Failure to Comply with a Police Officer

What is the legal definition of failing to comply with a police officer?

A.R.S. § 28-622 is the statute that covers what it means, legally speaking, to fail to comply with a police officer:

A. A person shall not wilfully fail or refuse to comply with any lawful order or direction of a police officer invested by law with authority to direct, control or regulate traffic.

B. A person who violates this section is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor.

What does it really mean to fail to comply with a police officer?

We usually see a "failure to comply with police officer" charge tacked on to other charges. Rarely do we ever encounter someone who wilfully failed to comply with a police officer. It is usually one of two situations:

1. Confusion or misunderstanding

Sometimes drivers just do not understand what a police officer is trying to communicate, or are confused by what the cop said. For example, consider a situation where an irate police officer gives a driver two conflicting and confusing commands like "keep your hands where I can see them" and "show me your license and registration". Well, which is it? Keep your hands where the officer can see them, or reach into your pocket for your wallet to get your license? Another example might be a policeman directing traffic. Sometimes it looks to me like police are just waiving their arms around. Throw in some seemingly randomly placed traffic cones, and maybe it's dark outside, and it can be difficult to understand where the police want you to drive.

Either of those situations frequently result in an irritated and annoyed cop who then adds on a "failure to comply" criminal charge to make himself feel better.

2. Failure to respect my authority

If you've seen the Southpark episode where Cartman is a police officer, then you understand this dynamic. If not, check out the video clip below. It's only 25 seconds long. A "failure to obey" charge is often the result of a police officer who feels disrespected. Most people do not intentionally disrespect police (check out this post on how to play nice during your next traffic stop, or this one about how to avoid bodily harm), but cops can still feel disrespected even if that was not your goal. Things that cause cops to feel disrespected can include:

  • Asserting your rights. This could include such outrageous behavior like invoking your right to remain silent or not consenting to a search.
  • Not doing what a cop wants immediately. For example, a police officer pulls up behind you and turns on his lights. There is no runoff or anywhere to pull over without blocking the highway, so you continue on about a half mile until you find a safe spot to pull over. This can infuriate a cop because you did not pull over immediately, even though it would have been unsafe to do so.
  • Refusing to comply with an illegal command. Cops frequently lie in an effort to coerce you into giving up your rights. This lying can include commands to do things you do not have to do. If you are knowledgeable and refuse to comply with an illegal request, this will likely make a cop angry. An example is a cop who demands that you produce your I.D. when he stops you as you are walking down the sidewalk, and your only legal obligation is to provide your name.

In short, if you make a cop feel annoyed, irritated, angered, or otherwise put-out, you may be charged with failing to respect failing to comply.

Consequences of failing to comply

The consequences of failing to respect failing to comply with a cop can be severe. If you are lucky, you will just be charged with the crime outlined above. And I'm not joking when I say that. Anytime you are forced into an interaction with a cop, you should consider yourself lucky to escape physically unharmed and still in possession of your property. If you are charged with failing to obey while driving, a cop could arrest you and impound your car. The worst case scenario is of course you get shot or killed. Cops may try to escalate a situation, but when you are engaged with a cop, you should never escalate. On the side of the road is not the place to engage in an argument with an irate cop who is carrying a gun. Comply to the best of your ability, get through the interaction safely, and then deal with the situation in court where the odds of getting shot are much lower.

How do you fight a failure to comply charge?

Appeal to a reasonable mind.

Fortunately, once the officer issues you the ticket, he's not the one who decides the outcome. Your case will be assigned to a prosecutor, and that is who we negotiate with to reach a resolution, and that is often possible. The good thing about prosecutors is they usually aren't emotionally invested in your case (whereas the cop charged you with failure to comply largely because of emotion). As described above, many failure to obey charges result from a misunderstanding or an emotionally reactive officer. Unless you wilfully disobeyed a lawful command of the police officer, odds are very good that the prosecutor will work with you. 

Take it to trial.

In the event a prosecutor is not reasonable, then the State has to prove at trial, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you wilfully disobeyed a lawful order of the police officer. Sometimes we are able to obtain things like on-body camera video from the officer, photographs of the scene, dash cam video, or other information that supports our client's version of events, i.e. that there was no wilfull failure to obey. This charge charge is properly applied to people who do things like flee from the police resulting in a high-speed pursuit. It is not meant for people who misunderstand a confusing command or who are the victim of an emotionally stunted police officer, even though that is often what happens.

Comments 17

  1. If a police officer asks me to stop recording but we’re in a public space and I’m allowed to record is that considered non-compliance? Can I be charged for asserting my rights in this situation?

  2. I was issued a failure to obey when I asked a police officer for help on where I can park. The officer said no parking and walked away so I said wait come back and he turned around and loudly said you know what license. Will this charge stand in court?

    1. Post

      Hi Kaylee,

      It is difficult to say what will happen in court, especially without knowing what the officer thinks happened. Having said that, there is often an opportunity to work something out with the prosecuting attorney to avoid the criminal charge.

  3. Does an officer have to identify the reason for arrest beyond stating there is a warrant?
    I was stopped for a traffic violation and then told there was a warrant. I was denied the right and ability to allow anyone to know where I was, which I had requested to let my family know. As a woman I was terrified because a) I never actively committed a crime and b) I was not permitted to contact family for awareness of my whereabouts. I was in fear for my personal safety and what was about to happen to me physically. What rights did I have if any under this situation?

    1. Comply. Don’t make things worse for yourself. A cop will pull you over and immediattely ask for License, Registration and Insurance. He will likely already know that your license is suspended, that you have no insurance, or that Registration is expired. They have computers. He can also see that the person registered for the vehicle has a warrant, and he wants to verify that by your license. If he feels that you are driving reckless, he will first want to make sure that you are the person registered to drive the vehicle and not a stolen vehicle that has not been reported. So, just be nice, professional and comply. These are really the people that you want to have your back if you are a lawful citizen. Don’t make the people your enemies, who can defend you and save your life from criminals. Most importantly, don’t escalate with the police. It will not end well for you. If you are nice and did an traffic infraction, they may let you off with a warning.

  4. So I’ve never been in trouble before… I live in Kansas City & the officers down here deal with a lot of serious crime. Recently, I was standing still at the top of a staircase with a skateboard by my side & an officer pulled up in a four wheeler ordering me to come to him, he sounded very aggressive and I was scared so I stood still. Next thing I know he gets off his fourwheeler and comes to where I was standing & grabs me & puts my hands behind my back and puts me in handcuffs. He tells me I failed to comply with his order but I seriously didn’t know what was going on. He finally reveals to me that the reason why he ordered me to come to him is because people are riding bird scooters on sidewalks.. but I wasn’t on a bird scooter. Now I have a court date that keeps getting pushed back and I’m so confused. He tells me he went from busting sex trafficking rings to now getting onto people for riding scooters on sidewalks.. I am very well aware I am wrong for not going to the officer when he ordered me to but honestly I was very scared and exhausted from skating for hours previously.. I wish I could go back & just go to the officer when he told me to, because I do respect officers and I have so much gratitude for their will to be on the front lines of reality…

    1. Thats a false arrest, you did nothing illegal to warrant his calling you over.

  5. Sorry my previous comment got sent before it was finished the fire department had said it was okay to reach in the front door with a flashlight and grab my keys off the hook so I could make it to work the next day the cop told me to stop and I kept walking he then grabbed me put me in handcuffs and began berating me about constitutional law degrees and all sorts of things when I asked him why I was being detained and eventually released me but would not allow me back in my home I thought the battalion chief was in charge

    1. Post

      Hi Roy, I’m sorry to hear about your home. Unfortunately, the situation you describe with the officer is not unusual. There are even many examples of police arresting firefighters because the police felt the firefighter did not respect their authority. See:
      Firefighters don’t carry guns or have the authority to arrest people, so I guess that leaves the police in charge in situations like this…

  6. My house had just caught on fire and the fire departments are putting it out and the scene was under control they were just making sure that I wasn’t going to flare back up police officer would not allow me to reach inside the front door and grab my keys off the hook even though the fire department had said it was okay and I was in grabbed and handcuffed and threatened with arrest for failure to follow an unlawful command I thought the battalion chief would be the one in charge of the scene until released

  7. I have a question maybe someone here would know. What if you are told to kneel down for arrest but you are not able to due to a injury? what if you still do everything else and put your hands behind you but just dont kneel down, Is that failure to comply?

    1. Post

      Hi Ashley, I could see the situation you describe being treated as a failure to comply. If I were in that situation, I would tell the officer that I was injured, that I cannot move my body in that way, and ask if there is something else I could do. If the officer persisted, I might try to kneel anyway so I didn’t get shot, and then sort things out afterwards once I was out of the dangerous situation.

    2. Also in that case a person can act like kneeling but actually lay flat on their belly & put hands on the ground above their head until they say behind your back. It is hard for them to shoot you if your laying flat on your belly 🙂

  8. I would absolutely love to see a massive national movement of refusal to comply with police in any matter whatsoever.

  9. I would absolutely love to see a massive national refusal to comply with police in any matter whatsoever.

  10. It’s simple . . . If a cop is arresting you and asks you to comply with the arrest, you are obligated to do so. Your failure to comply is why it is legal to throw you on the ground to complete the arrest. The arrest may not be legal, but that is a decision of the Court. You do not have to incriminate yourself, nor answer any questions.

  11. where can the definition of a lawful order be located in the statutes that is applicable in situations other than traffic control, where no crime or suspicion of a crime has occurred? OR WOULD IT BE JUST AN ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS OPINION OF THE MOMENT OF THE OFFICER?
    Do officers have an irrefutable presumption/assumption of issuing lawful orders under any circumstance? and in what statute “under circumstances not involving traffic control and absent a crime or reasonable articulable suspicion that an individual may be suspected of a crime” be located that includes a strictly defined definition of what a lawful order is?

    The Clara, 102 U.S. 200 The maxim applies; quod non apparet non est.. the fact not appearing is presumed not to exist.

    United States v. Minker, 350 US 179, just above the last paragraph of page 187
    “Because of what appears to be an official command or lawful order on the surface, many citizens, because of their respect for what only appears to be a law, are cunningly coerced into waiving their rights, due to ignorance.” (Paraphrased)

    void for vagueness doctrine: a statute is void for vagueness and unenforceable if it is too vague for the average citizen to understand or if a term cannot be strictly defined AND is NOT defined anywhere in such law, thus violating the vagueness doctrine.

    Hurtado v. United States, 410 US 578 (1973) “It is not every act, legislative in form, that is law. Law is something more than mere will exerted as an act of power…Arbitrary power, enforcing its edicts to the injury of the party and property of its subjects is not law.

    Vlandis v Kline 412 US 441 irrefutable assumption was so arbitrary and unreasonable as to deprive due process. The court also held that a statute creating a presumption which operates to deny a fair opportunity to rebut it, violates due process.

    If the police claim that their alleged lawful order is for your safety, I refer you;
    Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748, (2005) United States Supreme Court the Court ruled, 7–2, that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of a woman’s three children by her estranged husband.

    Clearly the supreme court has ruled that the police have no duty to protect anyone, so they can’t legitimately claim that their order is lawful in an effort to protect you.

    Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 623, 659-60. “Our system of government, based upon the individuality and intelligence of the Citizen, the state does not claim to control him, except as his conduct to others, leaving him the sole judge as to all that only affects himself.

    U.S. v. Tweel, 550 F. 2d 297 (1977) 5th circuit court of appeal “Silence can only be equated with fraud where there is a legal or moral duty to speak or where an inquiry left unanswered is intentionally misleading”.

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