“Law Enforcement Officers and Lawful Orders” by Mr. Ogre

By Mr. Ogre

Today’s police officer is in reality a law enforcement officer. Decades ago, they were peace officers, dedicated to protecting and serving America’s citizens. And some agencies actually still have the old “to protect and serve” motto on their cars. But if you ask them, they exist to enforce laws today. And if you question them, they will tell you that they’re just doing their job – and enforcing the law. When they do so, they often give orders. Sometimes it’s a polite request, like “Can I see your license, please?” At other times, they’re more of orders: “On your knees! Keep your hands where I can see them!” Most people will instantly react to orders and will obey them. That’s just human nature. But is it possible for them to give an order that is unlawful?

Of course, many good readers will cry, “Yes, of course!” But wait – let me define the rules. Now, we all know that if a law enforcement officer of any stripe gives you an order and you disobey it, you are very likely to be detailed, arrested, beaten, or killed, depending on how bad the officer wants to enforce his order. But let’s outline a hypothetical situation:

Bob is walking down the street. He encounters a law enforcer who says to Bob, “Sir, put your finger in your ear.” Now, does Bob have to obey the law enforcement officer? If he does not, he may be arrested for disobeying an officer, be strip searched and placed in jail. At some point in the future (1-3 days), charges may be dropped and Bob freed. But is Bob successful when he has already been jailed? And keep in mind, due to qualified immunity, Bob will not be able to sue the law enforcement officer. He might be able to sue the department, but the officer is completely in the free and will not be held responsible in any way. Even the department won’t be held responsible because their funding won’t be reduced, instead the municipality that runs the police department will use taxpayer money to pay Bob.

So again I ask, is it possible for a law enforcement officer to give an unlawful order, a person disobey, and justice prevail?

Certainly, in theory, a person can sue for damages in any case. There are cases where individuals have sued police departments and received large monetary settlements. And there are even cases where law enforcement officers have been fired or jailed for committing crimes – but none of those crimes have been “giving an unlawful order,” have they?

I cannot find any reference to any case in the past 20 years where an officer has been held personally responsible for giving an unlawful order. Instead, disobeying ANY order by a law enforcement officer immediately becomes an additional crime: disorderly conduct, interference with a police officer, or some other made-up crime. Then the person is immediately arrested and jailed. Refusing to cooperate and help the officer arrest also becomes even more crimes like resisting arrest or assault. Now keep in mind, in our example, Bob merely refused to put his finger in his ear which could literally result in all these additional charges against him.

As I see it, there are only two possible explanations: Either no law enforcement officer has ever given an unlawful order; or it is impossible today for an officer to give an unlawful order (according to the justice system). How can it be otherwise? If you doubt me, feel free to try disobeying an order, any order, from a law enforcement officer. Have someone film it, though, because you will end up in jail.

  • dougo

    3/31/11 I wouldn,t put my finger in my ear and yep I got arrested.now I,m working on getting their heads out of their asses or maybe they will just burrow deeper?

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  • Bergman

    My question on the matter, is what if obeying the order causes you to commit a crime? For example, you’re in an open-carry state, where you don’t need a license to open carry but you do need one to conceal. You don’t have a concealed license, and an officer orders you to cover your weapon (conceal it) because you’re making people nervous and several have called 911 already. Covering it is illegal without a license you do not have. Disobeying is also a crime.

    If he immediately demands to see your concealed license after you obey his order, is it entrapment? Is there a limited immunity to prosecution for obeying him? For disobeying him? Is it a valid defense in court that he was ordering you to commit a more serious crime than disobeying would be? Or are you screwed either way, and had best hope you pick the crime with the lesser punishment to commit?

  • Abused Veteran

    I am really liking this site the more I read.

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  • jim


    okeydoke i know its been MONTHS since a reply to this one but i read it and i can’t help myself..

    is what if obeying the order causes you to commit a crime?
    —THAT is the definition of an unlawful order.

    You don’t have a concealed license, and an officer orders you to cover your weapon (conceal it) because you’re making people nervous and several have called 911 already
    —He would probably ask that you remove your weapon and store it, either in your car or go back home OR in the worst case scenario confiscate it.- for example its not illegal for me to walk around with a battle axe but people would probably get nervous and call the police.

    but the real question is why are you making people nervous with your open carry weapon. i’ve no prior experience with this but i would believe that if people live in an open carry state they are used to people walking around with a weapon, unless you were constantly thumbing at it and looking around a lot people probably wouldn’t even pay too much attention to you.

  • mhodges

    >I can’t find any reference
    You such as search. I easily found some references

  • ric kni

    OK. this line seems to be greyer and greyer. I have a few scenarios that confuse me about the lawful order.
    1) Cop approaches car, I roll down window 3 or 4 inches. It could be cold outside or hot outside, or I don’t want the cop smelling (searching) my vehicle. Is it a lawful order to make me roll the window all the way down?
    2) The cops are conducting a sobriety checkpoint. They stop every car, and direct every car off of the road onto private property. Do they have the right to cause me to leave the public right of way, onto a private land?
    I have dozens of others, but if it gets too long, no one will read the posts.

  • James Earlywine


    Police made an unlawful order. I found this in minutes. I’m surprised your own research didn’t produce this.