November 25, 2008
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
KASIM-SIMON HEDGESPETH, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, Indictment No. 06-10-3299.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 27, 2008
Before Judges Lisa and Reisner.
Defendant, Kasim-Simon Hedgespeth, was the subject of a three-count indictment,*fn1 charging him with: (1) third-degree aggravated assault*fn2 on a police officer, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(5)(a); (2) third-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2a(3); and (3) fourth-degree obstructing the administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1. The jury found defendant guilty of lesser-included offenses on all three counts as follows: (1) fourth-degree aggravated assault upon a law enforcement officer (with no injury); (2) disorderly persons resisting arrest; and (3) disorderly persons obstruction of the administration of law. After merging count two with count one, the judge sentenced defendant to eighteen months imprisonment on count one, to be served consecutive to the sentence defendant was then serving on an unrelated conviction. On count three, the judge sentenced defendant to sixty-eight days imprisonment, with credit for time served of sixty-eight days.
Defendant argues on appeal:
THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE THAT DEFENDANT, HEDGESPETH WAS GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.
THE TRIAL COURT REVERSIBLY ERRED IN FAILING TO DISMISS COUNT II [SIC] CHARGING DEFENDANT WITH VIOLATING N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1, OBSTRUCTION OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF LAW.
THE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN FAILING TO SENTENCE DEFENDANT CONCURRENTLY.
We reject these arguments and affirm.
In the early morning hours of July 28, 2006, Newark police officers Marlon Silva and Tamoya Acazio, in uniform and on patrol in a marked police vehicle, observed a crowd of about twenty people in a residential neighborhood. Because of the lateness of the hour and because people in the crowd were "being loud," the officers got out of their vehicle and asked members of the crowd to leave. Some complied, and others did not. The officers called for backup, and Officers Ramon Candaleria and Iesha Carrol responded. They were also in uniform and arrived in marked police vehicles.
Two young women in the crowd, who were sisters, became belligerent and confrontational with Silva and Acazio. They handcuffed one of the sisters and placed her in the back of the squad car. The other sister became threatening toward the officers, demanding that they let her sister out. Acazio and Carrol struggled with her until they finally subdued her with pepper spray and placed her inside the police vehicle.
Candaleria observed these events. He was attempting to assist in dispersing the crowd. Four individuals came toward him. He said, "Back off. You know we're affecting an arrest." One of the four individuals responded, "I'm not going any f-ing where." Co-defendant Omar Holmes then threw a punch at Candaleria, but missed him. Candaleria countered in self-defense, punching Holmes in the face. Defendant then attacked Candaleria and punched him in the face with a closed fist. Defendant and Holmes were subdued and arrested.
Defendant first argues that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of assaulting Candaleria. At trial, defendant did not move for a judgment of acquittal at the end of the State's case or at the close of all of the evidence, see R. 3:18-1, or for a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict, see R. 3:18-2. Therefore, the issue of whether the verdict was against the weight of the evidence is not properly before us. R. 2:10-1. Nevertheless, we will decide the issue on the merits.
A person is guilty of simple assault who "[a]ttempts to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another." N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a(1). If the victim is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her duties while in uniform, the offense is elevated to the indictable offense of aggravated assault. N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(5)(a). This form of aggravated assault is a crime of the third-degree if the victim suffers bodily injury, otherwise it is a crime of the fourth-degree. N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b.
Although defendant was indicted for the third-degree offense, which includes the element of causing bodily injury to Candaleria, the jury found him guilty only of the fourth-degree offense, which is satisfied by proof that he attempted to cause bodily injury to Candaleria.
We must determine whether, viewing the State's evidence in its entirety, be it direct or circumstantial, and giving the State the benefit of all of its favorable testimony and all reasonable inferences, a reasonable jury could find defendant guilty of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Reyes, 50 N.J. 454, 459 (1967); see also State v. Josephs, 174 N.J. 44, 81 (2002) (appellate standard of review requires analysis of whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt).
The jury was entitled to believe the testimony that established that defendant punched Candaleria in the face with a closed fist. The jury likewise could reasonably infer that in doing so he intended to cause bodily injury to Candaleria. Applying the Reyes standard, the evidence was clearly sufficient to establish defendants' guilt on count one beyond a reasonable doubt.
At the conclusion of the State's case, defense counsel moved pursuant to Rule 3:18-1 for a judgment of acquittal on the obstruction of administration of law charge. The judge denied the motion.
A person obstructs the administration of law who purposely obstructs [or] impairs . . . the administration of law . . . or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of . . . force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act.
In denying defendant's motion, the trial judge correctly applied the Reyes standard. He said:
I think at that point when, if you believe the testimony of Officer Candaleria, these Defendants then approached him, prevented him from assisting the other officers from effectuating the arrest, from dispersing the crowd to the extent that he was trying to assist the other officers and conduct police business at that point.
Drawing all inferences in favor of the State, a jury could reasonably interpret that to mean that they were preventing them from performing their functions as a result of these actions of the Defendants. I . . . believe there's sufficient evidence to present that count to the jury.
We agree with the judge's analysis. Defendant essentially argues that his independent act of assault could not also be viewed by the jury as an attempt to prevent the officers from lawfully performing an official function in arresting the two sisters. However, the statute proscribes "attempts to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function" and specifically contemplates such attempts "by means of an independently unlawful act." Ibid. By its plain terms, the statute defeats defendant's argument. It was reasonable for the jury to conclude that defendant's act of assaulting Candaleria constituted obstruction.
Finally, we consider defendant's argument that the judge mistakenly exercised his discretion in directing that the sentences imposed for these offenses be served consecutive to the sentence defendant was already serving on an unrelated offense. In ordering consecutive sentences, the judge stated that the present offense "has no relationship whatsoever to the other charges that you've been sentenced on. There's no reason why they should run concurrent." We agree.
Defendant's contrary argument lacks sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We note that, although the guidelines prescribed by our Supreme Court for concurrent and consecutive sentences in State v. Yarbough, 100 N.J. 627, 643-44 (1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1014, 106 S.Ct. 1193, 89 L.Ed. 2d 308 (1986) (as amended by N.J.S.A. 2C:44-5a), do not apply because these were not sentences being imposed at the same time, the judge's rationale in imposing consecutive sentences was fully consistent with those guidelines.