Resisting and Obstructing claims by police officers in Marquette County continue to grow. Over the past four years, the number of Resisting and Obstructing (R&O) charges issued by the Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney have increased by over 35% through November 15th of 2021. 2018 saw a grand total of 106 R&O counts charged, 2019 had 118 R&O counts charged, 2020 had 127 R&O counts charged, and 2021 has had 165 R&O counts charged so far YTD. Over this 4-year period, charged Resisting and Obstructing cases have increased by nearly 35%.
Michigan law states that “an individual who assaults, batters, wounds, resists, obstructs, opposes, or endangers a person who the individual knows or has reason to know is performing his or her duties is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.81d
This would seem to be an easy law to support. If you throw a punch at an officer, you have committed a crime. Easy. If you try to wrestle a gun from a cop you have committed a crime. Easy. If you kick and try to prevent the officer from putting you in handcuffs after a valid arrest, you have committed a crime. Easy…
The law in the above examples IS easy. What becomes FAR more complicated is when the facts don’t fit into one of those easy scenarios thus creating many more questions than answers. Is it in fact possible to commit the crime of Resisting and Obstructing without “assaulting, battering, or wounding” an officer? What does it mean to “resist?” What does it mean to “oppose?” Anecdotal evidence Statewide would suggest that the number of this type of cases is increasing everywhere. Prosecutors ARE charging more R&Os. Our office here at the Marquette Public Defender has seen an increase in the number of cases charged on weak facts that do not seem to fit one of the criteria listed by statute. It seems to this author that police officers have embraced the term Law ENFORCEMENT to a degree that if a citizen does not do what they are told instantly and in complete compliance then the officers seek charges. Sadly, prosecuting attorneys are granting the wishes of these officers and just keep issuing charges.
If you are approached by an officer who feels that you are under the influence of a drug or alcohol and that officer demands that you tell him what you are “on?” Do you have the right to NOT talk to him? What if he tells you that you cannot go anywhere until you DO tell him? The Constitution of the United States would say that you do not need to tell him anything. It would seem that some officers would disagree. What if you start to walk away from the officer and he tells you not to? Is that an R&O? If so, can the officer simply tell you not to leave forever? At what time is the notion of Law Enforcement an unconstitutional limit on our liberty?
It is the sad truth that Police and Prosecutors seem to believe that literally any command given by an officer must be followed right now, RIGHT NOW, RIGHT NOW! This attitude is no longer “protecting and serving” our community but is supporting a constabulary who feel it appropriate to tackle old men to the ground for failing to instantly comply with the wishes of an officer. This despite the fact that the officer who was not threatened in any way by the septuagenarian motorist who committed the audacious crime of accidently driving his car a week after he allowed his insurance to lapse on his car.
Michigan law is created in two ways; by statutes written by our legislature, and by precedent laid out by prior court cases. The statute for R&O does not really define several terms and forces the courts to interpret words like “oppose” and “obstructs.” The courts have over the past few decades interpreted those words to allow greater and greater leeway to the government in their interpretation of what it means to commit R&O. 50 years ago, you had to essentially throw a punch at an officer to be convicted. Now it would seem that the government can convict you for questioning why an officer is about to cuff you. This author has seen video of an officer directing a citizen in his own driveway to get back into his car immediately, and when the citizen pointed out that he was unable to get into his car because he had bags of groceries on the seat, the officer arrested him on the spot for R&O. This entire incident took around 7 seconds. This case was later dropped, but the greater question is “why was it ever authorized in the first place?”
Our Legislature must take a look at these type of police abuses. It is unconscionable that a free citizen of this State and this Country is FORCED to comply with literally any request made by a person in uniform. My old football coach used to say that if he said “jump” we should ask “how high?” God forbid if you ask that of an officer in Marquette County; you will probably be arrested for Resisting and Obstructing.
Please consider calling your legislators and ask them to look into this issue.
Patrick J. Crowley
Chief Public Defender
Marquette County, Michigan