Recently in Solano County the Court of Appeals ruled that refusing to comply in the future can’t be resisting arrest. The case concerns a minor, a delinquent ward the court. The juvenile, her full name is withheld, was detained in juvenile hall as there were no group homes available. When a spot became available, the juvenile met with people from the group home and agreed that this group home was suitable. On the day she was to be transferred to the group home she spoke with a probation officer and stated that she would refuse to go to the group home, saying “I have everything I need in here [custody].” She also told the probation officer, “Do what you’ve got to do.” The probation officer called the group home and let them know of her refusal, cancelling the transportation. The officer testified that she would not have the juvenile “dragged out”:
“[I]t needed to be an amenable situation. And her willingness for treatment needed to be pretty high and agreeable for me to release her, because she would be released from custody to transportation staff, and I was unsure of what would happen if she was so against going into placement.”
The officer also acknowledged that the juvenile did not disobey an order to physically go with the
group home staff. And that the juvenile did not refuse to talk, “hold onto a chair,” or refuse to meet with staff from the group home.
The Charges and Juvenile Court Findings
The Solano County District Attorney filed a petition alleging one count of misdemeanor obstructing a peace officer (Pen. Code, § 148, subd. (a)(1)):
Every person who willfully resists, delays, or
obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical
technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797)
of the Health and Safety Code, 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.
The juvenile court found these allegations to be true and sustained the probation violation.
The Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals described Penal Code § 148, subd. (a)(1)
The offense is a general intent crime, proscribing only the particular act (resist, delay, obstruct) without reference to an intent to do a further act or achieve a future consequence.
And further stated:
Section 148 is most often applied to the physical acts of a defendant. For example, physical resistance, hiding, or running away from a police officer have been found to violate section 148. But section 148 is not limited to nonverbal conduct involving flight or forcible interference with an officer’s activities. No decision has interpreted the statute to apply only to physical acts, and the statutory language does not suggest such a limitation.
I’ve removed the citations for brevity, but you can read the original text I linked at the beginning of this post.
The court summarizes their opinion:
there is no way to know (as opposed to assume) that appellant in fact would have refused to get into the vehicle when it arrived. Had West allowed the group home staff to arrive and instructed appellant to leave juvenile hall with them, a direct refusal to get into the waiting vehicle would support
finding a violation of Penal Code section 148, subdivision (a)(1). As it was, appellant‟s refusal did not actually obstruct West‟s performance of her duties, although it clearly threatened to do so in the near future. The refusal did not even delay West, since the group home staff were on their way but had not yet arrived.
As a criminal defense lawyer in Solano County, it is my belief that overturning the original decision is a big win for justice. If the ruling was upheld, then the officer’s perception of willingness or defiance is given the weight of evidence. The probation officer in this case was never even delayed as she called the group home and told them not to pick up the minor. Altogether, a well thought out decision from the Court of Appeal.