Elements of Hindering Apprehension (Part 2)

by | Oct 10, 2016 | Blog, Criminal Law, Jail Time and Probation, Legal Procedures

Criminal Defense Lawyer Ocean CountyAt trial, M.W. testified that everything she told the law enforcement investigators on September 23, 2010, was the truth. Defendant’s text messages did not have any effect on M.W.’s account of the events that occurred that day; nor did defendant’s texts influence the manner in which she described those events. M.W. also emphasized that she did not know anything about what occurred on Tuesday night. In fact, she was not certain if the interrogating investigators even brought up any occurrence related to Tuesday, September 21, 2010.

It is surely a matter of common experience that people charged or expecting to be charged with a crime will seek assistance from those who may have relevant knowledge. A mere request for investigational or testimonial assistance ought not to be criminalized on the basis that it might be construed as an effort to suppress evidence of a crime.

Here, the State does not claim, and the evidence presented at trial did not show, that defendant exerted any force or intimidation on M.W. Although the State argues that his texts constituted deception, the only potentially false statement that defendant made was his claim to have shut his computer off on Tuesday night. This is not the type of “deception” the statute seeks to penalize. The press release accompanying the passage of L. 1981, c. 290, § 29 explained that it “‘[e]stablishes a new crime for any person who attempts to hinder his [or her] own apprehension, prosecution or conviction by concealing evidence, intimidating witnesses, or by giving false information to a police officer.’

Even if we were to view defendant’s characterizations of his conduct as misleading or outright false, his communications were directed at M.W., not the police. Furthermore, because defendant was not a member of organized crime, his text messages were not the type of misconduct that the statute seeks to deter or prevent. See State v. Meinken,(holding that courts should read statutes in relation to the mischief and evil sought to be suppressed in order to give effect to terms in accordance with their fair and natural meaning). Defendant’s texts primarily sought assistance and information from M.W., who had knowledge of the investigation. Defendant’s conduct, therefore, does not fall under the misconduct proscribed.

To convict defendant, the State is required to prove that he prevented or obstructed M.W. from providing the police with information that would aid in his prosecution. We are satisfied that defendant is entitled to a judgment of acquittal as a matter of law because the record developed at trial is devoid of any evidence to support the jury’s guilty verdict on Count 12, charging defendant with second degree hindering apprehension.”