Penal Code 148 PC – Resisting Arrest in California

Updated

In Penal Code 148 PC, California law defines resisting arrest as willfully resisting or obstructing a police officer, or EMT, in the performance of his or her official duties. This is a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000.00.

Officers will often write up the citation as "PC 148," "148 PC" or "148a1 PC."

148a1 PC states that "every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician…in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

Examples

  • Struggling with police officers as they try to apply handcuffs
  • Taunting an EMT as he tries to provide medical assistance to a victim
  • Giving a false name to the authorities during questioning

Defenses

There are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Penal Code 148. These include showing that the defendant:

Penalties

A violation of 148 PC is charged as a misdemeanor in California (as opposed to a felony or an infraction).

The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

police officer subduing a man trying to resist arrest
It is a crime for a person to willfully resist or obstruct a police officer

1. How does California law define resisting arrest?

Penal Code 148 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to willfully resist or obstruct a police officer, or EMT, in the performance of his official duties.1

A prosecutor must prove three things in order to successfully convict an accused under this statute. These are that the accused:

  1. willfully resisted, delayed, or obstructed a police officer or EMT,
  2. did so when the officer/EMT was engaged in the performance of his official duties, and
  3. knew, or should have known, that the officer/EMT was engaged in his official duties.2

Many are aware that resisting arrest includes a person trying to obstruct the police in lawfully taking him into custody. But the crime also includes a wide range of other activity, like a person:

  • interfering with a police officer's travel to the scene of a crime or accident,
  • obstructing the authorities from interviewing a witness of a crime,
  • trying to interfere with police while they are monitoring a suspect in custody.

Note that a college campus security officer is not a “public officer” or “police officer” for purposes of this statute.3

Also note that someone commits an act willfully when he does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he intends to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.4

2. How can a person contest the charges?

If a person is accused of a crime under this statute, then he can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.

Three common defenses are:

  1. no willful act,
  2. falsely accused, and/or
  3. no probable cause.

2.1. No willful act

Recall that an accused is only guilty under PC 148 if he acted “willfully.” This means it is always a solid legal defense for a defendant to show that he did not act with this purpose. For example, maybe an accused interfered with a police officer's official duties on accident.

2.2. Falsely accused

Officers are often quick to charge a person with resisting arrest merely because they don't like the person's attitude. Or merely because the person asks for an explanation as to why he or she is being arrested. Moreover, police may use the charge to try to justify or cover up police misconduct, racial profilng and excessive force.
Example: LAPD officers confront and detain African American man for "loitering" near a drug house. They order the suspect to take his hand out of his pockets and place them on the police cruiser. "Officers, I didn't do anything. Why are you stopping me?" he protests several times. The officers don't like his attitude. So they tackle him, strike him several times with their batons, and handcuff him. Now he has injuries to face and his back. The officers need to explain why they arrested him and why they injured him. So they charge him with resisting arrest, claiming "The suspect became combative, took a fighting stance and threatened the officers."
 
Note that defense counsel can seek to show that the incident came about by way of unlawful detention or false arrest. Or that the officers are being untruthful. We can do this by gathering statements from witnesses, police bodycam footage, and bringing a Pitchess motion to obtain the officers' personnel files and see if they have a history of misconduct. 
 
 

2.3. No probable cause

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.

If a person was stopped or arrested for violating PC 148, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

female prisoner in jail on a 148 PC charge
A violation of 148 PC can lead to up to one year in jail

3. What is the punishment for a PC 148 conviction?

A violation of this statute is charged as a misdemeanor in California.5

The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.6

Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).

4. Are there similar crimes with which a person can be charged?

There are three crimes related to resisting arrest. These are:

  1. assault – PC 240,
  2. battery on a peace officer – PC 243b and 243c, and
  3. resisting an executive officer – PC 69.

4.1. Assault – PC 240

Penal Code 240 PC is the California statute that makes assault a crime.

Per PC 240, a “simple assault” is an attempt to commit a violent injury on someone else.7

A prosecutor must prove four things to successfully convict a defendant of this crime. These are that:

  1. the defendant did something that was likely to result in the use of force against someone else,
  2. the defendant did so willfully,
  3. the defendant was aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that this act would directly and probably result in force being applied to the other person, and
  4. when the defendant acted, he had the ability to apply force to the other person.

A violation of this statute is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.8

4.2. Battery on a peace officer – PC 243b and 243c

California's laws on battery on a peace officer are set forth in Penal Code 243b and 243c2 PC.

These laws define the crime as willfully and unlawfully touching a peace officer or other protected official in a harmful or offensive manner, while the officer is engaged in the performance of his/her duties.9

A person violates PC 243 if he commits the battery and knew, or reasonably should have known, that the "victim" was a peace officer or other protected person performing his/her duties.10

A violation of this statute is charged as a misdemeanor in California. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $2,000.11

4.3. Resisting an executive officer – PC 69

Penal Code 69 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to resist an executive officer.

A person violates PC 69 if he does either of the following:

  1. willfully and unlawfully attempts by threats or violence to deter or prevent an executive officer from performing a lawful duty, or
  2. uses force or violence to resist an executive officer in the performance of his/her lawful duties.12

Examples of executive officers include (but are not limited to):

  • police officers, sheriffs, California Highway Patrol officers,
  • judges,
  • government prosecutors and defense attorneys, and
  • other elected officials.

A violation of PC 69 is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by up to one year in county jail.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.

Were you accused of resisting arrest in California? Call us for help…

california criminal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Code 148 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 148 PC. 

  2. People v. Simons (1996), 42 Cal. App. 4th 1100.

  3. In re M.M. (2009), 177 Cal. App. 4th 1339.

  4. 2 CALCRIM 2656 - Resisting Peace Officer, Public Officer, or EMT (Pen. Code, § 148(a)).

  5. California Penal Code 148 PC.

  6. See same.

  7. California Penal Code 240 PC.

  8. California Penal Code 241 PC.

  9. California Penal Code 243 PC.

  10. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instruction (“CALCRIM”) 945 – Battery Against Peace Officer (Pen. Code, §§ 242, 243(b), (c)(2)).

  11. California Penal Code 243 PC.

  12. In re Manuel G. (1997) 16 Cal. 4th 805, 814.

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