Every day for the last three years, an average of 10 people or more in Texas are arrested and charged solely with resisting arrest. Solely? Yes.
But what the heck is resisting arrest? The Texas Penal Code, Section 38.03, defines resisting arrest as intentionally preventing or obstructing a police officer from effecting an arrest by using force against the peace officer.
One might ask – what does it mean to use “force against a police officer?” The Texas Legislature did not define words like force and against in the penal code. So Texas courts look to the ordinary meaning of words like force and against. Force, the courts say, means violence, compulsion, or constraint exerted against a peace officer while against means in opposition to or hostility to or contrary to. That is about as clear as mud.
To be helpful though, Texas courts explain it this way – “pulling one’s arm away from a peace officer’ established grasp during an arrest is enough to sustain a charge of resisting arrest”.
What? Yep, that’s right. Just pulling one’s arm away from the police officer is all it takes to get charged with resisting arrest.
You think that’s confusing? Well try this– Texas courts say a person can forcefully resist an arrest without successfully making physical contact with the police officer making the arrest.
What? That’s right. You don’t have to make physical contact with the police officer at all. But let’s just say you kick at the police officer and miss. Well, that’s enough for the charge of resisting arrest.
All of that said, what’s more troubling is this – when an individual is charged with resisting arrest, the reason the individual was being arrested, in the first place, is not a part of the discussion – at all. Currently, Texas law says the complaint, the information, or the indictment in the prosecution of resisting arrest does not have to list the underlying offense for which the individual was resisting arrest.
HB 521 was designed to remedy this legal nightmare by requiring that the underlying arrest be included in the charge when an individual is solely charged with the offense of resisting arrest.
This makes not only legal sense but it makes common sense as well – except to the organizations representing police officers.
When HB 521 came up for a hearing in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, only the police officer organizations testified against it. Their reason for opposition was somewhat unclear, at best. At worst, one suggestion is that the charge of resisting arrest has always been the police officer’s “fallback” position. When no other charge can be made – just apply the charge of resisting arrest.
Too bad also, but HB 521 became partisan as the Republicans on the Committee voted against it and the Democrats voted in favor.
If your legislator is Republican and on the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, tell them this has less to do with police officers and more to do with YOU.
Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr. is third in seniority and represents the Houston area in the Texas House of Representatives.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Houston Forward Times.