Resisting Arrest 101

Thousands of people are charged with resisting a public officer every year. North Carolina’s law relating to resisting arrest is pretty broad. According to NCGS § 14-233, “[i]f any person shall willfully and unlawfully resist, delay or obstruct a public officer in discharging or attempting to discharge a duty of his office, he shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail. Moreover, any conduct that obstructs or delays an officer in the discharge of his or her duties also falls within the meaning of the statute.

To support a conviction of resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer in the performance of his or her duties, the state only needs to prove that a defendant acted willfully in obstructing or interfering with the officer. According to the North Carolina Supreme Court, a person interferes with an officer when he or she “check[s] or hamper[s] the action of the officer, or [does] something which hinders or prevents or tends to prevent the performance of his legal duty.” The North Carolina Supreme Court also defined ‘obstruct’ as “direct or indirect opposition or resistance to the lawful discharge of his official duty.”

Verbal communications can be considered resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer

Actual physical force or assault is not necessary to support a conviction of resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer. Furthermore, according to the holding in State v. Singletary, words alone may be enough to violate the statute.

Is asserting your rights considered resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer?

Under the holding set forth in State v. Cornell, a citizen may not be arrested for resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer “when merely remonstrating [or protesting] with an officer or criticizing or questioning an officer while he is performing his duty when done in an orderly manner.” Additionally, communications intended merely to assert rights, clarify a misunderstanding, or gain information in a peaceable and orderly manner, are not banned by the statute

Defense to a charge of resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer

Under North Carolina law, a person has the right to resist an unlawful arrest.  Keep in mind that even though a person has the right to resist an unlawful arrest by the use of force, a person resisting an unlawful arrest by force may use only such force as reasonably appears to be necessary to prevent the unlawful restraint of his or her liberty.

For example, in State v. Branch, a police officer pulled over a man in a high crime area and asked for his license and registration.  Once a check of the man’s information came back okay, the police officer asked for the man’s consent to search his vehicle. The man then refused and the police officer informed the man that he would call for a canine unit. After a few moments the man sped off while the police officer’s hand was inside of the man’s vehicle. The man stopped his car after driving approximately 800 feet. The police then searched his vehicle and found marijuana.

At the man’s hearing to suppress the evidence of marijuana, the trial court found that the officers “had no lawful authority to try to detain the vehicle and the defendant at the scene,” because they lacked sufficient evidence “to create a reasonable and articulable suspicion” that Defendant was engaged in criminal activity after finding that Defendant’s license and registration were in order. However, although the trial court noted that Defendant had the right to “use reasonable force to resist an unlawful detention,” the trial court also found that “a reasonable person should have known that accelerating rapidly while the officer was reaching inside your vehicle would jeopardize the officer’s safety and indeed his life.”

Accordingly, the trial court concluded that the defendant had “reacted with more force than was reasonably permitted to resist the unlawful detention by the officers.” Moreover, the court found that the officers had probable cause to arrest the defendant for assault, and the later search of his vehicle was lawful pursuant to that arrest. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress, and the defendant then pled guilty to possession of marijuana and assault on a government officer. On appeal, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld this decision.

In conclusion, North Carolina’s resisting arrest law is broad and a person can be found in violation through both verbal and non-verbal conduct. Additionally, a person has the right to resist an unlawful arrest, but that person’s resistance must be reasonable under the circumstances. Speaking and acting in an orderly fashion while interacting with public officers are the best ways to avoid being charged and arrested for resisting arrest. Learn Your Rights 101.

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