Obstructing Governmental Administration (OGA), codified in §195.05 of the New York State Penal Law, is a misdemeanor which is often charged alongside of a Resisting Arrest charge. While PL §195.05 addresses a real problem, and can provide important protection for police officers trying to do their jobs, it is also a section of the law which is subject to abuse. OGA addresses intentional conduct. A person must be found to “intentionally obstruct, impair of pervert the administration of law” and to do so by means of “intimidation, physical force or interference, or by means of any independently unlawful act” to be found guilty of Obstructing Governmental Administration.
One important thing to realize is that Resisting Arrest cannot be the “independently unlawful act” used to support the charge of Obstructing Governmental Administration. OGA is most often seen where a friend or family member gets in the way of the police while they are making an arrest. A person can be properly convicted of OGA if he/she physically interferes with officer's making a lawful arrest of one of his/her friends or family members. This frequently occurs in street arrests where others are present or in DWI arrests where more than one person is in the car. It is very clear that the law does not allow individuals to physically interfere with arrests and, since the police are armed and always concerned for their safety, it is always a bad idea. However, it is equally true that the OGA statute is not there to be abused by angry cops. The statute clearly requires that any force or interference with the police be “physical” for it to be illegal. Talking is not physical. The police are not supposed to arrest you for being annoying, even though it happens!
Because the OGA statute addresses conduct that is not easy to define, the courts have interpreted it narrowly, so as not to allow for abuses by the police. Getting in the way physically, pushing or punching an officer, or engaging in other physical conduct will clearly get you arrested for OGA, and rightfully so. However, persistent questioning of an arrest, taking pictures from a distance with a cell phone, or other conduct which the police dislike but which is not illegal should not result in arrest. One famous example of a situation where an individual was charged with OGA and that charge was deemed illegal was where a driver used his CB radio to warn another driver of a radar speed trap. The driver doing the warning was charged with OGA but New York's Court of Appeals overturned his conviction. However, there is caselaw in New York upholding convictions for interfering with police undercover drug investigations by “blowing the cover” of narcotics detectives.
It is always a bad idea to give the police a hard time on the street. If the police are engaging in abusive conduct, it is smarter to be cooperative, and then talk to a lawyer.