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State v. Corley

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


May 23, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JAMES CORLEY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, S-2005-8354-0906.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 13, 2008

Before Judges Winkelstein and LeWinn.

Defendant James Corley was charged with a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a, simple assault, and N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1, obstructing the administration of law. He was tried in the Weehawken municipal court on January 18, 2006. On January 23, 2006, the municipal court judge dismissed both charges, not because the State failed to meet its burden of proof on each charge, but because the State failed to provide defendant with his Miranda*fn1 warnings.

The State appealed to the Superior Court. On appeal, Judge Kevin Callahan vacated the dismissal, correctly observing that the municipal court judge erred by sua sponte dismissing the charges based on the failure of the police to administer Miranda warnings to defendant. Defendant had never filed a suppression motion; indeed, defendant had made no inculpatory statements to law enforcement authorities that would have been subject to a suppression motion. Judge Callahan therefore vacated the dismissal and, having obtained the consent of the parties, conducted a de novo review of the record. Following that review, the judge found defendant not guilty on the simple assault charge, but convicted him of violating N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1, the purposeful obstruction of the administration of law.*fn2 On appeal from that order, defendant raises two issues for our consideration:

A. CORLEY DID NOT ACT WITH THE REQUIRED MENS REA OF PURPOSELY WHEN HE ALLEGEDLY OBSTRUCTED MCGOVERN FROM PERFORMING HIS DUTIES.

B. CORLEY DID NOT ACT WITH THE REQUIRED MENS REA OF KNOWINGLY BECAUSE HE WAS UNAWARE THAT HIS ALLEGED ACTIONS WOULD INTERFERE WITH THE STATED GOVERNMENTAL PURPOSE TO A PRACTICAL CERTAINTY.

We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Callahan.

The incident that led to defendant's conviction occurred at approximately 1:00 p.m. on August 3, 2005. Defendant, an off-duty police officer, had parked his vehicle on Montgomery Street in Jersey City. Jersey City Police Officer Brian McGovern was on duty working a traffic detail at the intersection of Montgomery and Green Streets redirecting vehicular and pedestrian traffic as a result of construction in the area. He observed defendant walking down the center of the westbound lane of traffic, the length of the construction site, and according to McGovern, a vehicle had to swerve to avoid hitting defendant. As he walked toward defendant, he told him "at least a dozen times" to get on the sidewalk, but defendant ignored him.

McGovern testified that when he extended his hand to defendant's shoulder, gesturing towards the sidewalk, defendant "chopped [his] arm down" and thrust both of his hands into McGovern's chest. Then defendant clenched his fists, at which time McGovern grabbed his arm and told him he was under arrest. When he put the handcuff on one of defendant's hands, defendant began to flail his arms, trying to pull the handcuffed arm away from McGovern. Eventually, after Lieutenant Peter Zulinski came to help him, McGovern was able to subdue defendant.

Defendant testified that McGovern grabbed him and shouted expletives while telling him he was going to be arrested. He claimed that McGovern pushed him across the street and placed one handcuff on him, despite defendant's repeated requests to McGovern to explain what he was doing.

Following the municipal court trial, the municipal court judge, before dismissing the charges based on the State's failure to provide defendant with Miranda warnings, found that the three officers who testified on behalf of the State were credible and that defendant was not. The judge concluded that were it not for the "Miranda issue," he would "have absolutely no hesitation in finding [defendant] guilty of both counts that he has been charged with."

In his de novo decision, the Superior Court judge also found that the State's witnesses were credible and defendant's testimony was not credible. In finding defendant guilty of the obstruction charge, Judge Callahan found that defendant's actions were purposeful in repeatedly ignoring Officer McGovern's orders to get on the sidewalk. The court found that defendant's intention to frustrate the officer's attempts at lawfully performing his duty was evidenced by the struggle that ensued during defendant's arrest, as observed by both Officer McGovern and Lieutenant Zulinski. The judge further found that defendant was guilty of physically acting with a conscious object to obstruct the orderly administration of justice. The court's findings were supported by the credible evidence of record. State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470-71 (1999); State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 161-62 (1964).

Defendant was charged with a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1a, which states:

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 an official duty, or any other means of avoiding compliance with law without affirmative interference with governmental functions.

The purpose of the statute is "to prohibit a broad range of behavior designed to impede or defeat the lawful operation of government." State v. Camillo, 382 N.J. Super. 113, 116-17 (App. Div. 2005) (quotation omitted). Here, the facts support Judge Callahan's determination that defendant purposely physically interfered with Officer McGovern's official functions. McGovern was directing vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and he gave defendant multiple opportunities to get out of the street, but defendant refused to move. As the officer attempted to guide defendant from the street, defendant chopped at the officer's arm, shoved him in the chest, and flailed his arms to prevent the officer from handcuffing him. These actions satisfy the criteria of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1a beyond a reasonable doubt. The logical inference is that defendant purposely and knowingly interfered with Officer McGovern's official duties. See N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2b(1) ("A person acts purposely with respect to the nature of his conduct or a result thereof if it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result.").

Defendant claims that his conviction for obstructing the administration of law was inconsistent with the acquittal on the assault charge. That argument is without merit. As long as the record supports the conviction, courts do not attempt to reconcile charges on which a defendant has been found guilty and not guilty. State v. Muhammad, 182 N.J. 551, 578 (2005). Here, as we have said, the record fully supports the Superior Court judge's guilty finding.

Finally, we address defendant's argument that he did not physically interfere with Officer McGovern's official purpose, and thus he could not be guilty of the obstruction charge. That argument too is without merit. Judge Callahan believed Officer McGovern's testimony that defendant physically struck him. That is more than sufficient to constitute the physical act necessary to satisfy the statutory criteria of obstruction "by means of . . . force, violence, or physical interference." N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1a.

Affirmed.


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