A Look at the Crime of Resisting Law Enforcement

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Resisting law enforcement is a charge that commonly gets tacked on after an arrest for another charge doesn’t go down as smoothly as the officer would like. The least serious form of resisting law enforcement is an A Misdemeanor, but various scenarios and actions can elevate the charge as high as a Class A Felony (or a Class 2 Felony beginning July 1, 2014). Some circumstances even require mandatory minimum sentences that may not be suspended!
Unsurprisingly, what constitutes resisting law enforcement is not black and white. There are three broad scenarios where one can find himself charged with resisting law enforcement. The first is when one resists an officer or someone helping the officer while the officer is lawfully engaged in his duties. The second is when one interferes with service or execution of civil or criminal process or an order of a court. The third is when one flees from an officer after the officer has identified himself and ordered the person to stop.
You’ve probably seen COPS, movies, or YouTube videos where a suspect is uncooperative. “Stop resisting!” is often heard repeatedly as the officers attempt to restrain their subject. However, not all resisting will support a charge for resisting law enforcement.
First, the resistance must be done knowingly or intentionally. This is usually fairly obvious, as one attempting to flee from the grasp of an officer or prevent himself from being cuffed is acting with a purpose. This element of resisting law enforcement is generally not the one at issue.
Next, an officer must be lawfully engaged in the execution of his duties. Issues with this element sometimes arise in situations involving excessive force or illegal arrest. However, in a situation where one is charged with resisting law enforcement by fleeing, one may be found guilty of resisting regardless of the apparent or ultimate lawfulness of the officer’s order to stop. And where one is the subject of an illegal but peaceful arrest, Indiana courts do not permit a private citizen to use force in resisting that arrest. Therefore, the apparent or ultimate lawfulness of an order or an arrest is not solely determinative of whether one commits resisting law enforcement.
Where resisting law enforcement gets even more tricky is that the statute requires an individual to have “forcibly” resisted, obstructed, or interfered. Both police officers and courts have had difficulty in pinpointing precisely what rises to the level of forcibly. The courts have explained broadly that one forcibly resists when strong, powerful, violent means are used to evade an officer’s rightful exercise of his duties. The courts have further explained that “forcibly resists” does not include all actions that are not passive, as the statute does not demand complete passivity. However, these explanations do not necessarily help us figure out what is or is not sufficient force to rise to the level of resisting law enforcement.
Some examples of what is and what is not resisting law enforcement will demonstrate that there is no bright line to follow. Refusing to present one’s arms for cuffing is not forcibly resisting. However, stiffening one’s arms as an officer attempts to cuff them can be forcible resistance. Pushing away with one’s shoulders, stiffening up while being placed into a vehicle, or aggressively pulling away from an officer’s grasp can all be forcible resistance. However, simply pulling one’s wrist and making a small turn after being grabbed by an officer is not forcible resistance.
In one case, an individual was holding a flag when an officer grabbed him and the flag and attempted to take the flag away. A second officer stepped in and attempted to take the flag, but the individual twisted and turned and refused to let go. The individual was sprayed with mace and dragged eight to ten feet before letting go of the flag. Though the court concluded that the individual had resisted, the individual had not forcibly resisted and therefore his conviction for resisting law enforcement was reversed.
The foregoing case shows that quite a lot of resistance can happen without constituting forcible resistance. After all, refusing to let go of a flag and being dragged eight to ten feet seems to be more resistance than simply stiffening one’s arms while being cuffed. Yet the latter is resisting law enforcement and the former is not. The degree of resistance required to support a conviction for resisting law enforcement is difficult to define and can change depending on the circumstances in which the actions occur, making resisting law enforcement a complicated charge.
As should be clear, a charge of resisting law enforcement can be complicated to sort out. Whether or not the resistance at issue was forcible, or perhaps forcible enough, is arguable. Therefore, it is important to talk to an Indianapolis criminal defense attorney who can review your case and determine its merits based upon the facts of your case and the law as it currently exists.
If you, a relative, or a loved one has been arrested for resisting law enforcement alone or in combination with other charges, give our experienced litigators at Banks & Brower a call today to discuss your case. We are available 24/7/365 at 317.870.0019 or at info@banksbrower.com.