Obstruction Charges in New York
What is “Obstruction?”
Obstruction is defined as impeding progress and preventing action. There are various types of obstruction, such as obstructing a government official, refusing to aid an officer, and interfering with fire or EMS when they are performing their duties.
You place yourself at risk for this charge when you stand in the way of a government employee from doing their job, be it through physical force or verbal intimidation.
It is important to understand that an officer, firefighter, EMT or other government assistance are bound to carry out the law and protect life and property.
Therefore, standing in the way of these government actors while they are performing their actions can be construed as an obstruction.
The following are some examples in which you could be charged with obstruction in one of its degrees:
- Physically injuring an official with a personal defense spray
- Affecting their communication equipment
- Releasing a dangerous animal to prevent the entry of officials
- Preventing firefighters from fighting fires
- Standing in the way of emergency medical professionals to provide aid
New York State Obstruction Statutes
There are various types of obstruction statutes in New York depending on who you prevent from completing their duties, and each had their own defined statue. The various methods of obstruction in New York include:
Obstructing in the Second Degree:
NYPL Section 195.05
Obstructing government administration in the second degree is defined by NYPL Section 195.05 as intentionally interfering with a government worker conducting their job through means of verbal threats, physical effort, or interference with their equipment.
They also include releasing a dangerous animal with the intention that it will impede their work, like letting a pet out of a kennel. This is considered a class A misdemeanor by state law.
Obstruction in the First Degree:
NYPL Section 195.07
NYPL Section 195.07 continues to define obstruction of government administration in the first degree by committing any action listed above, and it causes physical harm to the worker. This elevates the charge to a class E felony with higher punishments.
Use of a Personal Defense Spray Against an Official:
NYPL Section 195.08.
The next section details the use of a personal defense spray against an official, NYPL Section 195.08. The spray is intended to cause temporary impairment or injury that incapacitates the official.
The use of any of these sprays for anything other than personal defense is considered a criminal offense, especially when used against an officer or government worker. When used to obstruct, this elevates the crime to a class D felony charge.
Refusing to Aid a Peace or Police Officer:
NYPL Section 195.01
195.10 states that if an officer identifies themselves to you and requires aid if you unreasonably refuse to help them, then you can be convicted for refusing to provide aid. This does not apply in dangerous situations, such as assisting in a shootout, as this would be a reasonable situation to refuse aid.
However, should you open your door and allow a criminal to cut through your home and not officers during chase, dramatic yes, but it would constitute refusing to help and obstructing. This crime is a class B misdemeanor if convicted.
Obstruction of Firefighting Operations:
NYPL Section 195.15
Obstruction of firefighting operations occurs when you stand in the way of a firefighter performing their duties. The details are outlined in Article 195.15. It can be done by impeding them in 1 of the 3 ways.
If you block them from putting out a fire, interfere while they investigate fumes or explosion risks or prevent them from providing aid to bystanders you can be charged with this version of obstruction. Their goal is to protect life and prevent damage from spreading.
Not allowing them to work, causing a fire per se to spread, would cause you to be charged. This could also open you up for possible suits of the property owners. This is a class A misdemeanor charge on its own.
Obstruction of Emergency Medical Services:
NYPL Section 195.16
When obstruction of emergency medical services, EMS, occurs it is a separate charge. This is done when you impede any member protected by health law in providing aid, intentionally and unreasonably. This is outlined in Article 195.16 of the New York Penal Code.
Obstruction of Governmental Duties by Means of a Bomb or Hazardous Substance:
NYPL Section 195.17
The final piece we will review here involves Article 195.17, which is a class D felony. This is when a bomb, any type of explosive or any hazardous instrument is set up or by aiding in the setup, The device is set to hinder or prevent government functions from occurring and causes threats to life and property. This charge is classified as a class D felony.
The federal law defines obstruction as any means of preventing the law from being carried out. The statues on the federal level dictate many different versions of obstruction and allow them to be cited.
The obstruction can occur from intimidation of a public official, interfering with the investigation, alerting an individual of a subpoena, and more. The law does not limit officials and leaves room for interpretation depending on the interference.
What is the commonly cited violation under Federal Statutes?
The most commonly cited violation is of U.S.C § 1503. This section states that it is considered obstruction to prevent an officer of the law from performing their duties. It also includes a sentence involving injuring the officer while they are conducting their investigations. The interference can be done in a verbal, physical, and even written form.
It is critical to consult with an attorney if you believe you fit into one of the categories. NY law Article 195 details are specifically firefighters, EMS, police, and government administration. These infractions fall under their own subsections within this law.
In order to better grasp the process of obstructing justice, this example is explained. In NY, Brian Gross, an NYPD officer, is being charged with obstruction. The task force had been investigating several residences that had previously been found to have evidence of drug paraphernalia. However, when the search warrants were executed, there was no incriminating evidence present.
An internal investigation was conducted in which Gross was noted to have spoken out to the defendants and warned them of the impending search. He allegedly alerted members of a drug trafficking ring. This allowed the members to be removed and secure any illicit substances that could have been at that location.
He was also charged with tampering of evidence and official misconduct. He was guilty of obstruction when he knowingly and intentionally gave confidential information to the dealers. In giving them the information, it affected the ability of the officers to conduct the search and serve justice.
In addition to obstruction, there are other infractions that can be charged. The most common charges that are given as well are:
- Witness tampering
- Destruction of evidence (physical or cooperate audits)
- Retaliation against a witness or juror
These are a few examples of charges that can accompany obstruction. It is critical to take into fact the reason for the presence of these entities and any associated crimes (such as obstruction during a raid).
Crimes that are associated with obstruction are usually the reason for police or 911 presence in the area. As with the example above, the officer was charged with tampering of evidence and misconduct. There can be a vast variation, so legal representation is imperative.
Who can charge me?
Obstruction charges are charged can be charged by any level of law enforcement. Some examples include wildlife and game, deputy, sheriff, traffic police, local, state, or federal law enforcement.
This charge can be given at any point in working with law enforcement. Some examples include: lying to an officer (even if at a routine checkpoint), keeping evidence, or tampering with a jury member.
This law is in place so that law enforcement, firefights, and other government workers are able to perform their jobs without being impeded. By not cooperating with law enforcement, you place yourself at risk for these charges.
The penalties for obstruction varies depending on the degree and who was obstructed (EMS, police, government worker). The obstruction charge itself is considered a class A misdemeanor at a minimum. This alone could earn you up to a year in prison. There could also be up to $1000 in fines associated with the charge.
The charge of obstruction itself is a class A misdemeanor. However, the charge could be elevated depending on the circumstances.
If there are corporate records tampered with, intimidation of a witness, or impeding a murder investigation, there would be a higher punishment than if you blocked a fire truck from getting to a hydrant or did not cooperate with a traffic officer. The level of the charge greatly depends on the level of involvement.
Sentences can be enhanced for obstruction charges as well. Depending on the level of involvement and the law enforcement involved, this charge could be elevated to a felony. It is important to take into consideration who was obstructed, was there damage to property, loss of life, and if there was evidence involved in the charge.
Repeat offenders also face the risk of higher punishments depending on their past records. There are multiple outcomes that could be possible, as stated above, depending on who and what was involved in your specific case. Again, these charges are very complex and have many contributing factors. Legal representation should be consulted as soon as possible.
Defenses to Obstruction
In defending yourself against charges of obstruction, there must be sufficient evidence to show that you intentionally tried to interrupt the administration of the law through government workers.
The prosecution would need evidence such as statements to show where you impeded the progress. When an assault on a government official occurs, the hospital records can be used against you as well. This includes the use of personal defense sprays such as Mace or pepper spray.
Why Contact an Attorney?
If you are trying to defend yourself in stating that you didn’t impede the law, then you are in for an uphill struggle. You will need to show where you did not intentionally and knowingly cause interference with an investigation, fire, or emergency care. Unless you are very specialized in that area, it would be best to leave it to the professionals.
You place yourself at risk for the elevation of charges, depending on what level the interference was. With a trained attorney, they can help you to gather your defense, showing that you didn’t interfere in the administration of the law.
Here sample cases:
- Joesph Scali was charged with Obstruction of justice, Obstructing the IRS, Filing of false tax, documents, Mail Fraud, Tax evasion, and Perjury.
Scali was part of a complex scheme which involved defrauding a buyer of real estate. He stole the $850,000 from a trust account instead of returning the money to the buyer after the deal fell through. He used the money for his own personal luxuries such as travel, sports tickets, and clothing.
In doing this, he also filed false tax returns, which would have revealed his fraud. This caused him to evade the IRS for 2 years. An Orange County judge sentenced Scali to 7 years in prison for all of his crimes. Following his sentence, he will be on probation for 3 years and to pay over a million in restitution to victims of the transaction, mail fraud and to the IRS.
- Natalya Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, was charged with Obstruction of Justice. Veselintskaya is being charged due to her involvement in a defense case. She represented her Russian clients in a false light and misled the court as their counsel. The false documentation, which stated her clients’ innocence was submitted, was an attempt to sway the judge.
After discovering the false information, it was discovered that she was involved in the tax fraud scheme in which she was defending her clients. Charges have been filed against her. However, she is a Russian citizen and lives in her native country.
- Jeremy Reichburg is charged with Obstruction of Justice, Conspiracy, and Honest Funds Fraud. Reichburg is involved in several complex cases around financial frauds, bribery, and conspiracy as a coconspirator. He was charged and plead guilty to obstruction of justice in relation to a case involving bribery of police.
He provided funds and “gifts” to members of NYPD. The high ranking officials received these in exchange for their services of “police actions.” On April 4th, 2019 he was sentenced to 3 years of supervised release and to pay restitution of over 19 million dollars.
- Sead Rabah was charged with Obstruction of Justice. Rabah was a New York City detective who intentionally provided false information in a narcotics investigation. He was working with an informant who continued to engage in illegal drug-related activity.
When asked by law enforcement, Rabah waited and provided them with a contact number for the informant that he knew was no longer active. An investigation also showed where Rabah was working with the informant on an illegal gambling ring as well. Rabah faces up to 20 years in prison for working with the informant.
- Jon Montroll was charged with Obstruction of justice, and Securities Fraud. Montroll was the founder of two separate Bitcoin investment firms. He used funds from one of the companies for his own personal use while he used the second for a “private loan.” He did not make the investors aware of his use of the funds.
When questioned by police, he provided false information that impeded the investigation. He also provided misleading information during the investigation. He faces up to 20 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced “at a later date.”
18 U.S.C. § 1501-1503
A.G. Schneiderman Announces Arrest Of Troy Police Officer Charged With Intentionally Obstructing Investigation Into Capital Region Drug Ring. Attorney General Letitia James: Press release. Retrieved from
Azhari, Sami. “Federal Law on Obstructing Justice.” Federal Criminal Lawyer. Retrieved from https://www.federalcriminallawyer.us/2011/01/12/federal-law-on-obstructing-justice-a-summary/
Obstruction of Justice. FindLaw.com. Retrieved from https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/obstruction-of-justice.html
Theoharis, Mark. “New York Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentence.” Criminal Defense Lawyer. Retrieved from https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/new-york-misdemeanor-crimes-class-and-sentences.htm