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In re C.L.D.

October 28, 1999

IN RE C.L.D., JR., APPELLANT.


Before Wagner, Chief Judge, Ruiz, Associate Judge, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Gregory E. Mize, Hearing Judge)

Argued November 20, 1998

Per Curiam

A petition was filed against appellant, C.L.D., in the Superior Court, Family Division, Juvenile Branch, alleging assault on a police officer in violation of D.C. Code § 22-505 (a) (1995 Repl.). He was found guilty of the offense at the Conclusion of a factfinding hearing. This case raises a question of statutory interpretation. That question is whether an individual's verbal challenge to a police officer's order, and attempt to walk away from the officer, falls within the prohibition of the statute. We hold, in the circumstances presented, that appellant did not violate the provisions of the statute. Accordingly, we reverse the adjudication of guilt rendered by the trial court.

I.

At about 9:30 a.m. on February 5, 1997, a school day, appellant and two other young men were walking in the 3900 block of Yuma Street, Northwest, in the District of Columbia. The three young men were approximately a block away from a local high school. Officer Melvin Evans, in uniform, approached them and inquired if they were students at the school. Upon receiving an affirmative answer, and knowing that starting time at the school was 8:45 a.m., the officer directed the students to stand by the police car and to produce identification. The students replied they had none. The officer then sought information from them orally. Appellant refused to identify himself and began to use profanity. When he stated his intention to leave, the officer directed him to remain. After more profanity, appellant started to walk away. The officer forcibly restrained him and placed him in custody. *fn1

II.

Early common law decisions produced a trilogy of rules regarding the arrest of a citizen by a police officer. Though related, these rules address separate concerns. It is a long-standing premise that a law enforcement officer is authorized to use reasonable force necessary to effect the arrest or detention of a citizen. Understanding Criminal Law, Dressler, Sec. 21.03 (2d ed. 1995); Criminal Law, Robinson, Sec. 8.3 (1996); Durham v. State, 199 Ind. 574, 159 N.E. 145 (1927). Earlier precedents allowed a citizen to use reasonable force to resist what the citizen believed, in good faith, to be an unlawful apprehension. Understanding Criminal Law, at Sec. 18.06 (D). Lastly, an officer was authorized to use measured force, depending upon the gravity of the offense, against a fleeing suspect. See id. With the increase of urban communities, the use of force in the latter two circumstances became more restricted, and significant changes evolved. Many jurisdictions have enacted statutes providing that an arrestee may not resist apprehension even if it is believed that the arrest or detention is unlawful. Id. Similarly, the magnitude of force, and the manner of pursuit, used by a police officer to catch a fleeing suspect, has caused increasing scrutiny and restraint, see, e.g., Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). As the Supreme Court observed in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 13 (1968), ". . . Street encounters between citizens and police officers . . . range from wholly friendly exchanges of pleasantries or mutually useful information to hostile confrontations [between] armed men . . . ." Thus courts are continuously concerned with balancing legitimate law enforcement powers and the rights of individual citizens.

D.C. Code section 22-505 (a), provides, in part:

Whoever without justifiable and excusable cause, assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with any officer or member of any police force operating in the District of Columbia while engaged in or on account of the performance of his or her official duties . . . . It is neither justifiable nor excusable cause for a person to use force to resist an arrest when such an arrest is made by an individual he or she has reason to believe is a law enforcement officer, whether or not such arrest is lawful.

This statute, broadly drawn, stems from, and is related to, the common law rule permitting a police officer to effectuate an arrest or detention by reasonable force, if necessary. It plainly seeks to deescalate the potential for violence which exists whenever a police officer encounters an individual in the line of duty.

It is important to bear in mind that the issue before us is not whether the police officer had reason to act as he did. Although the justification for the police officer's conduct is relevant to the statutory requirement that the incident have taken place "while [the officer] engaged in or on account of the performance of his or her official duties," D.C. Code § 22-505 (a) (1990), that element of the offense is not contested. *fn2 The question before us is whether C.L.D.'s conduct violated the statute.

III.

The precise issue presented in this appeal is one we have not addressed. Previously, we have held that a person who physically challenges police officers by striking them violates the statute by "opposing" a police officer. See In re E.D.P., 573 A.2d 1307, 1309 (D.C. 1990). Although it has been said that the statute encompasses "nonviolent obstruction of a police officer in the performance of his duty," Jones v. United States, 128 U.S. App. D.C. 36, 38 n.2, 385 F.2d 296, 298 n.2 (1967), *fn3 we have held that a person who simply speaks out to a police officer, without more, does not violate the statute. See In re E.D.P., supra, 573 A.2d ...


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