to have him arrested for trespassing. At that point, a verbal argument ensued and "someone" called 911.
Good said he did not want to pursue the matter; he just wanted defendant and his girlfriend off of his property as soon as the van was repaired. Nevertheless, the trooper decided to document the incident "just in case the owner of the property had further problems and wished to pursue the matter . . . on a later date." To prepare his report, he required the parties' names, dates of birth, and social security numbers.
The Goods provided the information, as did defendant's girlfriend. Defendant refused. He became agitated, said he knew his rights, and refused to cooperate. The trooper discussed the situation with him over the next several minutes, and finally gave him an ultimatum: if he did not provide the information he would be placed under arrest and charged with obstruction. Defendant responded that he would rather go to jail. The trooper obliged him. He arrested defendant, handcuffed and searched him, secured him in the troop car, and drove him to the State Police barracks. The trooper found no identification on defendant when he searched him at the barracks.
Defendant was at the barracks from forty-five minutes to an hour. He was charged with obstruction of the administration of law. Before he left, he provided his name, address, date of birth, and social security number.
On those facts the municipal court judge found defendant guilty of obstructing the administration of law. The court imposed the appropriate fines, assessments and court costs. On de novo review, the Law Division also found defendant guilty.
The statute that defendant was convicted of violating was enacted as part of the Code of Criminal Justice (Code), effective September 1, 1979. It reads:
Obstructing administration of law or other governmental function a. A person commits an offense if he purposely obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act. This section does not apply to failure to perform a legal duty other than ...