Definition of Resisting Without Violence
The definition of Resisting Without Violence is contained in Section 843.02 of the Florida Statutes. The law provides as follows:
To prove a Resisting charge at trial, the prosecution must establish the following four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant resisted, obstructed, or opposed a law enforcement officer;
- At the time, the officer was engaged in the execution of legal process or the lawful execution of a legal duty;
- The officer was a person legally authorized to execute process; and
- At the time, the defendant knew that the person resisted, obstructed, or opposed was in fact an officer or other person legally authorized to execute process.
In many Florida criminal cases, Resisting an Officer Without Violence is a type of offense that is frequently tacked on by police to supplement other charges. This practice increases the likelihood of a conviction, as it forces the accused to confront multiple allegations, one of which can be proven solely through the testimony of the police officer himself.
Even seemingly minor actions by a suspect or arrestee can form the basis of a Resisting Arrest allegation in Florida. Tensing your arms while being handcuffed, not obeying verbal commands, refusing to stand up, refusing to put your hands behind your back, giving information deemed to be false or misleading, presenting invalid identification, concealing evidence, refusing to leave when required, evading police when there is reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, and inciting others to interfere with police activities can all form the basis of a Resisting Without Violence.
Even words, by themselves, can support a Resisting Officer / Arrest Without Violence charge. Florida courts have identified three scenarios under which words alone are sufficient, including where the officer in question is (1) serving process, (2) legally detaining a person, or (3) asking for assistance. State v. Legnosky, 27 So. 3d 794, 797 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010).
Obstruction and resisting charges based on words alone have also been upheld when an officer observes a crime and tries to make an arrest, but a “lookout” warns the suspect that the police are coming, thereby preventing a possible suspect’s apprehension. See Porter v. State, 582 So. 2d 41, 42 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991). Similarly, words alone can support a resisting charge when the defendant gives a police officer a false name during his arrest, because such an act is deemed to hinder the officer’s performance of his arrest duties. Caines v. State, 500 So. 2d 728, 729 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987); Legnosky, 27 So. 3d at 797.
Defenses to Resisting Without Violence
There are multiple defenses available to challenge a resisting without violence charge in Florida. First, there must be actual resistance, opposition, or obstruction. This is a factual determination left for the jury. Often, the officer’s allegations do not rise to level of resistance, or there is video or other evidence (witness testimony) contradicting the officer’s allegations.
There may also be First Amendment (free speech) issues, if the conduct of the accused is purely verbal in nature. “Resistance” may furthermore be an involuntary reaction by an accused. Placing an accused in handcuffs or taking him down to the ground can cause extreme pain, and can lead the accused to tense up or pull away. Such reflexive and unintentional actions are arguably not “resistance” or “opposition” within the meaning of the statute.
Second, even where an accused “resists” an officer, that officer must be acting pursuant to a legal duty and must do so in a lawful manner. If there is no duty in play, then the charge cannot stand. Thus, Florida courts have held that, where an officer engages a defendant in a consensual encounter (merely talking and not as part of an investigation), then the act of giving false information or identification by a defendant does not constitute Resisting Without Violence. For additional information on this topic, view our Resisting Arrest Motion to Dismiss web page.
A defendant also has a recognized right to resist an officer without violence where the officer unlawfully arrests or detains the defendant. This often occurs in situations where Jacksonville police confront a suspect without the requisite level of probable cause or reasonable suspicion. In E.A.B vs. State, 851 So. 2d 308 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), for example, a police officer approached a defendant at a gas station and, without reasonable suspicion, began questioning the defendant about recent vehicle thefts in the area. The defendant then ran away. The court overturned the conviction, holding that the officer had insufficient suspicion to justify the defendant’s detention.
The manner in which the officer executes his duties can provide additional defenses to a charge resisting without violence. For example, did the officer tell the accused why he or she was under arrest? Section 901.17, Florida Statutes, requires a police officer to inform a suspect of the reason for an arrest at the time the arrest occurs. While a failure to advise of the reason does not, by itself, render the arrest illegal, it can be a factor used to explain to a jury why a defendant’s conduct was lawful and reasonable (and therefore not a form of resistance). In Albury v. State, 910 So. 2d 930 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005), the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s decision to disallow a jury instruction concerning the officer’s obligation to inform the defendant of the reasons for an arrest. The Court held that the instruction was a proper way of explaining to the jury why the defendant’s questioning of the officer (as to why he was being arrested) was not a form of resistance, but a form of lawful inquiry.
Excessive force is another defense that may be used in the context of a resisting charge. Although a simple arrest, whether lawful or unlawful, may never be resisted with violence, any excessive force accompanying such an arrest may be defended against. Thus, the tensing of one’s arms, the turning away from officers, or even taking flight can, in limited circumstances, be justified if the facts show that the officer acted with a level of force that was inappropriate. In such cases, a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on excessive force and/or self-defense (the use of non-deadly force), and can even cross-examine the officer regarding prior complaints of excessive force. Thus, an officer’s arrest history is fair game if relevant to an excessive force or self-defense claim.
Finally, an accused must be aware that the arresting officer is in fact an officer of the law. This is often an issue in situations where the officer is off duty or is acting undercover. It can also become an issue where there is a crowd, or a physical altercation involving multiple parties. An accused may think someone is attacking him from behind, or may resist an officer before becoming aware that an officer has intervened.
If you have been arrested for Resisting Without Violence in Jacksonville, Duval County, Clay County, Nassau County, or the surrounding areas of Northeast Florida, contact Hussein & Webber, PL to discuss your legal options. Our Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys offer free consultations to all prospective clients.