On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Municipal Appeal No. 003-16-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 31, 2012
Before Judges Reisner and Hayden.
Following an appeal from his municipal court conviction, defendant Alfred Lanuto*fn1 was convicted in the Law Division on charges of obstruction of the administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1, and resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2. He was sentenced to pay a $500 fine, plus $33 court costs, a $50 Victim of Crimes Compensation assessment, and a $75 Safe Neighborhood Service Fund assessment. We affirm.
At about 7:00 p.m. on July 1, 2008, Ramsey Police Officers Anthony J. Fiore and Brett Rothenburger arrived at defendant's house, in separate patrol cars, in response to an anonymous phone call reporting a "disturbance" and a need for police "intervention" at that address.*fn2 The call had come in on the police department's direct line rather than through the 9-1-1 system. However, the caller sounded credible and the dispatcher had no reason to believe it was a crank call or false report. Without telling them whether or not it was a 9-1-1 call, he dispatched Officers Fiore and Rothenburger, who treated the matter as urgent, and proceeded to the house with their cars' sirens on and lights flashing.
When Fiore activated his car's flashing lights, the video and audio recording system in his patrol car went on. Due to the configuration of the street, he was unable to park his patrol vehicle in a position so that the video could record events occurring in front of defendant's house. But the microphone attached to Fiore's uniform created an audio record of what occurred.
According to Fiore, as soon as the officers approached the house, defendant emerged and started "yelling and screaming" at the officers that they had "no right to be here." They tried to explain that they were responding to a "9-1-1" call of a disturbance and "it's our duty to investigate to make sure that no one is injured or needs our assistance from that residence." Attempting to exercise what Fiore characterized as their "community caretaking function," the police tried to convince defendant to let them look inside the house to make sure that all of the occupants were safe.*fn3 However, defendant continued to be "agitated and screaming."
Due to defendant's immediate, unprovoked confrontational and agitated behavior, Fiore was concerned that domestic violence may have occurred inside the house. He explained to defendant that the police could not leave the scene without first speaking to defendant's wife to be sure that she was safe. After about ten minutes, three additional officers arrived on the scene. Two of them, Officers Huth and Rork, approached the house. At this point, defendant entered the house and then briefly re-opened the front door, ostensibly to show the officers that his wife was "fine." However, as Officer Rork attempted to enter the house, defendant slammed the door on his foot. According to Rork, defendant continued forcefully pushing on the door even after Rork's foot was caught between the door and the jamb.
Several officers then pushed the door open, freeing Rork's foot, and tried to place defendant under arrest. He resisted by "bending his arms," trying to keep the officers from "putting his hands behind his back," and trying to "grab" the handcuffs. In addition to Officer Fiore's testimony, the State presented testimony from Officers Rothenburger, Huth and Rork, all of whom confirmed Fiore's version of the incident.
The defense presented no eyewitness testimony, but presented an expert witness who had analyzed the police audiotape. Although he had never visited the premises, the expert testified that, based on the interior configuration of defendant's house, he could tell from analyzing the tape that the police were inside the house at a point in time when, according to the police witnesses, they were still outside the front door.
The municipal judge acquitted defendant of assault, reasoning that defendant did not intend to injure Officer Rork. However, crediting the testimony of the police witnesses, he convicted defendant of obstruction and resisting arrest. Defendant filed an appeal from that conviction with the Law Division.*fn4 After conducting a de novo review of the record from the municipal trial and hearing oral argument, Judge Edward A. Jerejian convicted defendant of the same charges as the municipal judge.
In a fourteen-page written opinion, Judge Jerejian made detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law, explaining the reasons for his decision. He credited the officers' version of events, after reading the municipal transcript, listening to the audio recording of the incident, and giving due deference to ...