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.