What are the Penalties for Resisting Arrest in New Jersey?
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What are the Penalties for Resisting Arrest in New Jersey?

Posted on: March 1, 2021

Every law enforcement officer and citizen hope an arrest goes smoothly and safely. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. Police must follow certain protocols when making arrest. And civilians must comply and with officer requests if they are arrested. These laws exist for a reason: to keep everyone safe and protect civilian rights. Therefore, what happens when the person being arrested does not cooperate? Someone who has been charged with resisting arrest, a serious crime in New Jersey, should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for assistance.

What Does it Mean to Resist Arrest?

It is more common than one might think to be charged with resisting arrest, but knowing the law and one’s rights can help expose an arrest without cause. Resisting arrest, or obstruction, happens when the person being charged interferes in some way with a law enforcement officer’s effort to make the arrest. Resistance ranges from not allowing the officer to place the handcuffs on to physically assaulting the officer or attempting to flee the scene altogether.

The Problem of Unlawful Arrests

A quick online scan of recent news alerts turns up a long list of unlawful arrest reports. Some of these incidents make national headlines and even recently sparked protests in communities across the United States. People are arrested without cause or for false testimony. Some individuals are even arrested for evidence that has been planted by law enforcement. Still others are arrested by police using excessive force that endangers their lives.

Stories of people who have been wrongly imprisoned for years, even decades, for these very reasons are all too common. It seems hard to believe these things could happen in the United States, but they do. That is why expert legal counsel is critical for anyone charged with a criminal offense.

Resisting Arrest Laws and Penalties in New Jersey

Under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2, a person cannot stop a police officer from making an arrest, even if the person believes it to be unlawful. In New Jersey, resisting arrest is a disorderly persons offense with penalties that vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the arrest.

Resisting arrest without flight. The person attempts to interfere with the arrest but does not leave the scene. This is a disorderly persons offense, possibly punishable by six months in jail.

Resisting arrest with flight. Considered a fourth-degree crime, the person attempts to stop an arrest by fleeing the scene. This is possibly punishable by up to 18 months in jail.

Eluding arrest. New Jersey Statute N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b is a related law that addresses eluding arrest. A person signaled to stop but keeps on driving to escape the police can be charged with eluding an officer. Eluding an officer is a third-degree crime in New Jersey if the incident involves the following:

  • The threat or use of physical violence against a law enforcement officer or other person
  • Any effort to create a significant risk of physical injury to a public servant or other person
  • A person who knowingly attempts to flee in a vehicle after an officer has signaled them to come to a full stop

A third-degree eluding an officer offense is punishable by up to five years in jail. Eluding an officer becomes a second-degree crime if a person’s attempt to flee the scene creates a risk of serious injury or death to any person. Third-degree eluding is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Beyond jail time, penalties for all offenses can include fines, restitution, license suspension, and probation. It is important to note that every person’s situation is unique, and specific penalties will vary from case to case. It is also worth mentioning that although state and federal laws refer to eluding law enforcement officers, these laws do not strictly refer to police officers. Law enforcement encompasses several other professionals who have the right to make an arrest:  

  • Prison guards
  • Park rangers
  • Correctional officers
  • Probation supervisors
  • Parole officers

The Prosecutor Must Prove Resistance

Criticizing the arrest or saying it is not fair does not constitute resistance under the law. There must be significant evidence of obstruction or resistance. It is the prosecution’s job to prove the accused person resisted arrest. Actions commonly considered indicative of resistance include the following:

  • Giving an officer a fake name or address
  • Refusing to open the windows or get out of the vehicle
  • Going limp and making the officer drag or carry the person being arrested
  • Physically struggling or attacking the law enforcement officer during the attempted arrest

Elements of the Crime of Resisting Arrest

Proving the defendant resisted arrest is just one piece of the puzzle. Other elements need to be shown for a crime to be committed:

  • The defendant knew or should have known the individual they resisted was a law enforcement officer.
  • The law enforcement officer performed their duties according to the law.
  • The defendant intentionally resisted arrest.

Possible Defenses for Resisting Arrest

Law enforcement officers are humans doing incredibly stressful work. There are times when things go wrong, and officers act outside of the law. Fortunately, every defendant has the right to due process under the law. There are several possible defenses to resisting arrest, including:

  • Lack of knowledge. Being unaware the person making the arrest was with law enforcement, perhaps because they were out of uniform or did not identify themselves as an officer.
  • Lack of intent. When the defendant’s actions were not intended to interfere with an arrest.
  • Self-defense. Resisting unnecessary, unreasonable, or excessive force, even if the arrest has legal grounds. 
  • Unlawful arrest/factual error. The arrest was unlawful for some reason, or the officer acted outside of the law during the arrest.

Laws exist to protect public servants and civilians. Without due process, both can be victimized by an unjust system. That is why effective legal representation is vital in resisting and eluding cases. If there was reasonable cause to resist arrest, an experienced lawyer can show that in court.

Can I Resist Arrest if I Believe My Arrest is Unlawful?

Generally, it is not okay to resist arrest. The only time resistance is warranted is when law enforcement officers use excessive force and when a person believes their life in in danger. The best approach is always to cooperate now and fight the charges through the legal system. Those arrested should share the details with a lawyer to help them determine if it was without cause. The lawyer’s job is to protect the client’s rights every step of the way and build the strongest case for charges to be dismissed or reduced and hold unscrupulous officers accountable.

What is the Impact of a Criminal Record?

A criminal record is an account of a person’s previous charges and convictions. It is daunting to consider that one bad decision can affect a person’s life in countless ways. A conviction can impact child custody matters, employment opportunities, housing, and the right to drive a car. And after one conviction, subsequent offenses carry stiffer penalties.

What Should I Do if I Believe I am Being Wrongfully Arrested?

Being arrested is a frightening experience, no doubt, but it is important to remain calm and collected. Those arrested should provide identification on request and never leave the scene. Arrested individuals have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer. It is always best to comply with an officer’s requests to prevent the encounter from escalating or be charged with resisting. The last thing anyone wants is a physical altercation. As soon as possible, a trusted criminal defense lawyer should be contacted for guidance.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I was Charged with Resisting Arrest?

As discussed above, any criminal offense has far-reaching implications. However, skilled legal representation can make a difference for individuals charged with resisting arrest or eluding an officer. A criminal defense lawyer will not only explain the client’s rights but also explore all legal means available to present an effective defense and possibly have the charges reduced or cleared altogether. There are no guarantees when facing resisting arrest charges, but good legal counsel can help achieve the best possible outcome for the client.

Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Clients Charged with Resisting Arrest in New Jersey

If you were charged with resisting arrest, know that help is available. You do not have to navigate the legal system alone. The Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law passionately believe in every person’s right to due process under the law. Our job is to provide the most effective defense possible to achieve a good outcome based on the circumstances. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York City.