A Passaic County Superior Court judge sentenced former Prospect Park Police Chief Frank Franco to one year of probation for physically assaulting a teenager while handcuffed and in police custody. In many cases, penalties for crimes and disorderly persons offenses are enhanced when committed by a public officer. Therefore, any public officer charged with a crime in New Jersey should contact a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer for representation.
On August 16, 2010, Franco pleaded guilty to obstructing the administration of law or other governmental function in violation of N.J.S. 2C:29-1. Under this statute, “a person commits an offense if he purposely obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act.” Obstruction under this statute is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor obstructs the detection or investigation of a crime or the prosecution of a person for a crime, otherwise it is a disorderly persons offense. As part of the factual basis for the plea, Franco admitted that he grabbed the teen by the neck with both hands while the teen was handcuffed, shoved the teen, and slapped the teen.
In addition to being sentenced to one year of probation, as a result of the plea, Franco is also permanently barred from holding a position of public employment in New Jersey. Under N.J.S. 2C:51-2, “a person holding any public office, position, or employment, elective or appointive, under the government of this State or any agency or political subdivision thereof, who is convicted of an offense shall forfeit such office, position or employment if: (1) He is convicted under the laws of this State of an offense involving dishonesty or of a crime of the third degree or above or under the laws of another state or of the United States of an offense or a crime which, if committed in this State, would be such an offense or crime; (2) He is convicted of an offense involving or touching such office, position or employment; or (3) The Constitution so provides. As used in this subsection, “involving or touching such office, position or employment” means that the offense was related directly to the person’s performance in, or circumstances flowing from, the specific public office, position or employment held by the person.
In addition to permanent loss of the ability to hold a position of public employment, public officials are subject to mandatory minimum prison sentences under N.J.S. 2C:43-6.5 if they are convicted of certain crimes that involve or touche their public office. These crimes include: criminal coercion in violation of N.J.S. 2C:13-5, theft by deception (if the amount involved exceeds $10,000) in violation of N.J.S. 2C:20-4, theft by extortion in violation of N.J.S. 2C:20-5, theft by failure to make required disposition of property received (if the amount involved exceeds $10,000) in violation of N.J.S. 2C:20-9, commercial bribery in violation of N.J.S. 2C:21-10, money laundering in violation of N.J.S. 2C:21-25, false contract payment claims in violation of N.J.S. 2C:21-34, bribery in official matters in violation of N.J.S. 2C:27-2, threats and other improper influence in official and political matters in violation of N.J.S. 2C:27-3, unlawful official business transaction where interest is involved in violation of N.J.S. 2C:27-9, acceptance or receipt of unlawful benefit by public servant for official behavior in violation of N.J.S 2C:27-10, offer of unlawful benefit to public servant for official behavior in violation of N.J.S 2C:27-11, perjury in violation of N.J.S. 2C:28-1, tampering with witnesses in violation of N.J.S. 2C:28-5, tampering with public records or information in violation of N.J.S. 2C:28-7, compounding in violation of N.J.S. 2C:29-4, official misconduct in violation of N.J.S. 2C:30-2, speculating or wagering on official action or information in violation of N.J.S. 2C:30-3, or engaging in a pattern of official misconduct in violation of N.J.S. 2C:30.
In this case, it appears that the plea to a violation of N.J.S. 2C:29-1 for obstructing the administration of law or other government function was specifically tailored to avoid the mandatory minimum prison sentences associated with various white collar crimes if committed by a public official. Nevertheless, the plea has the significant collateral consequence of barring the defendant from ever holding public office. As this case illustrates, even a very favorable plea can have harsh consequences for a public official. Therefore, any public official charged with a crime in New Jersey, including police officers, should contact a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer for assistance with their case.