In the state of Florida, it is unlawful to fail to obey a police officer’s order. This statute generally applies to traffic-related offenses, however it can extend to other situations as well. The crime is detailed under Florida Statute 316.072(3), and occurs when a person who is walking, riding a bicycle or driving an automobile on a Florida public road is given a lawful order or direction by a police officer, then willfully refuses to obey such an order or direction. Under the statute, “police officer” includes deputy sheriffs, state troopers, municipal police officers, fire department members, EMT responders, traffic infraction enforcement officers and traffic crash investigation officers.
What Constitutes a “Lawful Order?”
The controversial Sandra Bland case in Waller County, Texas, has fueled debate as to what, exactly, constitutes a lawful order from a police officer. Bland was pulled over for failure to signal. The police officer asked her to extinguish her cigarette—contrary to her legal entitlement to smoke inside her own vehicle. When she declined, she was ordered out of the vehicle. Bland refused, and an altercation between she and the officer ensued. The officer repeated “I’m giving you a lawful order,” several times throughout the encounter, however, there is some question as to whether his orders were, in fact “lawful.” Courts in general are rather silent as to what constitutes a “lawful order” within the confines of a traffic stop.
In the 1973 decision of People v. Jennings, the court held that accepting the prosecution’s contention that “lawful” means any order which would not require the operator to break the law was far too broad, and would subject citizens to any “whim” of law enforcement. In that particular case, the court ended up adopting an extremely ambiguous rule that held an order by law enforcement is “lawful” when it is “reasonably designed to achieve its goal.” Unfortunately, there is still little agreement, understanding, or clear guidelines regarding what constitutes a lawful order from a police officer, and, in fact, this is one of the primary defenses to charges of failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer (the burden of demonstrating that the order was lawful will fall on the State in these cases), as well as:
- The status of the officer is unknown (i.e., the citizen was unsure whether the person was actually a police officer), and
- Protected Speech—in general, a person’s words will never rise to the level of failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer, rather the words must be accompanied by “obstructively physical conduct.”
Penalties for Failure to Obey the Lawful Order of a Police Officer
If you are charged with Failure to Obey the Lawful Order of a police officer, you will face a second-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, you could be subject to:
- Up to sixty days in Florida County jail;
- A fine as large as $500, and/or
- Six months’ probation.
Getting the Legal Help You Need
If you have been charged with Failure to Obey the Lawful Order of a Police Officer, it is important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney from The Law Place as soon as possible. The earlier we are on your case, the better chance we have of obtaining a positive outcome on your behalf and/or having the charges dropped altogether. We want to help you, and to ensure you suffer no long-term consequences as a result of these charges. Contact The Law Place today! Call 941-444-4444