Resisting arrest is covered under California Penal Code 148 PC and is described as resisting, delaying, or otherwise obstructing, a law enforcement officer or emergency medical technician while they are attempting to perform their duties. The duties can include arresting someone, but 148 PC actually covers a wide range of duties, including traveling to the scene of a crime or accident, interviewing people while attempting to investigate a crime, and/or monitoring a criminal suspect who is in custody.
A typical example of resisting arrest involves obstructing or delaying a police officer trying to arrest you. You could run, fight, squirm, etc. and, by doing so, would be in violation of 148 PC. However, thanks to the broad definition of the law, it’s possible to be charged with resisting arrest if you jeer at officers attempting to arrest someone else, obstruct an EMT vehicle en route to an injured person, or even by giving a false name to police officers attempting to investigate a crime.
It’s important to understand that the law includes the word delaying in its description. This means that trying to avoid arrest altogether isn’t necessarily required for charges of violating 148 PC. One can be charged with the crime even if they know they’re going to be arrested and choose to take some action that’s going to keep it from happening temporarily. These actions include running and hiding from police, but also interacting with someone under investigation after police asked you not to. For example, person A is sitting in the back of a squad care while their vehicle is being processed by police when person B, who knows person A, walks up and starts talking to him. Person B ignores the officers’ warning to stay away from Person A, who is currently in custody, but refuses to do so because they “aren’t breaking the law by talking.” In this case, person B is delaying the officers’ processing of the vehicle by interacting with person A, and is thus eligible for charges of resisting arrest even though they weren’t originally under investigation for anything.
Of course, there are a few rules governing the actions that would otherwise qualify for charges of resisting arrest. For one, it’s important that the act of obstructing happens willfully. If you’re standing in the way of an EMT trying to perform their duties and aren’t aware that you’re in the way, you probably won’t be charged with a crime because your obstruction wasn’t willful. That’s why police and medical personnel often ask for bystanders to back up or move out of the way. If you ever find yourself observing police or emergency medical technicians in the line of duty and they ask you to move, do it! If they ask and you refuse to comply, your actions could be considered willful and therefore put you on the wrong side of 148 PC.
As of 2015, photographing or recording an officer as they perform their duties was clarified by the California Legislature as to not count under 148 PC. You can record and take pictures, provided you doing so does not obstruct or delay officers in the performance of their duties. However, the photographing/recording must take place in a public place where the person doing it has the legal right to be.
Resisting arrest is a misdemeanor in California law, and the possible penalties include up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and/or probation.