Where Defendant Indisputably Refused to Comply With Legitimate Police Order, Conviction for Interference With That Officer Was Proper

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut upheld a defendant’s conviction for interfering with an officer after refusing to comply with the officer’s orders.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 26, 2005. Officer F initiated a valid traffic stop of a motorist and learned the owner of the vehicle had an outstanding warrant. The car belonged to the defendant and was driven by his son. Officer F “decided to use a ruse to arrest the defendant,” using the son’s cell phone to call the defendant and arrange a meeting to discuss a previously-filed stolen vehicle report. Such a tactic is not constitutionally prohibited. The defendant agreed to meet Officer F at a local school parking lot, who then requested assistance from Officer S to bring the defendant into custody.

Officer S arrived first at the parking lot and met the defendant, who was astonished upon learning that there was a warrant for his arrest. The defendant promptly complied with Officer S’s request for his driver’s license, but refused to sit in the back of the police cruiser when asked to do so. According to Officer S, the defendant stated that the officer had “no right to put him back there” and that he did not “need to be back there.” After confirming the warrant, Officer S attempted to place the defendant under arrest. However, the defendant became combative and belligerent and further refused to comply with Officer S. All verbal commands were ignored, and the defendant continued to resist until Officer F arrived and threatened to use a chemical spray if he persisted. Thereafter, the defendant was cooperative, and charged with interfering with an officer.

At trial, the defendant conveyed a much different version of events. He conceded that he did not sit in the back of the police cruiser when asked to do so, but otherwise politely insisted that a mistake had been made. The defendant claimed that Officer S was “curt, unreasonable and overzealous,” and had Officer F been honest about the motivation for the meeting, he would have amicably met him at police headquarters to discuss the matter. The jury returned a guilty verdict and the defendant timely appealed, arguing that the State produced “no evidence that he physically prevented [Officer S] from arresting him and that verbal statements and nonphysical refusal to comply with an officer’s directive does not constitute a violation of § 53a-167a.” In other words, the defendant argued that one could only interfere with an officer through physical resistance, not by “being verbally defensive or voicing mere declaratory statements.”

Under Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-167a, a person is guilty of interfering with a police officer “when such person obstructs, resists, hinders or endangers” the officer as he is performing his or her official duties. In this case, the jury was presented with two versions of the events regarding whether or not the defendant resisted arrest, and it was within their province, as the arbiter of credibility, to determine which story to believe. In addition, the Appellate Court noted that the defendant’s refusal to sit in the back of the police cruiser was never in dispute. As such, “[t]he jury reasonably could have inferred that either one of the defendant’s refusals to obey [Officer S] delayed the officer in the performance of his duties in effectuating the defendant’s arrest.” As such, the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim failed.

When faced with a charge of interfering with a police officer, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.