On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Salem County, Docket No. FJ-17-74-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Ostrer.
This case requires us to construe L. 1986, c. 34, which amended the statute on obstructing the administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1, to make certain violations a fourth-degree crime. The issue arises in H.M.'s appeal from an adjudication of juvenile delinquency. Following a bench trial, the Family Part found H.M. committed an offense that if committed by an adult would constitute fourth-degree obstructing, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1b. The court acquitted H.M. of additional charges that would have constituted the adult crimes of third-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2a(3)(a), and second-degree hindering apprehension, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3a(5). We reverse, and remand for entry of an adjudication of delinquency on the lesser included disorderly persons form of obstructing, and for a new disposition.
H.M.'s offense arose out of a police encounter with an adult. On May 25, 2010, Millville Police Officer Matthew Radcliffe while on automobile patrol observed Charles Hannah on the porch of the home where H.M. resided. There was an outstanding warrant for the arrest of Hannah on charges of attempted murder. Officer Radcliffe advised Hannah he was under arrest pursuant to the warrant. Hannah then attempted to flee into the house, but the door was locked. The officer exited his vehicle, entered the porch and attempted to place Hannah under arrest.
According to Officer Radcliffe's testimony, as Hannah struggled, he called for H.M. to unlock the door. H.M. then opened the door. Hannah fell into the house. As Officer Radcliffe shouted that Hannah was under arrest, H.M. shut the door against the officer, pushing him out of the house, and then H.M. locked the officer out. Officer Radcliffe testified he ultimately gained entry into the home by kicking the door off its hinges. He struggled with Hannah inside the house. H.M. shouted at the officer using vulgar terms to get out of the house. However, H.M. did not physically interfere as Officer Radcliffe subdued Hannah and brought him out of the house, where the officer arrested him with the assistance of other officers. An assisting officer then attempted to arrest H.M. for hindering the apprehension of Hannah, and H.M. refused to offer his hands for the placement of restraints and had to be physically subdued.
Officer Radcliffe's testimony was corroborated in part by Sergeant Mike Harvey, who testified that he responded to the rear of the property as back-up. Using his radio, he authorized Officer Radcliffe to force entry into the residence after the officer's struggle with Hannah on the porch. He could hear the struggle continue in the house, but he had no personal knowledge of H.M. impeding Officer Radcliffe's entry into the house.
H.M. testified in his defense, along with his thirteen-year-old cousin, A.M., and his girlfriend, Cachet Habersham, both of whom were in the house during the altercation, and H.M.'s grandmother, the house's owner, who arrived home hours later. A.M. testified that she heard someone banging on the door; she thought the struggle outside involved Hannah and "my uncle." She alerted Habersham and H.M., who went downstairs and opened the door, causing Hannah to fall into the house.
A.M. testified that she could see the officer on the porch after Hannah fell in, but she did not hear the officer say anything. She said H.M. closed the door, but she did not see H.M. shove Officer Radcliffe out. Hannah entered the house, and ultimately fled upstairs. The officer started banging on the door and twisting the door knob, and then H.M. opened the door for the officer.
Habersham was also near the door when H.M. first opened the door, to let Hannah in, but asserted she did not see Officer Radcliffe nearby. She heard Officer Radcliffe kicking the door. H.M. then opened it again, and the officer entered, accusing H.M. of obstructing justice.
H.M. admitted he opened the door for Hannah, and saw Officer Radcliffe outside the doorway. But, he denied the officer said anything to him. H.M. said he closed the door, but denied he did so to obstruct the officer and he denied using force against the officer. He claimed Officer Radcliffe was spraying mace, and he closed the door to protect himself from mace, but he denied knowing that the officer was trying to arrest Hannah. While Officer Radcliffe kicked on the door, H.M. questioned Hannah, who told him the police had a warrant for his arrest. H.M. claimed he castigated Hannah for bringing the police to his grandmother's house, and told him he needed to surrender because the police were kicking on the door. H.M. said he then opened the door, and told Officer Radcliffe to arrest Hannah. H.M. testified that he shouted at the officer to get out of the house only after Officer Radcliffe and Hannah upset some furnishings as they struggled.
All defense witnesses testified the front door showed evidence of having been kicked, and showed traces of what appeared to be mace, but the door was not kicked off its hinges. H.M.'s grandmother testified about the ...