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New bill may make it easier to be charged with resisting arrest

When a Virginia resident is accused of committing a crime, it is possible that they will be arrested by an officer on the scene. It is important to note that resisting arrest is a crime in itself. Law enforcement officials in Virginia want to make some changes to the state's resisting arrest laws. Being aware of this potential change could help you come up with a criminal defense if you face these charges.

Senator Bill DeSteph sponsored Senate Bill 396, which addresses Virginia's resisting arrest law. However, legislators have not been able to agree on the wording for the law.

The Bill was brought in front of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee twice this session. The most current version of the bill did not advance on a tie vote. There is also a companion bill in the House of Delegates that has not been heard in committee to date.

The Bill attempts to make it easier to charge someone with resisting arrest. The current law says that a suspect must "flee" to be charged with a crime. It was unclear whether the suspect had to physically leave the scene to have resisted arrest.

The Virginia Court of Appeals addressed this issue last year because a man swung his hands away when an officer attempted to place handcuffs on him. The man did not leave the scene. The Court of Appeals decided that because he was not leaving the scene, he was not resisting arrest. Simply put, the Virginia Court of Appeals has determined that resisting arrest requires running away.

Law enforcement groups support Bill 396 that allows officers to charge suspects with resisting arrest, if he fails to allow himself "to be physically taken into custody by using active means." The bill is also intended to protect police departments from civil lawsuits when resisting arrest charges are overturned.

Nonetheless, groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose the changes, saying that the law, in its current form, is subjectively imposed, and people of color are targeted by the law disproportionately. In any case, many believe that the definition of resisting arrest needs to be clarified so that Virginia citizens understand the law.

Source: Daily Press, "Virginia police seek new definition of resisting arrest," Travis Fain, Jan. 31, 2016

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