"Stop Resisting!" - The Law Against Physical Reflexes and Human Instincts

Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660  (1962), is often cited as the Supreme Court decision that prohibited the outlawing of a person's status.  At issue in Robinson was a California law that made it a crime to be a narcotics addict. In Illinois and many other states, the crime of Resisting Arrest or Resisting or Obstructing a Peace Officer has been applied, often in the context of face-to-face physical confrontations with police officers, to prohibit physical reactions and reflexes that are inherent in the DNA of every human being. 

Consider this recent video of an arrest in Springfield, Illinois:

For the police officers' side of the story, read this police report from the March 30, 2013, incident at the Best Buy parking lot.

Do a quick Google search for "stop resisting." You'll find videos from across the country showing police physically grabbing someone with heavy force while simultaneously demanding that the person loosen their muscles into putty. 

I have a hypothetical challenge to test the legitimacy of resisting statutes, as applied to persons who have been grabbed by a police officerI challenge anyone reading this to approach a person in your workplace and, without asking, grab that person's wrist with enough force to restrain their ability to freely move their arm. If that person tugs away, you owe me a buck. 

The point is that there's something wrong with someone if they don't instinctively resist your physical trespass on their person. No one has the ability to instantly and completely capitulate when a stranger grabs their body. Even if they accept that they are required by law to submit to the physical authority of another person, their brains won't let their bodies simply go limp. In terms of evolutionary instincts, the stakes are just too high. 


In prehistoric times, a person might have found themselves in a situation where a quick choice has to be made. If the person had spent a lot of time thinking about it, they may have become dinner for a lion or other animal. The body’s fight or flight response, it’s theorized, took thinking out of the equation so we could react more quickly — and stay alive.
— Grohol, J. (2012). What’s the Purpose of the Fight or Flight Response?. Psych Central.

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Our brains are not wired to direct our bodies to fold under circumstances similar to those involved in a typical forceful arrest. Some people were built that way, but they all died from lion attacks in Africa many, many years ago.

Unfortunately, going limp is what is legally expected of anyone under arrest in Illinois. Failure to go limp when an officer forces you to the ground is often the grounds for an additional charge of Resisting in Illinois.  

It should be a crime to forcefully resist a lawful arrest, but let's at least accept the absurdity of expecting someone to go limp when grabbed in the midst of a confrontation with a police officer. Charges of resisting or obstructing a peace officer should be brought only when the suspect was afforded a fair chance to submit to a lawful arrest and he refused. When an officer makes physical contact before giving the suspect an opportunity to peacefully submit, charges should only be brought when a suspect exhibits offensive force toward an officer. Pure defensive resistance (i.e. muscle tension) should only be charged as resisting arrest when the suspect's behavior, after he learns he is under arrest, indicates that he has ruled out submitting to the arrest.  

This is an example of what I would consider an appropriate application of the resisting statute in Illinois:

Check out the Illinois law of Resisting or Obstructing a Peace Officer statute at 720 ILCS 5/31-1.