resisting arrest

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Resisting arrest is the crime of preventing or hindering an arrest. Also referred to as "resisting an officer" or sometimes merely as "resisting" or “obstructing.” Many states have specific criminal statutes making resisting arrest a crime. For example, California Penal Code § 148(a)(1) provides that “[e]very person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician . . . in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment . . . shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.” The California Supreme Court in Hernandez v. City of Pomona affirmed the lower court’s finding that when the defendant, in response to the officer’s request that he exit the car, moved into the driver's seat and drove off with the headlights unilluminated, the officer had reasonable cause to believe that the defendant was resisting arrest. 

New York’s statute criminalizing resisting arrest, N.Y. Penal Law § 205.30, states that “[a] person is guilty of resisting arrest when he intentionally prevents or attempts to prevent a police officer or peace officer from effecting an authorized arrest of himself or another person,” and classifies the crime as a class A misdemeanor. Courts interpreting this New York statute require two elements to convict someone for resisting arrest: (1) that the person intentionally attempted to prevent the arrest of himself or someone else, and (2) that the arrest that the person attempted to prevent was lawful (i.e. supported by warrant or probable cause.) For example, in the Second Circuit case, Curry v. City of Syracuse, the Court found that the defendant intentionally resisted arrest by not putting his hands behind his back when ordered to do so and tried to crawl away when the officer was handcuffing him, but remanded to determine whether the arrest was lawful.  

[Last updated in April of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]