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Being arrested without proper cause can be a distressing experience, prompting the urge to resist. However, laws regarding resistance to unlawful arrests vary by state. 

hands in handcuffs

Resisting arrest can potentially lead to additional charges, such as assaulting an officer, even if the initial arrest is deemed unlawful later on. Some states allow resistance to unlawful arrests, but how to know if you should really do it? Can you resist an unlawful arrest?

What Is an Unlawful Arrest?


First, it’s important to know that an innocent suspect’s arrest isn’t automatically illegal. This might seem counterintuitive, but police officers operate with limited real-time information. To make a lawful arrest, an officer only needs probable cause to believe a crime was committed. Probable cause is a lower standard than the proof required for a conviction, which must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

Legal Arrest: Probable Cause

Officers have probable cause when they can point to objective circumstances (not just a hunch) that lead them to believe a suspect committed a crime. For example, if a crime was reported and you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the officer might have enough probable cause to arrest you legally. It’s important to understand that the officer may have information you are unaware of. 

Essentially, just because the officer was mistaken doesn’t make the arrest illegal. Resisting a lawful arrest, even if you are innocent, constitutes a crime.

police officer arresting a man

Unlawful Arrests

There are times when officers make illegal arrests. An arrest is illegal if the officer lacks probable cause (such as in cases of racial profiling) or uses excessive force. However, even in these situations, resisting arrest can be dangerous and potentially escalate to serious injury or death. The best place to contest the legality of an arrest is in the courtroom, not on the streets.

Can You Resist An Unlawful Arrest?


So now that we know what unlawful arrests are, can you resist an unlawful arrest? Under California Penal Code Section 148(a)(1), it is a crime to willfully and intentionally obstruct, resist, delay, or interfere with a law enforcement officer or EMT while they are performing their official duties. This can involve actions like physical resistance or providing false information.

Resisting arrest is classified as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail, fines, and one year of informal probation. What options do you have in the state of California if you are unable to fight an unauthorized arrest?

person resisting an unlawful arrest

What is California Law as to Unlawful Arrests?


In California, to succeed in a claim or lawsuit for false arrest, you must prove these elements:

1. The defendant (police officer) arrested you without a valid warrant.

2. You suffered actual harm.

3. The defendant’s actions were a substantial factor in causing your harm.

If you claim that the defendant arrested you without legal justification, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove the arrest was lawful. Common defenses include:

– The officer had probable cause for the arrest.

– The officer had a good faith belief that the arrest warrant was valid, even if the arrest was technically unlawful.

If there is no dispute over the facts, the judge will determine whether probable cause existed for the arrest as a matter of law. If the facts are disputed, the judge will instruct the jury on which factual findings constitute probable cause.

What to Do If You Are Arrested in Los Angeles


If you believe you have been wrongfully arrested, follow these steps:

1. Stay Calm: Remain composed and avoid confrontational behavior to prevent escalating the situation.

2. Comply with Instructions: Follow the law enforcement officers’ instructions to avoid charges of obstruction of justice or other related offenses.

3. Identify Yourself: Provide your true name, date of birth, and address.

4. Invoke Your Rights: Assert your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney. Politely inform the officers that you wish to exercise these rights.

5. Document the Incident: Note important details such as officer badge numbers, names, and any witnesses. This information can be helpful for your case or in filing a complaint.

6. Do Not Volunteer Information: Consult with an attorney before answering any questions.

7. Seek Legal Representation: After being released, consult a lawyer to guide you through the legal steps to address the wrongful arrest.

Kirakosian Law & Unlawful Arrests


Every criminal case is unique, but all require a dedicated and vigorous defense lawyer. At Kirakosian Law, we specialize in criminal defense, bringing decades of experience to your case. If you’re wondering, “Can you resist an unlawful arrest?” it’s crucial to understand your legal rights and options. Contact us to arrange a detailed evaluation of your situation and explore your legal options.

client explaining his case to an attorney