“You can’t arrest me, I’m a rockstar.” –Sid Vicious
Getting arrested on suspicion of DUI is not a pleasant experience. Resisting the police, however, almost always makes a bad situation worse. As a case in point, let’s look at the recent charges against 48-year-old actor Vince Vaughn.
On the early morning of June 10, Vince Vaughn was stopped at a DUI checkpoint, where he was subsequently arrested. Last month, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced Vaughn was facing three misdemeanor charges: driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher and refusing to comply with a peace officer.
Why the third charge? Did Vaughn resist arrest? Did he have a verbal or physical altercation with the cops? No. According to police, the refusal to comply charge came simply because Vaughn allegedly refused to step out of the vehicle after repeated requests by police. In other words, he delayed the investigation.
A Slippery Slope
Let’s attempt to clarify a few issues up front. You do have some rights when you are stopped by police. For example, you have the right to decline to take a field sobriety test unless you are already under arrest. You also have the right to decline to answer an officer’s questions. However, you do not have the right to impede an officer’s lawful investigation, during a DUI stop or otherwise. Failing to understand the difference can lead you down a slippery slope that may easily result in additional charges. In Vaughn’s case, allegedly refusing to get out of his vehicle at the request of a uniformed officer presented a specific resistance to the investigation. At, least, that’s how the police and prosecutors interpreted his actions. The result: Additional charges that may add to his fines or jail time if convicted.
Vaughn’s story reminds us that unlawful resistance against police can take many forms besides just physical resistance or verbal abuse. In fact, California law provides prosecutors with a number of possible options for levying additional charges for even subtle forms of resistance. Let’s review a few of these possible charges now.
The most common law invoked in resistance situation is probably California’s “Resisting Arrest” law, as detailed in Penal Code 148(1) PC. This law makes it illegal to resist, delay or obstruct a peace officer—or for that matter, even an EMT—in the performance of his/her duties. While this definition certainly includes physical resistance, it also encompasses a broad range of behaviors ranging from the overt to the passive/aggressive. Look at this partial list of actions that police and prosecutors may interpret as “resisting arrest”:
• Struggling against police who might be trying to cuff you
• Going “limp”—in other words, forcing officers to drag you into custody
• Giving an officer a false name
• Interfering with an investigation (for example, if your friend is being questioned or field tested for possible DUI and you go up and try to engage your friend or jeer police while the investigation is going on)
Resisting arrest is a misdemeanor in California and can result in fines of up to $1000 and up to a year in jail in addition to whatever penalties result from a DUI conviction.
Disobeying a Peace Officer
California Vehicle Code Section 2800 VC makes it a misdemeanor crime to disobey the orders of a uniformed peace officer in the performance of duties related to public safety. This law typically applies to offenses like failing to comply with “out-of-service” repairs on an unsafe vehicle or ignoring a cordoned off accident scene, but given that DUI is considered a public safety risk, prosecutors could potentially interpret a lack of cooperation (for example, at a DUI checkpoint) as disobedience. (This law quite possibly serves the grounds for Vaughn’s charge of “refusing to comply with a peace officer.”)
Evading a Police Officer
What if you see the emergency lights of a police car attempting to pull you over and you choose to keep driving or try to “lose” the officer to avoid a DUI arrest? This behavior constitutes Evading a Police Officer (California Vehicle Code Section 2800 VC) —a very bad idea. Standard evasion is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to $1000 and/or a year in jail in addition to any DUI convictions. If you drive recklessly trying to avoid police, you could be charged with a felony and much more severe penalties.
Using Physical Force or Threats of Violence
If you do become physical with a police officer during a DUI investigation or arrest, you could be facing more than just charges related to resisting arrest. Depending on the nature of the violent words/actions, you could be charged with one of the following:
• Battery on a Peace Officer (Penal Code 243(b) PC)— using physical force against an officer of the law or an EMT; or
• Obstructing or Resisting Executive Officers (Penal Code 69 PC)—using threats, force of violence attempting to prevent an executive officer from the performance of his/her duties.
Either charge may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the intensity of the behavior and whether injuries occurred.
What If Only Angry Words Were Exchanged?
From a theoretical standpoint, a heated exchange with a police officer doesn’t constitute a crime, nor does even insulting the officer (not that doing so is in your best interests). The First Amendment does protect your freedom of speech. However, that protection generally ends at the point of “fighting words”—that is, suggestions or threats of violence. At that point, you could be cited for disturbing the peace, at best, or charged with obstructing/resisting executive officers at worst.
If you are pulled over or arrested on suspicion of DUI, don’t make a bad situation worse by resisting the officers involved. Doing so may easily result in more charges with more possible penalties. For compassionate legal representation for DUI and related charges, contact our offices today.