Most people are aware that it is against the law to obstruct a law enforcement officer from arresting you or another person. However, it's vital to note that California's resisting arrest rules apply to a variety of other scenarios as well. For instance, interfering with peace officers while they're carrying out their professional duties is illegal. Additionally, it is illegal to obstruct a law enforcement officer as he or she approaches a crime scene.

According to California law, resisting arrest is classified as a misdemeanor offense that attracts a jail sentence of up to one year and hefty cash fines. The state's definition of resisting arrest is quite broad, and zealous district attorneys have been known to prosecute individuals for resisting arrest in circumstances when it does not really apply. If you or a loved one is facing charges of resisting arrest, it is critical that you consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Attorney Ann Gottesman offers compassionate and zealous criminal defense representation for individuals facing allegations of resisting arrest in the Pasadena and Los Angeles area courts.

Understanding Resisting Arrest Under California Law

According to California PC 148, it's a crime to deliberately or intentionally hinder, resist, or impede an EMT or a peace officer from executing or performing his or her legal duties. The legal obligations in question cover practically all aspects of the official's job, not only the act of arresting someone. Resisting arrest is a distinct offense with separate consequences upon conviction. It is important to understand that you don't have to be convicted of the underlying offense to be found guilty of resisting arrest. Even if you're not guilty of the offense for which you were initially detained and then arrested, the prosecutor can still charge you with resisting arrest even when there is no other crime involved. This implies that it's illegal for a person to resist arrest for a crime he or she did not commit!  For example, if John is detained walking home from the store because an officer believed he matched the description of a robber who just victimized a nearby store teller, John could be charged with resisting arrest if he delayed or obstructed the officer during the arrest even if John was completely innocent of the underlying crime of robbery.  In other words, innocent people must still allow an officer to arrest him or her despite knowing that they are innocent of the charge for which the officer initially detained them.

However, police officers are barred from applying excessive force in response to an accused delaying, obstructing, or resisting an arrest or investigation. Cases of law enforcement officers using unwarranted force on individuals resisting arrest have lately been on the rise, leading to death or serious injuries to the individual resisting arrest.

Elements of Resisting Arrest

According to California Penal Code section 148 (a)(1),

“Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, 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.”  (California PC 148.)

To prove that the defendant violated the provisions of California PC 148, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond any reasonable doubt:

The Victim Was a Peace Officer, an EMT, or a Public Official Who Was Lawfully Carrying Out or Attempting To Carry Out Their Legal Obligations

The prosecution must demonstrate to the court or a jury that the law enforcement officer was carrying out or attempting to perform a job-related official obligation.  If the law enforcement officer was doing something beyond the scope of his or her employment, the detention would be considered illegal. This implies that you can fight to resist arrest charges filed against you for resisting an arrest. Remember that law enforcement officers are only capable of executing legal duties if they apply reasonable force during arrests. If the amount of force used exceeds what is deemed reasonable, then it becomes excessive, and the law enforcement officer is no longer executing a legal duty. Therefore, if unnecessary force was applied during the arrest, you could be able to challenge this factor.

The Perpetrator Purposefully Fought Back, Thwarted, or Obstructed The Execution of Legal Responsibilities

The important terms in this part are "intention" and "consciousness." You don't have to be aware that your actions are unlawful to be convicted. If your conduct was intentional, you could face resisting arrest charges. However, if you mistakenly engage yourself in a way that prevents a police officer from carrying out his or her legal responsibilities, you're not guilty of these allegations.

It is worth noting that terms like delay, obstruct, or resist may sound unclear. Due to this, it's the responsibility of the prosecution to prove that the defendant's actions amounted to resisting, delaying, or obstructing arrest. Prosecutors must demonstrate that you deliberately hid, fled, or physically attacked the arresting law enforcement officer.

You would also be found guilty if the prosecution can prove physical compliance but you offered a false identity during the arrest process. Similarly, third parties who have not perpetrated any crime could be convicted of resisting arrest if the law enforcement officer believes their action, such as talking to the accused person, is slowing the arrest the law enforcer is attempting to make.

Third parties would also face conviction of resisting arrest if they jeer, swear, or utter anything that endangers the arresting officer. If the comments made pose no threatening acts of violence against the public officer or EMT, the actions won't be considered resisting arrest.

The Defendant Was Aware Of or Should Have Been Aware of The Victim's Official Duties

The prosecutor must also prove that you knew or ought to have known that the law enforcement officer was executing official duties. However, the court or a jury will ultimately decide whether or not you were aware the officer was carrying out their legal obligations. For instance, if you're driving while on the phone and fail to see that a law enforcement officer has been chasing behind you for 15 minutes with his lights flashing and sirens blaring, the judge or jury could still find you guilty of resisting or delaying an arrest even though you were unaware of the officer's pursuit. The court or jury could determine that a reasonable driver would have heard and seen the sirens and stopped if he or she was placed under the same conditions as the accused.

It's important to note that California PC 148 does not just apply to defiant actions during an arrest. Any obstruction of an officer's execution of their duties constitutes resisting arrest. You violate California's PC 148 if you obstruct authorities from questioning a witness, impede police officers' access to the crime scene, or try to block officers' investigation of a perpetrator. A defendant is subject to charges of violating California PC 148 if he or she perpetrates any of the actions described in this law that obstruct, resist, or delay. Additionally, with the introduction of smartphones, individuals often record police officers whenever they make an arrest, especially if there's a brawl involved. Officers have no authority to detain you if you're in the required location or a public setting when recording an arrest. However, if you're recording the footage in a place where you have no legal authority to be, you risk being charged under Penal Code section 148 with and serving a penalty for obstructing or delaying an arrest.

Consequences for Resisting Arrest Under California PC 148, a misdemeanor

Resisting arrest is punished as a misdemeanor offense, and if convicted, you would face the following penalties:

  • No more than a year in jail
  • Court fines of up to $1,000

The court could also issue summary probation instead of a jail term. However, bear in mind that a probation sentence is subject to several restrictions. If you break these probation requirements, the judge could revoke your probation and order you to complete you’re a sentence that may include community labor or custody time.

Legal Defenses For a Resisting Arrest Charge

When you're accused of resisting arrest in Pasadena, you should contact a skilled criminal defense lawyer right away so that he or she can start building a defense for your case. The reason you need to consult with an attorney is that he or she is well-versed in these laws and therefore will work hard to avoid a conviction for a crime you did not commit, or one in which the evidence is less than beyond a reasonable doubt.   Your lawyer will advise you to not incriminate yourself (by remaining silent if asked to provide a statement by police) and will examine the specific details and nature of the case and develop the appropriate defenses. Legal arguments that could be raised for these allegations include:

  • False Allegations

A law enforcement officer could falsely accuse a defendant of resisting arrest to hide their misconduct. Other individuals will press false charges just because they dislike you or because of some other nefarious reason. Furthermore, you could face resisting arrest charges as a result of asking for justification for your detention. A police officer who believes it is disrespectful to ask for an explanation for your arrest would detain you for violating California PC 148, although this is not typically lawful.

If this occurs and you're charged with violating PC 148, your criminal defense lawyer should obtain any video or audio, such as an officer's body cam footage, as well as eyewitness comments to determine if the officer was unreasonable or if you were being wrongfully accused.  If the arresting officer is suspected of unlawfully arresting an accused, the defense lawyer can file a Pitchess motion requesting the Judge to do an in-camera hearing to see if that officer has a history of relevant citizen complaints or discipline by his employer. 

  • There Is No Probable Or Reasonable Suspicion

The Fourth Amendment mandates an arresting law enforcement officer to have a probable cause for most arrests to be legal. If an arresting officer holds a defendant without probable cause, then the arrest is illegal. An initial detention must only be conducted if an officer has reasonable suspicion.  If an officer initially stops a person without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause, then the officer was not legally engaged in his duties.  An illegal stop can result in the fruits of the evidence that is obtained afterwards to be suppressed under PC 1538.5.    

It is not that unusual for a police officer to enter a building where he or she has reason to believe there is drug activity, search the premises without a warrant to search, and then argue that they got the owner's permission once they obtained sufficient evidence. If the police officer witnesses the offense, he or she could make a legal arrest, but only with a warrant of arrest. An arrest would only be authorized if a law enforcement officer has probable cause for the grounds to arrest.

If a cautious and sober officer believes the accused is or has been involved in illegal activities, there would be probable cause to detain that person. A police officer should identify specific details (articulable facts) that lead him or her to believe the defendant was involved in a crime before his or her arrest. Similarly, an unlawful arrest implies that the facts and evidence acquired against you would be inadmissible in court. Without sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, the prosecution can be compelled to dismiss the charges or negotiate a plea bargain if they believe it would be risky to proceed to trial on the evidence remaining.

Your defense lawyer could pursue a Pitchess Motion if there is some evidence that the arresting officer participated in police misconduct. If the court grants the motion, the arresting officer’s personnel records would be ordered to be produced to the Judge for in-camera review.  If the officer has relevant records indicating he committed misconduct in the past, the Judge may allow that evidence to be presented at trial.

  • Self-Defense

The law requires law enforcement to apply reasonable force when making an arrest. Any use of excessive force is considered unlawful, and if a law enforcement officer applies excessive force during such arrests, you have the right to fight back or resist. However, there are specific guidelines on when you can legally “resist” to protect yourself.  One of these rules states that you can only use as much force as is necessary for self-defense. The second condition is that the amount of force used to defend oneself was reasonable and would have been appropriate for a sober individual in the same situation.

If appropriate, your lawyer could argue that you were defending yourself or another individual from an illegal assault by an officer. Note that the courts would not treat resisting arrest as a self-defense strategy if the law enforcement officer used excessive force in retaliation for your forceful or aggressive behavior.

  • No Willful Action

The accused can only be convicted of violating California PC 148 if his or her actions were purposeful or willful. A competent attorney can claim that you accidentally delayed, resisted, or obstructed arrest and did not resist arrest intentionally.

Important Evidence in Resisting Arrest Trials

Self-defense is often used as a defense in California PC 148 cases since an accused cannot claim it when the arrest is legal. The law enforcement officer cannot create evidence to support entering a property and performing a search if they lack probable cause to do so or make an arrest. As an accused person, it's your lawyer’s responsibility to present every piece of evidence that could show the law enforcement officer's actions during the arrest were improper (illegal). Some of the important evidence you would need for this include:

     1. The Personnel File of a Police Officer

Your lawyer can file a Pitchess Motion if there is evidence of police misconduct. If the judge grants the petition, the defense attorney would have access to records that include previous complaints made against the law enforcement officer that the Court finds relevant to the current case. If the document discloses that the police officer in question has a record of police misconduct, the courts would share the name and contact information of the individuals who filed various reports with the defense attorney.

Competent criminal defense lawyers often have detectives who carry out independent investigations in complicated cases. An investigator of this type would be hired to find the victim and determine whether or not the allegations are credible. If so, the lawyer could use this information at trial or in plea negotiations.

     2. Video Evidence

The Pasadena Police Department has outfitted its law enforcement officers with body cameras. Police vehicles are also equipped with dash cams, audio, and cameras since every incident that occurs before any arrest is essential in evaluating whether or not there was any misconduct.  If they're in the appropriate location, eyewitnesses could also use their smartphones to record videos when arrests take place. These recordings could serve as reliable proof if a law enforcement officer was abusing their authority.

     3. The Defendant and Police Testimony

The law mandates that an arresting officer prepare a police report that includes the victim's and the perpetrator's statements. The dash and body cams would reflect otherwise if the arresting officer fabricates information in the police report. Eyewitness testimony could also be used to build a compelling defense.

Resisting Arrest Trials and Negotiated Dispositions (Pleas)

A plea bargain is an arrangement between the prosecutor and the defendant in which the accused either admits guilt to the charge, or a lesser offense, in exchange for a reduced sentence.  This process is normally initiated by the accused, but occasionally the prosecutor would do it as well. If you're charged with resisting arrest, the prosecution could potentially consider plea of disturbing the peace or trespassing as an infraction.  Depending on the evidence and facts in your case, going to trial may be the best option. Other times, a negotiated plea with the prosecutor is the best course of action. Sometimes a defense attorney can work out prosecutorial or judicial diversion which results in a full dismissal of the case.

If the facts and evidence in your particular case warrant consideration of a plea bargain agreement, a good criminal defense lawyer will prepare a mitigation packet for the prosecutor which can help get the best possible outcome.  If the district attorney or prosecutor sees the accused is facing serious collateral consequences and/or there are mitigating factors in the case, this information could assist in convincing a prosecutor to offer diversion, or significantly reduce the charge or sentence.

Related Offenses

Resisting arrest is associated with several offenses. These include:

  • Resisting an Executive Officer

Resisting an executive officer is a violation under California PC 69. When you knowingly and illegally use threats or physical violence to try to stop an executive officer from carrying out their duties, or when you apply force or physical violence to stop an executive officer from carrying out their duties, then you are considered to violate California PC 69.

In this context, an executive officer includes any elected official, government prosecutor, defense lawyers, judges, and law enforcement officers. Prosecutors may charge this crime as a felony or a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor charge carries a maximum one-year jail sentence, while a felony charge carries a sentence of 16, twenty-four, or thirty-six months in jail.

  • Assault

California PC 240 defines assault as the attempt to inflict bodily harm to another person. The charge is elevated if there's a physical confrontation between the offender and the officer involved. Remember that you would still be facing assault charges even if the police officer is not hurt but you threatened him verbally and were able to execute the threat at the time. The prosecution must demonstrate the following factors to obtain a guilty verdict:

  • The defendant committed a crime that would lead to the use of force against a police officer
  • The accused understood the information that would lead a sober person to conclude that the action would be obvious or possibly lead to the use of force
  • The defendant deliberately engaged in the crime
  • When the accused reacted, he or she could use force against someone else

The maximum sentence for assault is a year in prison and a cash fine of $2,000.

  • Battery on a Peace Officer- Penal Code section 243

Battery on a peace officer could be added to or substituted for charges of resisting arrest. California PC 243  describes this crime as intentionally and illegally engaging in physical contact with a peace officer in an offensive or harmful manner while the officer is undertaking his or her official duty. When you perpetrate battery and know or ought to have known that the complainant is a public officer, an EMT, or a private officer executing legal obligations, you could be charged with violating Penal Code section 243.

Upon conviction, the offender risks facing a year behind bars and paying hefty fines of no more than $2,000. These penalties are comparable to those for assault, but if the law enforcement officer sustained serious injuries, the crime escalates to a felony punishable by no more than 4 years behind bars.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

The crime of resisting arrest can sometimes be vague in the sense that a wide range of behavior can fit into the statute.  Therefore, at times, an overzealous prosecutor could charge a person with a violation of PC 148 when the evidence is weak or when an officer unreasonably reacts to a suspect’s legal behavior.   It is important to review your case with an experienced criminal attorney who can determine the best possible defenses available.  The Law Office of Ann Gottesman is here to defend you against these charges or any other criminal charges you or a loved one may be facing in Pasadena or Los Angeles County. Call Ann at 626-710-4021 to schedule a free consultation.