What is Resisting Arrest?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Resisting arrest is a misdemeanor in which someone interferes with the process of a legal arrest. Different nations have different laws surrounding arrest, but as a general rule, it is agreed that the legal right to arrest someone would conflict with allowing the right to self defense during an arrest, and therefore people who attempt to resist arrest can be charged, with their actions not being treated as self defense. However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind with charges of resisting arrest which are important for people to be aware of.

Resisting arrest is when a person interferes with the process of a legal arrest.
Resisting arrest is when a person interferes with the process of a legal arrest.

There are several settings in which someone can be charged with resisting arrest. Someone who actively fights arrest can be charged with resisting arrest. Likewise, people who elude police officers or lie about their identity are considered to be interfering with an arrest. If a bystander steps in and interferes, this is not considered resisting arrest, but the bystander can be charged with interference, as most nations have laws which make it illegal to disrupt a law enforcement officer who is performing legal duties.

People involved in a fight might resist arrest if they believe they are not at fault.
People involved in a fight might resist arrest if they believe they are not at fault.

However, for a charge of resisting arrest to hold up in court, it must be a legal arrest. If someone can demonstrate that the arrest was not, in fact, legal, the charges can be contested under the argument that the police officer was not protected and the citizen was within her or his rights to resist arrest. Likewise, if a police officer uses excessive force, the citizen is entitled to self defense, especially if that excessive force could be deemed a threat to the citizen's life or well being.

It is typically difficult to fight charges of resisting arrest, even if there are some grounds to contest the charges. Law enforcement officers are generally viewed as more trustworthy than the people they are arresting, and some courts may express a concern that a precedent could be set which might make it difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs in the future. Nations with a strong commitment to civil liberties tend to be more inclined to allow challenges to charges of resisting arrest.

In cases where the arrest was legal and the officer acted appropriately, the charge will stand. A charge of resisting arrest is added to other legal charges which the arrestee may be facing. For example, if a police officer arrests someone for driving drunk, the citizen would face drunk driving charges and charges for resisting arrest. The charges also go on someone's record, and can be used during bail and probation hearings to argue that the citizen's history suggests that he or she may present a risk.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


It seems to me that a lot of police officers use the threat of a resisting arrest charge to get suspects to cooperate. I've seen TV police shows where the suspect is originally charged with one crime, like larceny or an arrest warrant, but he or makes things worse by running away or fighting the officer. The officer might say "Stop resisting or I'll start adding charges!" The next thing you know, that suspect now has resisting arrest, battery on an officer and eluding arrest charges to deal with.


I've never been arrested myself, but it would seem to me that some people might have natural reactions to someone putting handcuffs or other restraints on them. I know I can get very physical if someone ever tries to pin me to the ground or put me in a wrestling hold. I might understand the other person really doesn't want to hurt me, but my body instinctively wants to shake off the attack.

I hope police officers recognize the difference between people resisting arrest and people just acting reflexively to being restrained. From what I see on those TV police shows, some suspects get told to stop resisting arrest, but I can't tell what they were actually doing.

Post your comments
Forgot password?