Recent Trends in Obstruction of Justice Charges & Domestic Violence Cases in New Jersey

Domestic violence cases have special treatment in states across the country. The logic behind this is to protect domestic violence victims who truly need protection under the law. In New Jersey, there have been differences of legal opinion and confusion relating to how the Fourth Amendment protections combine with the objective of protecting domestic violence victims. The reason for this is that the Fourth Amendment is dedicated to protecting the unauthorized search and seizure of a private citizen’s property by law enforcement officials without proper cause or search warrants; however, where the lines have gotten blurred is what occurs when police need to search the home of a private citizen based on reports of a possible domestic violence disturbance when the citizen will not cooperate with police to let them inspect his home without a warrant. Such circumstances are outlined in the recent New Jersey Supreme Court Case State v. Fede, which reversed on appeal, Fede’s prior conviction of violating the criminal obstruction statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a).

A Brief Overview of State v. Fede

In State v. Fede, police officers responded to Fede’s home in response to a call reporting a possibility of domestic violence. Fede would not agree to let the police officers into his apartment without a warrant. Typically, domestic violence incidents permit police officers to enter a dwelling when there is a reasonable suspicion of domestic violence occurring with the objective of preventing future harm to victims. In this instance, Fede, was behind a chain lock on the door and refused to let the police officers enter his apartment even though they could see him through the door. When Fede did not open the door, the police entered, found there was no domestic disturbance, and charged Fede with the criminal obstruction statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a).

The “Emergency Aid” Exception to the Warrant Requirement

The Fede case discusses important issues related to emergent search in New Jersey and clarifies how those principles apply in a domestic violence case. The fact that the police officers were barred from entering through a chain lock on the door while still seeing Fede brings up important issues on when and how the “emergency aid” exception to the warrant requirement can be applied. According to the Fede case, the police officer’s use of the “emergency aid” exception was appropriate because at the time they decided to enter, they had reasonable belief that a domestic violence incident was taking place.

Another important issue that was clarified in the Fede case was how to effectively interpret New Jersey’s criminal obstruction statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a). In Fede, the court looked to how the defendant actually prevented officers from entering the apartment given that a domestic violence disturbance was not occurring. What the Fede court ended up finding is that Fede’s refusal to unchain the lock on his apartment door in order to permit officers’ warrantless entry was not an affirmative act of interference, which is required to violate the criminal obstruction statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a).  For this reason, the Fede court overturned the prior court’s decisions and vacated the judgment against Fede. The Fede case is significant in that it creates a clear distinction contrasting prior precedent regarding how domestic violence circumstances influence constitutionally protected search and seizure protections.

Focus on Domestic Violence and Criminal Defense

At the Bianchi Law Group, our firm primarily focuses on cases related to domestic violence and criminal defense. Both partners Robert Bianchi and David Bruno are former prosecutors who prosecuted a wide range of cases including domestic violence matters. Within domestic violence cases, our firm’s niche is related to restraining order hearings both for the alleged victim and the accused. In addition, our firm takes on cases related to criminal defense, which also includes domestic violence crimes and offenses. Lastly, our firm specializes in forfeiture hearings for weapons seized from domestic violence incidents.

Former Prosecutors and Trusted by the Media

Partners Robert Bianchi and David Bruno are former prosecutors who have handled the investigations and prosecutions of crimes in New Jersey and are certified along with only 250 other attorneys as certified criminal trial attorneys by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Robert Bianchi and David Bruno regularly appear as national legal analysts to comment and debate on major news networks such as Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN and Fox Business.

The Bianchi Law Group focuses on practice areas related to Domestic ViolenceCriminal Defense, and Municipal Court matters. Contact us at 862-210-8570 to discuss this case or any other legal issues you have.