Failure To Comply With A Police Officer

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What does it mean to fail to comply?

The Legal Definition

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.

Failure To Comply In Real Life

We usually see a “failure to comply with police officer” charge tacked on to other charges. Rarely do we ever encounter someone who simply willfully failed to comply with a police officer.

It is usually one of two situations:

Confusion Or Misunderstanding

Sometimes drivers just don’t understand what a police officer is trying to communicate, or are confused by what the officer said. For example, consider a situation where a 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 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 officer who then adds a “failure to comply” criminal charge on top of some other charges.

Failure To Respect My Authority

If you’ve seen the Southpark episode where Cartman is a police officer, then you understand this dynamic. 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 maximize the chances for a smooth traffic stop) but police can still feel disrespected even if that was not your goal. Things that cause police 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 of your vehicle.

Not doing what an officer wants quickly enough.

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 an officer because you did not pull over immediately, even though it would have been unsafe to do so.

Refusing to comply with an illegal command.

Police frequently lie, often in an effort to coerce people into giving up their 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 makes some officers very angry. An example is an officer who demands 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 an officer feel annoyed, irritated, angry, or otherwise put-out, you may be charged with failing to respect failing to comply.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the penalties for a failure to comply conviction?

Possible Consequences:

    • Class 2 misdemeanor conviction.
    • Fines up to $750 plus surcharges and court assessments that could nearly double the total fine
    • Up to 4 months in jail.
    • Up to 2 years probation

Likely Consequences:

    • Class 2 misdemeanor conviction.
    • A few days of jail are possible depending on the circumstances.
    • Fines in the $300-$600 range
    • This is not a moving violation, so there are no points associated with this violation.

There can also be collateral consequences:

What are some real-world consequences of failing to comply with the police?

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 the police, 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, police could arrest you and tow your car. The worst case scenario is you get injured, shot or killed. Police sometimes unnecessarily escalate a situation, but when you are engaged with the police, you should never escalate. On the side of the road is not the place to engage in an argument with an irate police officer 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 injured or shot are much lower.

How do you fight a failure to comply charge?

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. 

If a resolution cannot be worked out with the prosecutor, then it may make sense to take your case to trial.

What happens at a trial for a failure to obey charge?

In the event an agreement with the prosecution cannot be reached, it may make sense to go to trial. At trial, the State has to prove 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 or that the order was not lawful.

This charge charge is not meant for people who misunderstand a confusing command or who are the victim of an emotionally damaged police officer, even though that is often how we see this charge applied.

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