The criminal charge of resisting arrest is not a vague "catch-all" crime asserted against people who are uncooperative with police. Rather, it has a specific meaning. This article takes a closer look at when a person might be charged with resisting arrest and possible defenses to the charge.
Elements of the Crime of Resisting Arrest
Resisting arrest generally involves charges against a person who obstructs, resists, or delays law enforcement during the performance of their official duties. Refusing to submit to arrest or detention typically includes these elements:
- Intent to hinder, delay, or prevent a law enforcement officer from effecting a lawful arrest or detention;
- Refusing to stop at a request or signal of law enforcement;
- Using physical force against a law enforcement officer; or
- Creating a substantial risk of bodily injury to a law enforcement officer
Some state laws prohibit any action that impedes an officer in their lawful duties (though in other states this is charged as hindering or obstructing justice). This means that a resisting arrest charge can be filed against someone without any prior attempt to place them under arrest. In other states, an arrest must be in progress for a resisting arrest charge to be filed.
In most states, every version of this crime is a misdemeanor crime. If someone assaults an arresting officer while refusing to submit to arrest or leads police on a dangerous high-speed chase, those actions could result in additional felony criminal charges.
Actions Commonly Judged to be Resisting Arrest
These and other actions could be judged as "resisting arrest" if they occur leading up to or during the process of making an arrest:
- Physically struggling with an officer (use of force)
- Threatening violence against an officer
- Running away, hiding from, or evading police
- Physically getting in the way of an officer doing his or her duty
Different states may include additional elements in their criminal law. Some states require a use of force or actual harm to have occurred against the officer.
Penalties and Punishment for Resisting Arrest
To be found guilty of resisting arrest, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant was aware or should have reasonably known that the person they were resisting was a law enforcement officer
- The officer was performing their official duties in a lawful manner
- The defendant intentionally resisted arrest
Resisting arrest could sometimes be a charged as a felony, depending on the state law and the facts of the case. In Texas, for example, resisting arrest becomes a felony if a deadly weapon is used.
The penalties and punishment are established in state penal codes. Penalties for a misdemeanor charge can range from probation and fines to jail time. A felony conviction for resisting arrest change would likely include larger fines, lengthier probation, and potentially even prison time.
Possible Defenses to Resisting Arrest
There are several possible defenses against a criminal charge of resisting arrest, including:
- Evidence to the Contrary: Physical evidence that the suspect did not resist arrest, such as live testimony, video evidence, the police bodycam, or photographs, could exonerate a defendant.
- Self Defense: It may be possible to argue that a suspect was acting in self-defense after the officer used excessive force.
- Unlawful Arrest: In some states, a suspect can claim that an arrest was unlawful or that fleeing occurred after an officer acted illegally to arrest or detain them (this defense is not applicable if physical force was used or a risk of bodily injury was created).
- Mistaken Identity: In some states, a defendant can assert a reasonable belief that the police officer was not actually law enforcement.
Charged with Resisting Arrest? A Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
There is often a fine line between guilt and innocence with a charge of resisting arrest. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area can help you get the best outcome possible.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
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