When an officer confronts you, regardless of the situation or how innocent you are of any wrongdoing, you will likely feel intimated, nervous and uncertain as to how to react. Further, when an officer is trying to arrest you for a crime that you did not commit, your understandable anger may reasonably motivate you to resist the officer.
But, if you act on these feelings by resisting the officer’s commands, you may find yourself in even more trouble – and you might be charged with additional crimes.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that those charges will lead to convictions, however. Police officers are required to follow the law and honor your Constitutional rights, and in some circumstances resistance is legally justifiable.
Let’s look at some of those situations in more detail.
Resisting Unlawful Arrest or Not Complying With an Officer’s Command.
If an officer is attempting to arrest you under unlawful circumstances, you have the constitutional right to resist the arrest. But what exactly is an “unlawful arrest?”
An arrest is not unlawful merely because the office does not have strong or sufficient evidence that you committed the alleged crime. The officer needs “probable cause” to lawfully arrest. But that standard is much lower that “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard by which jurors view evidence during a trial.
In general terms, an unlawful arrest is one in which the officer in question was acting outside the scope of his or her legal authority. For example, if you merely insult an officer, which is not in and of itself a crime, and the officer reacts by attempting to arrest you, that would be an unlawful arrest. You would be justified in resisting the arrest, as long as you do not use violence in doing so.
Similarly, you would not be required under the law to obey an officer’s unlawful order. An example of that would be when you are innocently minding your own business when the officer, without having any reasonable suspicion that you are committing or have committed a crime, commands you to do something, such as to show him or her what is in your pocket. You needn’t comply with that order.
Resisting a Lawful Arrest.
If the officer is acting within his or her authority and has a probable cause to arrest you, resistance is not allowed. You would then have to cooperate with the lawful orders of the officer. If you resist arrest in that context, you would be illegally interfering with their “lawful duty.”
That being said, there are still defenses that you can use to get your charges reduced or dropped, or to be found not guilty at trial, some examples of which would be:
- You did not actually resist
- You resisted an unlawful order
- You did not know that the officer was an officer at the time
The best way to know which strategy is appropriate for your case is to discuss the specific details with a knowledgeable resisting arrest lawyer.
Charges and Penalties for Resisting Arrest
Resisting arrest without violence is a misdemeanor. Resisting arrest with violence, though, is a felony.
If you are found guilty of resisting arrest without violence in Florida, you face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. And since this charge is often associated with other criminal charges, the penalties for resisting arrest will be added to whatever penalties you might face for those alleged crimes.
Guilt as to resisting arrest with violence, as a third degree felony, is punishable by up to 5 years in the state prison system. Very importantly, most of the defenses available to you in the misdemeanor context are not available when the charge is a felony. In other words, even though an officer may be exceeding his or her authority, there is no legal right to violently resisting an officer.
Only a Florida criminal attorney with a track record of success handling this type of charge gives you the best chance at a positive outcome. If you have been charged with resisting arrest, contact an area defense lawyer today.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.