Citizens in the United States are compelled to allow police officers to arrest them in most cases. If they do not, either with a physical struggle or by fleeing from the officers, they can be charged with resisting arrest. In many situations, it does not matter if the officer has a warrant to make the arrest -– thereby allowing officers to arrest those they think are in the middle of carrying out active crimes. If the person tries to keep from being arrested or successfully evades it and is then arrested later, he or she could face these additional charges.
The penalties for this vary a bit from one state to the next, as they are established by the state governments. In Virginia, for example, doing this could bring about charges that qualify as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
To keep things clear, even at the most basic level, the code in Virginia also describes when individuals should not resist arrest and what constitutes an arrest. They should not resist arrest if a police officer:
- Is using physical force to arrest them.
- Tells them that they are going to be arrested, typically in a verbal fashion.
- Has been given the legal power to make such an arrest.
- Informs the person or persons that they are not free to leave.
Understanding Every Situation
For this reason, it is often wise to be very clear with the police if unsure of what you are legally allowed to do. If they are questioning you in any setting, for instance, you may want to ask if you are free to leave before walking or driving away. Most of the time, it will be clear whether you are free to leave, but you certainly do not want to accidentally bring about charges simply because you think you are allowed to go when an officer believes that you are not. When in doubt, simply ask if you are free to go, and the officer is obligated to tell you.
Arrests of Innocent People?
As you can imagine, those who are being arrested for crimes that they did not commit are often unsure what they should do. They know that the officer has no reason to take them in, that they did not do what they are accused of doing, but they do not want to resist arrest and be charged as such.
If you find yourself in this situation, it is best to simply allow the arrest to take place, knowing that things are going to work out in the end, given the proper time and legal maneuvering. After all, the laws are set up to protect you and your rights. The officers need to have probable cause to arrest you, for example, and you can be released if you show that they did not. At the same time, you must be considered innocent until the authorities prove otherwise. If you know you are innocent, do not risk charges for resisting arrest. Instead, allow the officers to bring you in and then take the time to legally fight the charges, knowing that they cannot prove that you did anything wrong. Trust in your own innocence and in the system.
Arrests and Convictions
The penalties for resisting arrest can be steep, and may involve both jail time and fines. Of course, these penalties can be put on top of another sentence if you are convicted, but you always want to remember that a conviction and an arrest are two very different things. No matter how frustrated you feel by the confusion, go along with the arrest so that it is easier to shake the conviction.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.
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