Failure to Comply with a Police Officer

Failure to Comply with 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.

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2 Comments on “Failure to Comply with a Police Officer”

  1. 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.

  2. 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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