“Cycling lawyer” (um, can I have that job, please?) Bob Mionske relates the fascinating story of an out-of-control cop harassing two cyclists in Ohio. He appears to have tried to stop them for no reason, and when they wouldn’t stop he pulled his taser. One of the cyclists ended up getting tazed multiple times. Charges were eventually dismissed and the cyclists are filing a civil suit, but the story illustrates what can happen when men with guns and badges lose control.
Aside from the abuse of police authority, the story grabbed me because in the end, Mionske concludes that:
if the order is unlawful, the cyclist is not required to obey the order, and can’t be arrested for failure to comply. Now, this is the law in Ohio, but it is based on 4th Amendment jurisprudence, so the jurisprudence in other states should be similar. If somebody knows of contradictory 4th Amendment jurisprudence in another state, please let me know.
Um, well, my experience defending more than one obstructing charge is that, if the officer tells you to stop, you better stop. If you don’t, you could end up with an obstructing charge — or worse. Basically, if you disobey a police order — even where the order is unlawful — your ass is getting arrested. Sure, it might be sorted out later and the charges *may* be dismissed, but is it worth going to jail for the night or however long it takes to post bail? No. Just stop. The officer can be the biggest dumbass on the planet, but again, that’s something to sort out later. If the officer here had been our friendly neighborhood cop Johannes Mehserle who claims he confused his taser and his gun, these poor cyclists would be dead, not just dismayed.
As just one example of an illegal stop that escalates to legit criminal charges, see People v. Thomas, 198 Ill. 2d 103; 759 N.E.2d 899 (2001). There, Mr. Thomas was riding his bicycle while carrying a police scanner. An officer tried to stop Mr. Thomas and Mr. Thomas fled. Eventually, officers caught up w/Mr. Thomas and arrested him. They found drugs and he was convicted of possession w/intent. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court found that, although the officer’s initial order for Mr. Thomas to stop was not legal (b/c the officer lacked any reasonable suspicion that Mr. Thomas was engaged in illegal activity), the subsequent seizure of Mr. Thomas was legal because he fled and was seized after flight. The flight became a legitimate (legal, constitutional) reason for the seizure.
Following that logic, in the case of the Ohio cyclists, even though the officers initial orders for them to stop were ambiguous and clearly illegal, a court could have found that the subsequent actions amounted to resisting, obstructing, or some other criminal act. They’re lucky the prosecutor didn’t think of adding such charges or they might have been in a different position.
Police have far too much authority in our society, but that’s exactly why you better stop if an officer tells you to. Stop, cooperate, and figure out the legality of it all later.