The charge of “resisting arrest” is a funny thing. One may imagine that it was devised so that murderers, rapists or robbers who tried to escape from the clutches of the law are punished additionally for resisting against police officers.
In practice, the effects of this charge disturbingly fall on undeserving victims. Strangely, people can be charged with nothing else but resisting arrest – meaning that there only crime was resisting arrest. This makes little sense. In essence, there was no reason to arrest them, but since they resisted their wrongful arrest, they are now criminals.
The California Penal Code (§148) defines Resisting/Delaying/Obstructing an Officer or Emergency Medical Technician as follows:
“Every 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….”
This law is somewhat vague, and assumes that officers “in the discharge or attempt to discharge” their duty are always doing the right thing. Herein lies the problem. 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.
An interesting case is that of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Officer who stopped an ambulance transporting a patient because the ambulance driver did not yield for the officer (see video here). The officer pulled the ambulance over, and when the paramedic tried to explain the emergency situation, the officer went into a rage and assaulted the paramedic. The officer was given 5 days suspension without pay (see article here).
In California, this officer ironically would have fit the definition of “resisting arrest” because he was delaying a medical technician in the course of his duties. Strangely enough, in California, the medical technician would have also been “resisting arrest” because he was delaying or obstructing an officer from the performance of those duties. This completely absurd result only highlights one of the many problems with this law and its underlying assumption that a certain class of people (emergency personnel, police, firefighters) are always doing the right thing.
It is unfortunate that Oklahoma highway patrol did not seem to have too much a problem with their officer assaulting paramedics – a 5 day suspension seems like a very light punishment. Most people who assault someone in the course of the job are probably fired.
However, it is fortunate in Oklahoma that the state still recognizes the right to resist unlawful arrest. Years ago, almost every state recognized this right. Today, only a minority do. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming recognize the right of an individual to fight off unlawful arrest (see here).
California, in erasing such an important individual liberty, is now seeing the effects of this foolish law. One recent study of the San Jose Police Department found that more than a dozen San Jose officers were repeatedly using force in resisting arrest cases (see more here).
In the course of one year, Officer John Marfia committed many acts of aggression against civilians. He knocked Camille Monet Fisher to the floor, ground her face into the asphalt, and caused a miscarriage. Marfia later struck Carlos Duran in the chest, knocked him down, and pinned his head to the ground. In the same year, Marfia pulled Hai Tran to the ground and punched a bystander who Marfia alleged was trying to intervene. All three of these people were booked only on charges of “resisting arrest.”
All three of these people prevailed in the charges against them, but Marfia saw no discipline. Instead, he was promoted. People who filed complaints to the departments Internal Affairs division were ignored (is that any surprise? What do you think an “internal” investigation is?).
Another Officer Ordaz has been implicated in several excessive force cases in connection with resisting arrest charges also. Ordaz alleged that Bennett Walden charged at him with a clenched fist, and that Ordaz had to knock him down and strike him repeatedly with a baton as a result. Walden produced two witnesses that supported his version of the story, that the attack was unprovoked.
The study found that one Officer Marin had used a taser three times in the first two months she was given a taser. A few months after that, she shocked a teenager with a taser.
The study, and sometimes the justice system, has found all these officers to have used excessive force and wrongfully arrested innocent citizens. However, while the citizens had to pay for lawyers, go through the legal system, and suffer physical injuries, these officers have met little if any discipline.
Those who do not have the resources to hire a good lawyer undoubtedly receive a far worse outcome. Resisting arrest is a law that defaults to assuming that the citizen is a criminal, since anyone can be arrested for anything, whether lawful or not. It allows police officers to arrest people for absolutely no justification. The determination of right and wrong lies completely with the police. The law justifies and perpetuates arbitrary arrests, since police who do so suffer no punishment.
The result is that the citizen is actually guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around as our legal system purports to operate.