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Resisting Arrest Laws in California - Penal Code 148 PC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Aug 24, 2022

As is the case in most states, it is a crime in California to resist arrest. However, the "resisting arrest" law (Penal Code 148 PC) is broadly written to include many other behaviors that constitute a criminal offense. Put simply, it's a crime to impede or delay any public/peace officer or EMT from executing their official duties.

Penal Code 148(a) describes resisting arrest as any criminal conduct that resists, delays, or obstructs any peace officer in the course of their official duties.

Resisting Arrest Laws in California - Penal Code 148 PC
Penal Code 148 PC makes it a crime to willfully resist a police officer while performing their duties.

Generally, a resisting arrest takes two forms: running away and a physical confrontation with law enforcement to prevent them from handcuffing or taking you away from the scene.

There is a rare set of circumstances where physically resisting police while attempting to execute an arrest will be excused by courts. A few include that the arresting officer was acting unlawfully, and the arrest did not fall within the performance of their job duties. 

A police officer can arrest somebody based on probable cause, but a conviction in criminal court will require proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  Readers should note that even if someone is acquitted of the underlying criminal charges, they could still be guilty of PC 148 resisting arrest if their arrest was supported by probable cause.

California Penal Code 148(a)(1) resisting arrest is the misdemeanor form of Penal Code 69 that is a “wobbler” that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony and is violated when you obstruct law enforcement who are performing their duties. 

If you are found guilty of this crime, you could face up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $1000. Our California criminal defense lawyers will look at these laws below.

Overview of Penal Code 148 PC

PC 148 is commonly referred to as "resisting arrest" because that is the most common offense covered by the law itself. However, according to the text of the law, you are guilty of this crime if you "willfully resist, delay, or obstruct any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment."

In other words, any willful act of obstruction, delay, or resistance against these officials, regardless of the purpose, can be construed as a violation of PC 148 and charged as a crime.

Under this broad definition, any of the following actions could result in criminal charges under the "resisting arrest" law:

  • Struggling with an officer who is attempting to apply handcuffs,
  • Interfering with an EMT or paramedic who is trying to help an accident victim,
  • Trying to prevent an officer from entering your home or business while executing a valid warrant,
  • Pulling away from an officer who is trying to escort you out of a building,
  • Giving a fake name or false information to police who are questioning you (a form of obstruction),
  • Taunting police who are attempting to bring order to a protest,
  • Slashing a police car's tires to prevent them from pursuing a suspect,
  • Attempting to distract an officer who is guarding a suspect,
  • Standing in the way of an EMT attempting to reach the scene of an accident.
  • Disrupt or interfere with communications over a public safety radio frequency (e.g., police or EMT radio); or
  • Remove a weapon from a public/peace officer's possession while performing their duties.

What Are Some Closely Related Charges?

Penal Code 241(c) PC defines the related crime of assault on a peace officer, which is different from a battery charge because no physical contact needs to occur.

Penal Code 69 PC – resisting an executive officer
A conviction for PC 148 resisting arrest carries up to one year in county jail and fine up to $1,000.

Instead, a perpetrator has to merely possess the present ability to use force against a police officer and take some action that probably results in applying force to the peace officer. 

An example includes throwing a bottle at a police officer but missing. This statute is a misdemeanor that can result in a year in the county jail.

When the application of force succeeds, the perpetrator can be charged with California Penal Code 243(b) or 243(c)(2) PC battery on a peace officer. The difference between the two battery statutes is whether or not an injury occurred requiring medical treatment. 

If there are no injuries, Section 243(b) is usually charged, and it's a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in the county jail. 

If there were injuries, Section 243(c)(2) imposes felony penalties for 16 months, two years, or three years in a California state prison.  Other related crimes include:

What Are the Legal Penalties for Resisting Arrest?

Violating PC 148 is a misdemeanor offense in California. The maximum penalties for this crime are:

  • up to one year in county jail; and
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

However, the judge has the latitude to impose summary probation as an alternative punishment to jail time, considering the circumstances behind the offense.

What Are the Common Defenses to Resisting Arrest?

To procure a conviction under PC 148, prosecutors must prove three elements:

  • You acted "willfully" in delaying, obstructing, or resisting the officer or EMT (in other words, you did it on purpose);
  • The interference occurred while the officer was attempting to perform their official duties; and
  • You were aware (or should have been aware) that the official was performing their duties.

If prosecutors cannot establish these three elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you cannot be convicted of the crime. Thus, most legal defenses will focus on attacking one of these elements. Specific defenses are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that your actions were not willful. In other words, you did not mean to interfere with the officer or were unaware that your actions were obstructing them.

For example, perhaps you tried to pull your hands away from the officer trying to arrest you because you dropped something on the ground and instinctively tried to pick it up—or you were unaware you were standing in the way of the EMT trying to get to a victim.

Defenses for Resisting Arrest Charges
Contact our criminal lawyers for a case review.

Perhaps you were unaware that the person was an officer or that they were performing their duties. For example, the arresting officer was an undercover cop who failed to show you their identification.

Perhaps we can argue there was no actual interference with the officer's duties. (E.g., you verbally disagreed with them but took no action to obstruct them).

Perhaps we could make an argument that you were defending yourself. For example, the officer was aggressive or using excessive force, and you resisted impulsively because you feared for your safety.

Perhaps we can argue there was no probable cause. An officer must have probable cause to arrest you. Suppose an officer arrests you on the grounds of resisting arrest, and there is no probable cause. In that case, any evidence gathered is inadmissible, which may result in the dismissal of the charges.

Through prefiling intervention, we might be able to negotiate with law enforcement and the prosecutor to avoid the filing of formal criminal charges before court. (DA reject). Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California. You can contact us for a case evaluation by phone or contact form.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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