Resisting arrest without violence may be one of the most questionable criminal charges in existence. Of course, a charge of resisting arrest is completely justified should someone assault a law enforcement officer or use violence when an officer is trying to take them into custody. But all too often, people are charged with “resisting arrest without violence” simply for talking to the officer even though they do not pose a threat. In many instances, suspects who are charged with this offense are guilty of nothing other than simply trying to explain to a law enforcement officer that there has been a mistake and that they are not guilty of any wrongdoing. Many lawyers and legal experts across the country see the charge of “resisting arrest without violence” as a specious charge that is more prone to police abuse than any other and also a blatant violation of the First Amendment Right to Free Speech. Harsh penalties can result from this charge, as well, ranging from 48 hours in jail to a year in prison. Some people are sentenced to 100 hours of community service, and in some extreme cases, the charge is raised to a felony. Some would have to wear something like an ankle gps gwinnett county and be placed under house arrest if the court deems they need to do so.
An examination of various charges of “resisting arrest without violence” does seem to indicate that police are very apt to use and manipulate this charge. In fact, Eyewitness News in Florida conducted a study of various charges of resisting arrest. They found that in 25 percent of the cases they examined, resisting arrest was the only charge brought against the suspect, which calls the resisting arrest charge into question. After all, if there is no additional charge against the person, why were they being arrested in the first place?
Defendants will often plead guilty to this charge simply because they do not want to go through the stress of a court trial. But perhaps people should not be so quick to accept these charges. Police often greatly abuse their power when they make these claims, and unless innocent victims speak up, there will be no reason for law enforcement to stop this practice. Consider the case of John Kurtz. In January 2011, he noticed Orlando police arresting a man on domestic violence charges. They used tazers and a violent tackle, and after the man was already in handcuffs, they sprayed him with pepper spray. Kurtz, appalled by the unnecessary violence, stopped his car, announced his presence to the police and began recording the incident – a completely legal act in the state of Florida. He did not try to stop the officers or interfere with them in anyway. Despite this fact, a police officer threw Kurtz on the ground and took him into custody. He was charged with obstruction of a law officer, battery on a law officer, and resisting arrest without violence. While in custody at the police station, his camera disappeared, but fortunately, a street camera captured the whole incident. The images on the camera discredited the testimony of the officer and showed that Kurtz was not guilty of any violence; in fact, the only “battery” that occurred was on the part of the police officer. Despite being acquitted of charges of battery, however, Kurtz was found guilty of resisting arrest without violence and sentenced to 30 days in jail, a one-year probation, and a restraining order to stay at least 100 feet from police officers on duty.
It is a shocking indication of the power of the police force that an innocent man can collect evidence to protect another citizen while in full compliance with the law and be thrown into jail because of it. In the past, “resisting arrest without violence” was not even a valid charge, and all states had laws that protected citizens’ rights to resist an unjust arrest (assuming they did not use violence). Today, only 12 states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming – recognize this right. As an article on copblock.org states, “In fact, sometimes officers do harass people for absolutely no reason, and when people rightfully resist, the officers use the ‘resisting arrest’ charge as a subjugation or punishment for resisting their authority.”
Abuse of power by law enforcement should be of extreme concern to all citizens, and blatantly false charges of resisting arrest—or any other questionable charge—should be challenged. Though it may be tempting to plead guilty to avoid the time, expense, and hassle of spending time in court, justice demands that we expose those who would abuse the power they have been entrusted with to serve and protect the community.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a criminal defense attorney in Chicago, Illinois. A former prosecutor in Cook County, Mr. Weisberg is a member of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar, an elite group of criminal attorneys who are certified by the Illinois Supreme Court to try death penalty cases. He is also a member of the Federal Trial Bar. Mr. Weisberg is a solo practitioner at the Law Offices of Andrew M. Weisberg.