Obstruction Of Justice? Resisting Arrest? How The Police Are Using These Charges And What You Can Do

Posted on: 20 July 2016

Do the police misuse "catch-all" charges like resisting arrest and obstruction of justice against protesters? A lot of people think so. If there's any possibility that you'll be interacting with police in the near future at a protest, convention, or even a traffic stop, you need to understand how the police use these charges and what can happen next.

How are the police using obstruction of justice and resisting arrest charges?

Obstruction of justice is just about any act that hinders the police—which means that it covers anything from threatening a witness and destroying evidence to running away after the police tell you to stop. Resisting arrest is trying to hinder a police officer from making a lawful arrest. That can include something like stepping into an officer's path as they make a motion to arrest someone else or going limp in the officer's arms and refusing to walk to the police car when you're arrested.

Some people feel that the police use these charges nearly interchangeably at times, as a way to exert their authority and maintain their status. In some cases, police may feel the need to press a charge in order to show that they are in control of a situation and intimidate others into towing the line of authority. In other cases, officers are alleged to use the charges to justify their own aggressive actions and acts of excessive force.

What happens if you're charged with either of these crimes?

In many cases, evidence from eyewitnesses, cell phone recordings from bystanders, dash cam evidence from police cars, and even body cam evidence from the police themselves may come into play. They can often corroborate a defendant's story that he or she wasn't actually obstructing justice or resisting arrest.

If you're arrested as part of a generally peaceful protest, you may find the charges quickly dropped once your attorney and the prosecutor get involved. While the police can make the arrest fairly easily, charges can be harder to prove in court. Prosecutors know this—which is why, for example, around 100 of the protesters recently arrested in Baton Rouge were released after being arrested on such charges.

You also have several possible defenses to either charge:

  • the officer's order wasn't lawful
  • the officer never ordered you to stop, move out of the way, or whatever you are accused of doing
  • the officer was in plain clothes and never identified himself or herself as an officer of the law
  • you didn't have time to react to the officer's commands before you were arrested

It's also possible to assert a claim of self-defense. For example, if you reached out to protect yourself because you thought the officer was going to strike you with his or her baton and shoved the officer out of the way, you may be able to show that you weren't trying to resist arrest or obstruct justice. In cases where there is no physical evidence, the charge may rely entirely on the officer's word against yours, so you may be able to convince a jury of your sincerity.

Click here for more info about how to deal with charges of resisting arrest or obstruction of justice.