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Inside the Criminal Case: Passive vs. forcible resistance

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Inside CC Bell GaerteThe Court of Appeals recently brought us the story of a woman, her dog and her not-so Gandhi-like attempt at passive resistance when her dogs were investigated for biting. The question before the Court of Appeals was whether this passive resistance was criminal.

Maddox Macy was a dog owner. Macy v. State, No. 52A02-1309-CR-808, 2014 Ind. App. LEXIS 221 at *1-2 (Ind. Ct. App. May 22, 2014). When Macy’s neighbor complained that Macy’s dogs had bitten someone, two animal control officers, assisted by a police officer, were assigned to investigate the complaint. Id. at *1-2. Not surprisingly, when they arrived, the officers found Macy “aloof” and “not in the mood to cooperate.”Id. at *2. Therefore, they left Macy’s house to ask the neighbor about the purported incident. Id. Displeased, Macy followed the officers while shouting that her dogs hadn’t bitten anyone and “demanding answers” from the officers. Id.

After disregarding the officer’s request to calm down, the police officer placed Macy in handcuffs and sat her in the front seat of his police car, shutting the door. Id. at *3. Handcuffed but undeterred, Macy somehow opened the door to the officer’s car, got out and continued to demand answers. Id. The officer re-engaged Macy and asked her to get back into the car. Id. She refused, so the officer “had to force” her into the car. Id. In response, Macy placed her feet on the ground outside of the vehicle, compelling the officer to pick her feet up in order to shut the car’s door. Id. At trial, the court concluded that the act of Macy “stiffening up” did not constitute resisting law enforcement but that getting out of the police car was sufficient to determine that she was guilty of the same. Id. at *3-4.

On appeal, Macy claimed there was insufficient evidence that she was guilty of resisting law enforcement because she did not forcibly resist. Id. at *1. Indiana Code 35-44.1-3-1(a)(1) provides that it is a crime when an individual “forcibly resists, obstructs, or interferes with a law enforcement officer.” The state argued that Macy forcibly resisted both when she opened the officer’s car door and when she rested her feet outside of the car requiring the officers to physically pick them up in order to get them through the door. Id. at *7. The state also argued that “forcible resistance . . . may be reasonably inferred based on (the officer’s) testimony that he had to ‘force’ Macy back into the car.” Id. at *9 (parenthesis added).

The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the “line between what is and is not forcible resistance is blurry to say the least.” Id. at *6. The court emphasized that an individual’s resistance must be more than passive and must, “at a minimum, (involve) some physical interaction with a law enforcement officer.” Id. at *6, 9 (parenthesis added). Because Macy’s actions were not directed at the officers, and the officer wasn’t near his car when she opened its door, the court concluded that this action could not constitute forcible resistance. Id. at *8-9. Addressing the state’s contention that Macy’s placement of her feet outside of the car constituted impermissible force, the court found that she had merely passively resisted and that this was insufficient to constitute the forcible resistance. Id. at *10-11. Finally, the Court of Appeals held that “an officer’s force does not establish that the defendant forcibly resisted.” Id. at *9. Macy’s conviction for resisting law enforcement was therefore reversed. Id.

In our eyes, it is a relief that it is the defendant’s use of force – and not the officer’s use of force – that dictates whether an individual is guilty of resisting law enforcement. If the law was expanded to allow the officer’s use of force to determine who was “resisting,” then theoretically, one would be guilty of “resisting” every time an officer:

• Threw someone onto the hood of a squad car,

• Hit someone in the knee cap with a billy-club or

• Tazed someone.

Just in case you ever find yourself on the game show “Resist, Not Resist,” you should probably know that the following conduct also does not constitute resisting:

• Walking away from a law-enforcement encounter,

• Leaning away from an officer’s grasp or

• Twisting and turning “a little bit.”

K.W. v. State, 984 N.E.2d 610, 612 (Ind. 2013). On the other hand, “mayhem” or directing strength, power or violence toward an officer would be considered resisting. Graham v. State, 903 N.E.2d 963, 956 (Ind. 2009); Spangler v. State, 607 N.E.2d 720, 723-4 (Ind. 1993).

Regardless of your confidence in navigating the “blurred lines” of these laws, if you find yourself leaving a watering hole late at night and encounter a police officer, you should probably just greet the officer with a polite “Good evening, kind sir” rather than an “aloof” or uncooperative “demand” for answers. That demand could lead to the not-so-warm embrace of an officer and you could find yourself with problems after “twisting and turning” more than “a little bit.”•

__________

James J. Bell and K. Michael Gaerte are attorneys with Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP. They assist lawyers and judges with professional liability and legal ethics issues. They also practice in criminal defense and are regular speakers on criminal defense and ethics topics. They can be reached at jbell@bgdlegal.com or mgaerte@bgdlegal.com. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.
 

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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