In two cases released today by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the circumstances when officers may charge a defendant with resisting arrest was given more clarity. Simply running from police without the defendant’s knowledge that they are attempting to arrest you will not rise to the level of resisting arrest. However, if the suspect is running from police and putting officers at “substantial risk of bodily injury” it will be appropriate to charge resisting arrest.
The following is an article that appeared on Boston.com, written by John R. Ellement-
A suspect who runs from police — despite shouted orders to stop — cannot be charged with resisting arrest, the state’s high court said today.
But the Supreme Judicial Court also said that a fleeing suspect who puts officers’ lives in danger – like the man who jumped over a fence and into a canal 20 feet below as officers chased him on foot – can be convicted of the same crime.
In two rulings today, the state’s highest court refined the rules that law enforcement must operate under when deciding whether to charge someone with resisting arrest.
Writing for the court in both cases, Justice Roderick Ireland said the SJC does not believe the new rules it has set up will make it hard for law enforcement officers to do their jobs.
“The solution is for prosecutors to make informed choices in deciding whether to charge an individual with resisting arrest,” Ireland wrote in a footnote.
The first ruling involved Stoneham police and the June 2006 arrest of a juvenile, known by the pseudonym of Quintos Q. The teen was a passenger in what turned out to be a stolen car. When officers in a marked cruiser pulled behind the vehicle and put on their lights, the driver sped off during the evening rush hour.
After a six-minute car chase, the teen jumped out of the car and ran off, with police following on foot, according to the SJC. One officer shouted, “Stop, police. Stop, police,” the court said.
The teen ignored police, but was eventually arrested without incident when he ran into a dead end, the court said. The teen did not fight with the officers, but readily acknowledged he was in their custody, the court said.
“The test is whether a reasonable person would have understood that he was under arrest,” Ireland wrote. “In the circumstances here, a passenger in the vehicle, innocent of any crime, could not reasonably be said to understand the pursuit and the words, ‘Stop, police,’ to mean more than simply an order to stop.”
He added, “although it is true that police do not need to use the word ‘arrest’ in order for there to be an arrest, it does not follow that saying the word ‘stop’ was the equivalent of an arrest in this case.”
The second case – the one where the court said police were right to charge the man with resisting arrest – unfolded in Holyoke in 2005 as officers pursued a shooting suspect fleeing the scene on a bicycle.
Police ordered the bike rider – who they allege had just committed a drive-by shooting – to stop moving at gunpoint. The suspect, identified in court papers as Luzander Montoya, dumped the bike and took off on foot.
Police ran after Montoya – keeping about 30 feet away in case the suspect turned and fired at them – as he ran through the darkened streets.
Montoya ran through a gap in a broken fence – and dropped 20 to 25 feet into the water of canal below. The officers stopped before reaching the broken fence, and were unharmed.
Montoya’s attorneys argued to the SJC that Montoya should be acquitted because the officers put themselves in danger by running after the shooting suspect.
But the SJC rejected that idea.
“A rational jury could have concluded that the defendant created a substantial risk of bodily injury to the officers,” Ireland wrote.
He added, ”the risk of bodily injury came from the fence located at the precipice of the canal, which presented a tripping hazard, especially in the dim light, as well as from the canal itself whose bottom had a ‘pretty deep’ layer of muck and mire and which was deep enough that the defendant had to tread water until his rescue. There was no error.”