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The Risks Associated with Offering Resistance in a Police Encounter

The recent tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor in our nation have sparked significant controversy about a spectrum of issues, touching upon law enforcement practices and procedures and basic civil rights and human rights issues. These horrific events have resulted in the staunch criticism and scrutiny of our criminal justice system and the very foundation of our nation’s institutions of government.

A natural reaction to these tragic events is for members of our society to act with suspicion and, perhaps even hostility, when encountering members of law enforcement or other individuals exercising public authority. However, there are many good reasons to exercise caution and prudence in such situations, particularly in cases involving police encounters, with the potential for rapid and violent escalation. The current social climate arising from these violent episodes has created a particularly dangerous environment for police officers and law enforcement officials who are highly sensitized to the public perception of their purported incompetent, or even malicious, handling of police procedures, as community relations with police and the public trust in government institutions continue to erode and are strained to the limit, which place such law enforcement officers in a “high-alert,” unduly defensive posture.

When facing a police encounter, individuals should be especially aware of the risks of engaging in behavior that may be perceived as undue resistance or that demonstrate lack of compliance. As the aforementioned news events illustrate, police encounters are inherently dangerous and subject to frequent misperception and ambiguity that may cause rapid and fatal escalation to both law enforcement officers and civilians. Further, there is an ever-greater risk of individual harm to a police officer in a police encounter, which may result in the individual facing criminal charges for assault. Moreover, resisting arrest may itself result in criminal sanctions, namely a second-degree misdemeanor.

As an alternative to this course of action, there are other methods of civil redress available to individuals potentially harmed by police misconduct. Members of the public should be informed of their legal recourse through the formal agency grievance procedure through individual police departments or to civil remedies in the legal system as a method of vindicating their civil rights in situations of possible police misconduct, such as unreasonable search or seizure or use of excessive force or violence. And in the pursuit of such remedies, individuals should also be made aware of the risks that their individual conduct during such police encounters may affect the outcome of their civil claims. For instance, a citizen who behaves aggressively during a police encounter, whether reasonably provoked or otherwise, may be perceived as guilty of conduct warranting additional forceful measures by police.

Ultimately, the best course of action in such scenarios is to act as calm and peaceably as possible, exercising extreme prudence and restraint. This will ensure the best possibility for a safe resolution of the matter, as well as optimize the chances for the most favorable outcome for all parties involved.

If you or your loved one have been encountered by the police and subjected to arrest, the attorneys at Tanner Law Offices can assist you. Please contact our office at 717-836-0471 to schedule a consultation to discuss the specifics of your case.