Resisting arrest is a crime in New Jersey. If you are convicted of resisting arrest, you will have a criminal record that can negatively impact your ability to find a job or buy property. If you are accused of a resisting arrest, your wisest course of action is to seek the services of a skilled criminal defense lawyer who will work aggressively to have the charges reduced or dismissed. This can mean the difference between a bright future and being denied many opportunities that you otherwise would have enjoyed.
Why Do Individuals Resist Arrest?
Law enforcement officers must follow specific protocol when confronting an individual while on duty, which includes announcing their intentions. When an officer indicates that they intend to arrest someone, that individual has an obligation to cooperate. However, individuals may feel the need to resist for several reasons, including the following:
- They believe they have done nothing wrong and/or the officer has the wrong person
- They believe the officer is using excessive force or unnecessarily harsh tactics
- They know they are guilty, and they want to avoid arrest
- They misunderstood the officer’s intentions, perhaps because they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs
It is important to note that police officers can be acting lawfully even when arresting the wrong person. As a result, it is illegal for a person to resist arrest, even if they have done nothing wrong. It is important to refrain from giving into your natural inclination to run away or argue with the officer. Raising your voice and shouting threats may easily be construed as resisting arrest, even if you do not run away or physically struggle.
New Jersey Laws Governing Resisting Arrest
Laws governing resisting arrest vary by state. In New Jersey, Section 2C:29-2 describes four levels of severity of this crime, listed from least to most egregious:
Disorderly persons. An individual may be charged with disorderly conduct if they attempted to prevent or purposely prevented a law enforcement officer from carrying through with an arrest. The penalty for this offense is up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.00.
Fourth degree. If the individual attempted to flee the scene and created a risk of injury to the police officer, the crime may be upgraded to the fourth degree. This is considered an indictable felony in New Jersey; as a result, it will be handled in New Jersey Superior Court. The penalty is up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Third degree. There are three ways in which resisting arrest can be considered a crime of the third degree:
- The person used or threatened to use physical force or violence against the law enforcement officer or another.
- The person caused physical injury to the officer or someone else.
- The person knowingly fled using a motor vehicle after the officer made it known that they wanted the person to bring the vehicle or vessel to a stop. This crime carries a penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $15,000.00.
Second degree. If the person created a risk of death or injury to any person when they were attempting to flee, they may be convicted of a crime in the second degree. This penalty adds suspension of the individual’s driver’s license.
Defending a Charge of Resisting Arrest
In many situations, there is no clear legal standard for determining whether an individual actually resisted arrest. Law enforcement officers may be using subjective judgment in determining that an individual was not immediately obeying their orders. Other issues to consider when defending the charge include the following:
- Use of excessive force. Although police officers are entitled to use force to subdue a suspect and accomplish an arrest, there are instances in which officers have acted violently when there was no need to do so. To successfully defend against the charge of resisting arrest, the individual being arrested must not have acted violently unless the officer did so first.
- Lack of harm. The severity of the crime often hinges upon whether the suspect created a risk of injury to the officer. This can be difficult to determine if the attempted arrest was not captured on video.
- Factual error. This is a difficult defense to mount, as the defendant is saying that the officer’s account of the incident is not true.
In any defense, the person charged with resisting arrest will have a stronger case if they can show that they exercised self-restraint and used force necessary only because the officer was acting unreasonably.
Proving the Charges of Resisting Arrest
There is a wide range of behaviors that may be characterized as resisting arrest. Refusing to answer an officer’s questions or disagreeing with an officer in a non-threatening manner will likely not be viewed as resisting arrest. However, verbal threats of harm and physically assaulting an officer are most likely indictable. There are, however, many gray areas. Did the officers make their intentions clear? Is there a possibility of police misconduct? These are some questions that an experienced criminal defense lawyer may ask when building a strategy for defending against charges of resisting arrest.
In situations of resisting arrest, gray areas abound. In the case of State v. Stampone, 341 N.J. Super. 247 (App.Div.2001), a man was charged with a disorderly persons offense for failing to show his driver’s license to a police officer. The man had parked his car in a nice residential neighborhood; his car had an out-of-state license plate. An officer approached him and questioned why the man was there. The man said he was waiting for his girlfriend to arrive home. The officer asked the man to produce his driver’s license, but the man said it was in the trunk of the car. It happened to be raining, and the man was reluctant to get the license. When he did, the man returned to his car with an envelope, closed the door, and reached over to the passenger side.
The officer opened the door and positioned his body next to the car. The man then shut the door on the police officer’s legs. The officer reopened the door and pulled the man by his arm; the man cursed at the officer but then gave him the envelope with his driver’s license. The officer ran a check on the license; all was in order. The man’s girlfriend arrived home and identified the man as her boyfriend. The man then said he wanted an ambulance because his shoulder hurt. When the ambulance arrived, the officer arrested him for disorderly conduct and failure to produce a driver’s license.
In this situation, both parties contributed to the ultimate outcome; the police officer overreacted, and the individual aggravated the situation by being rude to the officer. The first time that the court tried this case, the defendant was convicted. However, the defendant appealed; in the end, the defendant’s convictions were reversed, and the charges were dismissed.
Defending Charges of Resisting Arrest
Cases involving resisting arrest in New Jersey require a determined and thorough attorney to craft a winning defense strategy. Facts may be in dispute, and both parties may have contributed to the eventual outcome. Often, tempers flare and angry words are exchanged. It is not always clear-cut what is excessive force. Our criminal defense attorneys have experience defending clients in cases in which the facts may be in dispute and/or intentions of both parties may be interpreted in different ways. When we prepare a defense, we anticipate the arguments that prosecutors may make. This aids us in building a strategy for winning in the courtroom.
Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Aggressively Defend Individuals Charged with Resisting Arrest in New Jersey
A successful defense against charges of resisting arrest requires meticulous investigation to prove the difference between innocence and guilt. The Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law are relentless in crafting a winning defense strategy for each client they represent. If you are facing criminal charges, call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation.
Centrally located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.