On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Municipal Appeal No. 84-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Stern, Waugh and Newman.
Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction for violating N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a) (obstruction of justice) following a trial de novo. The matter had been downgraded to a disorderly persons offense before the trial in municipal court. The Law Division imposed a $100 fine and $33 in costs. Defendant claims that her conviction must be reversed, and a judgment of acquittal entered, because she was convicted in the Law Division of an offense for which she was neither charged nor convicted in municipal court. On this appeal defendant argues that due process was violated because defendant was convicted as a result of "three alternative fact patterns"; that she could not be convicted for obstructing the administration of justice resulting from her exercise of Fourth Amendment rights in refusing to permit a warrantless search of her house; that "the police lacked probable cause and exigency when they demanded entry [to her home] without a search warrant at 2:00 a.m."; and that the Law Division failed to give appropriate deference to the credibility findings of the municipal court.
The evidence presented in the Southampton Township Municipal Court included the following. Trooper Christopher Lyons testified that, while patrolling in Southampton Township on March 5, 2007, around 1:30 a.m., his police vehicle was struck by paintballs. Lyons questioned defendant's son, fifteen-year-old Vincent Marini, after seeing Vincent walking alone down the street in his nearby trailer park neighborhood. Vincent was en route "to a friend's house in the trailer park to pick up paintball equipment." Because Lyons was aware of an applicable 10 p.m. "curfew," he put Vincent in the patrol car and drove him home.
Upon arrival at Vincent's residence, defendant answered the door. Lyons told defendant that his vehicle had been hit with paintballs, as had a tractor trailer which reported a similar incident. Lyons also told defendant he "found her son walking in the trailer park and that [he] suspected him of shooting paintballs at vehicles on [Route] 206." Lyons asked to see Vincent's paintball gun which defendant gave him. Lyons examined the paintball gun and gave it back to defendant before returning to his car to speak with Vincent. Thereafter, Lyons asked defendant if he "could see the paintball gun again for further examination." According to Lyons, defendant "handed it to [him] and [he] examined it further."
While Lyons was holding the gun defendant "grabbed the paintball gun from [his] hand and pulled it into the house." Lyons indicated that he "was standing outside the house and she was standing in the doorway" when this happened. Lyons informed defendant he was taking the gun "for evidence," and requested that defendant give him the gun again, but defendant refused saying, "no, you can't take it."
I told [defendant] to get out of the way, that I was going to take the paintball gun, but she was between me and the paintball gun. I was standing outside the house and she was standing in the doorway. And at that time she refused to get out of the way, so I entered the doorway. I was giving her the verbal command to get out of the way or to give me the paintball gun and she refused to do either.
And so she closed the door on me when I was standing in the doorway, preventing me from entering the house, so I -- I got through the door. She was standing in front of me blocking me with her back facing me.
And then she -- she wouldn't get out of my way after I was giving her verbal commands to move and give me the paintball gun, so I placed her under arrest.
Lyons further testified that he issued a summons charging defendant because she "physically prevent[ed]" the officer "from obtaining evidence," not because "she didn't allow [him] into her home." According to Lyons, defendant "took the evidence from [him] and prevented [him] from obtaining the evidence for this case." Lyons immediately "told [defendant] she was under arrest for obstruction" when she grabbed the gun and closed the door. In response, Lyons then went "inside the door of the house . . . [b]ecause that's where she was." After defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal was denied defendant testified in her own defense. She stated that after telling Lyons that she thought Vincent "was in bed sleeping," he reported that Vincent was in the police vehicle because "Vincent had shot a cop car and a tractor and trailer." Defendant declined to let Lyons enter the house, but said she would look in Vincent's room to see "if there's something there." She took his paintball gun to Lyons and "stuck [her] finger up the barrel to show [him] that it had not been fired."
Lyons examined the gun, gave it back, and then talked with another trooper who arrived on the scene. Thereafter, he returned to defendant, asked for the gun again, and in response to her inquiry regarding why, told defendant that Vincent was "under arrest for shooting the paintball gun at the patrol car and at the tractor and trailer."
Defendant reacted by stating there was no need to arrest Vincent, as "the gun was clean." Defendant testified that Lyons then said "ma'am, either you get me the gun or I'm coming into your house and I'm getting it." When Lyons repeated that statement defendant told him he "was not coming into [her] house." Defendant indicated she then "turned around [but] did not shut the door on the officer," and asked her other son, Gary Marini, who was sitting on the sofa, to call his father. According to defendant, Lyons warned Gary that he would be arrested if he moved, and then tried to pull defendant "out the front door." When Lyons could not pull defendant out, the other officer on the scene "came over, grabbed [her], [and] ripped [her] out of the house."
Defendant further testified that Lyons then entered her house and began screaming at Gary "to find the gun," so defendant told Gary "it's on the ...