In the case of State v. Isaac Young, decided on January 9, 2017, the Appellate Division was called upon to interpret N.J.S. 2C:29-3, the statute addressing the offenses of Hindering Apprehension or Prosecution. The principle issue was whether the defendant was properly convicted of hindering his own investigation or prosecution under N.J.S. 2C:29-3b(4) by making false statements to a police officer when the defendant could not legally be penalized for the offense underlying the investigation. The answer is “yes.”
In relevant part, the Court held:
Despite our conclusion that defendant’s conduct did not constitute a violation of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a(b)’s prohibition against disclosure, we disagree with defendant that his conviction for hindering by making a false statement to police should have been dismissed as well. We agree with the State’s contention that N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(4) “does not require that defendant actually be charged with an offense or that a conviction be successful” for a defendant to be criminally liable for hindering an investigation or prosecution for committing the underlying offense in order to be guilty. Note that N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10a(b) makes it a criminal offense to willfully permit or encourage the release of the records of a child abuse investigation.
As defendant did not raise this challenge to his hindering conviction before the trial court, we review his claim for “plain error.” R. 2:10-2 (any error will be disregarded unless it was “clearly capable of producing an unjust result”). Applying that standard, we conclude the trial court did not commit any error even though defendant was improperly convicted of releasing confidential child abuse records.
The hindering statute under which defendant was charged provides in pertinent part: “A person commits an offense if, with purpose to hinder his own detention, apprehension, investigation, prosecution, conviction or punishment for an offense he gives false information to a law enforcement officer.” N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(4) (emphasis added). At trial, the jury had sufficient evidence to support its finding that when defendant gave his first statement to law enforcement he committed a violation of the hindering statute. Daniels testified to the fact that defendant gave him the documents and defendant himself admitted as much in his second statement, after giving an earlier sworn statement to the contrary.
The evidence presented at trial required the court to allow the jury to determine whether defendant was guilty of the offense. Once the jury made its determination, the court did not commit any error, let alone plain error, by not dismissing defendant’s conviction on the hindering charge. Regardless of whether defendant actually committed the offense for which he was under investigation at the time he spoke to police, he violated the statute by giving a false statement to the police during the course of their investigation. We have no reason to disturb his conviction.