What if I fail to obey an Arizona Police Officer’s Order?

by Aaron Black • August 29, 2019

Obeying a Police OfficerI have an acquaintance who was pulled over on a Phoenix freeway by a motorcycle officer who told him to wait right there and then took off after another speeder, returning a few minutes later. Thankfully my acquaintance obeyed the officer’s instruction and avoided a criminal offense.

When a law officer in Maricopa County or Arizona tells you what to do and you disregard that instruction, the state can charge you with a class 2 misdemeanor, the second most serious in the misdemeanor world. But if that happens within the boundaries of Scottsdale, AZ the charge is the more serious class 1 misdemeanor as cities have their own ordinances.

A person can’t “willfully fail or refuse” any lawful order or direction given by a police officer under Arizona Revised Statute §28-622(A) to regulate, direct or control traffic. But the statute doesn’t specifically define what a lawful order or instruction is.

To win its’ case the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of these four elements that comprise this law:
  • The failure to obey was intentional
  • Failure or refusal to follow the officer’s order or direction
  • The officer’s order or direction was lawful at that time
  • The officer had the authority to give the order or direction
Although failure to obey is in Arizona’s traffic statutes, it may be applied in other circumstances such as protest demonstrations and emergencies.

Lawful Order Appeal Fails

In Burke vs. Arizona the defendant was pulled over in Scottsdale for a traffic violation and was ordered not to move his car, but he drove it to the side of the road got out of the vehicle and was arrested.

Arizona’s failure to obey law was challenged as “unconstitutionally vague on its face” in 2015,  but the Arizona Court of Appeals held the law was constitutional and allowed an officer wide discretion in making an arrest for this offense.

What should I do if I've been stopped by the Police?

Traffic stops are inherently dangerous to police so they are cautious and it’s always best to be respectful to law enforcement.
  • Provide the officer with your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of auto insurance when stopped for a traffic violation.
  • If the officer asks if there’s a firearm in the vehicle answer truthfully. The officer likely will want to take custody of the weapon during the traffic stop.

    Let the officer get the firearm instead of reaching for it yourself. It’s important to ensure that the officer feels safe.

Defenses for Failing to Obey

All cases are unique in their fact patterns, but it remains to develop a defense that shows one or more of this law’s four elements is not satisfied. A person who is hard of hearing and didn’t hear the officer or didn’t understand what the officer was saying shows there was no intent to violate the law.

If at the time of arrest the officer didn’t tell the suspect about the Fifth Amendment right to prevent self-incrimination in answering police questions and the right to have a qualified criminal defense lawyer present at questioning to protect your rights. These are your civil rights. If those rights were violated, the case will be dismissed.

Other defenses may be available.

If the officer invited you to do, or not do, something that is not a lawful order or direction and you’re not obligated to accept the invitation.

Penalties for Failing to Obey a Police Officer

A class 2 misdemeanor conviction is punished by incarceration in Maricopa County jail and fines that reach into triple digits. However, if the defendant has a previous misdemeanor conviction, the penalties can be increased.

Judges have wide discretion under Arizona’s sentencing guidelines and the defense may be able to introduce mitigating evidence to argue for acquittal or a less severe sentence.

Building a Defense Theory

A criminal defense involves aggressively challenging the state’s evidence, the arresting officer’s conduct, the accuracy of the police report, and the legally vague lawful order or direction.

The defense conducts its own independent investigation to find flaws in the state’s case and develop mitigating evidence, such as the ability of the defendant to hear or understand the officer.

Police take ownership of the law which sometimes can cause them to over-react giving orders. Case in point is the Sandra Bland incident from Texas in 2015 who at a traffic stop refused to extinguish her cigarette when ordered by the officer, who also berated her. She tragically took her life while in jail three days after her arrest and the officer was fired and charged with perjury.

It may be possible, if the state has a strong case, to negotiate with the prosecution to reduce the charge to a less serious misdemeanor with a more lenient sentence in return for pleading guilty. These bargaining negotiations save the expense of a trial.

Free legal advice

If you or a loved one has been arrested for failing to obey an officer’s commands, going to jail is a possibility and a criminal record are best avoided. I invite you to take advantage of my free confidential case assessment.

Simply contact Scottsdale, AZ Criminal Defense Attorney Aaron Black or call (480) 729-1683 for a telephonic consultation at any time on any day and I’ll respond promptly unless I’m in court.

During our conversation I’ll listen to your side of the story, ask questions, explain the law and the procedures involved, and evaluate a possible defense strategy and what your options are.

I understand that good people can make a mistake and I provide personalized service and work to obtain the best possible outcome.

I defend criminal cases in municipal, state, and federal courts.
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to inform clients and potential clients I am still available for consultations. I am always available by phone, text and/or email. We can also use Facetime for social distancing. The criminal justice system is not stopping due to COVID-19.

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