California Resisting Arrest Laws

Our news cycle is filled with stories of suspects resisting arrest or failing to comply with a peace officer’s lawful commands. Oftentimes the collective consciousness of the community must grapple with the aftermath of an officer’s excessive use of force in response to a suspect resisting, obstructing, or delaying an investigation or arrest. The conversation can lead to questions about perceived racial or ethnic bias on the part of the police force and an argument over police brutality and civil rights – particularly if a suspect is harmed or killed as a result of resisting an officer. While these issues can be highly politically-charged, below we are providing a basic overview discussion of the resisting arrest laws in California.

Resisting Arrest and Resisting an Executive Officer

In California, there are actually two separate crimes that relate to resisting an officer. First there is the misdemeanor offense of resisting a lawful arrest. In order to be guilty of this crime, a person must have willfully resisted, delayed, or otherwise, obstructed a law enforcement officeror emergency medical technician (EMT) while performing or attempting to perform their duties. Another important element of resisting arrest is that the suspect must have known (or reasonably should have known) that the person they were resisting was an officer or EMT engaged in those duties. For instance, if the officer or EMT was not in uniform and/or not in a marked patrol vehicle or ambulance, it may help your defense.

In order to be guilty of the felony crime of resisting an executive officer, the person must have willfully and unlawfully attempted by threats or violence to deter or prevent an executive officer from performing a lawful duty, and used force or violence to resist an executive officer in the performance of their lawful duties. Here, the term “executive officer” can get technical. Simply put, an executive officer is a public employee who may exercise some or all of his/her own discretion in performing his/her job duties. Some examples include sworn peace officers, judges, prosecutors and public defenders, and even elected officials.

California Resisting Arrest Laws Overview

Below you will find key provisions of California’s resisting arrest laws.

Statutes

California Penal Code Section 148 (Resisting Arrest)

California Penal Code Section 69 (Resisting an Executive Officer)

Penalties

  • Resisting Arrest: Misdemeanor punishable by up to one year county jail and/or a maximum 1,000 fine
  • Resisting an Executive Officer:, Either a misdemeanor (same potential penalties as above) or felony (depending on the nature of the alleged offense) punishable by up to three years in county jail, a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both. Also called a “wobbler.”

Possible Defenses (Not an exhaustive list)

  • Lack of Intent
  • Wrongful arrest, police misconduct
  • Self defense

Related Charge

California Penal Code Section 243: (Battery on a Peace Officer): Can be charged if physical force is used against the executive officer when he/she engaged in the performance of his/her lawful duties


Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Codes and Legal Research Options

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about California’s resisting arrest laws, click on the following links:

Accused of Resisting Arrest? Get a Free Criminal Case Review

Resisting arrest can come in two forms: a misdemeanor or a felony. If you’ve been accused of either Penal Code 148 (a)(1) or Penal Code 69, you’ll want a legal advocate on your side who knows laws, understands the ‘use of force’ rule, and can help you defend your actions. If you want to learn more, start with a free case evaluation from an experienced California criminal defense attorney today.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.