When Can a Person Be Charged for Obstructing Governmental Administration ?

In People v. Case (42 NY2d 98), the defendant was charged with obstructing governmental administration for alerting another motorist via a CB radio that there was a radar speed checkpoint up ahead. The Court of Appeals, focusing on the language of the statute that proscribes only obstruction " 'by means of physical force or interference or by means of some independently unlawful act,' " held that "physical" modifies both "force" and "interference," and that "mere words alone do not constitute 'physical force or interference' such as to support the charge of obstructing governmental administration." (Supra, at 101-102.) In Matter of Davan L. (91 NY2d 88 [1997]), however, a juvenile was charged with obstructing governmental administration for interfering in a narcotics buy operation. In that case, the respondent was circling the block on a bicycle near the location of the operation. A plainclothes officer displayed a badge to the respondent and told him not to get involved and to leave the location. Instead, the respondent turned around, entered the "identified zone" and yelled, "Cops, cops ... watch out, Five-0, police are coming." (Supra, at 90.) Distinguishing these facts from Case (supra), the Court of Appeals found that the actions of the juvenile were more than "mere words" and would constitute the crime of obstructing governmental administration: "The police activity area was confined and defined, and the juvenile was put on specific, direct notice. There was evidence that he intentionally intruded himself into the specific area of police activity and directed his warnings toward a known criminal activity and assembly at the location identified to the juvenile by the police officer. "There was also evidence that the juvenile caused a physical reaction and dispersal, escalating his conduct into an even more serious physical obstruction of governmental administration, under a plain reading and application of Penal Law 195.05. A rational fact finder could conclude that he placed his own safety, as well as the safety of the officers and others in the public, at risk, and consequently interfered with and obstructed law enforcement administration." (Supra, at 91.)