North Carolina Resist, Delay, or Obstruct Charges

Posted by Sean P. CecilJan 04, 20213 Comments

Resist, Delay, or Obstruct charges in North Carolina can be frustrating to defend. Commonly known as "contempt of cop" charges, I have heard them accurately described as "no crime occurred until the police showed up." Unlike some other states, which require that an officer have actual independent probable cause to make an arrest to justify a "resisting" charge, in North Carolina a person can be guilty of "RDO" by merely delaying an officer in the performance of their duties.

The Statute is Broad

North Carolina General Statutes §14-223 makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor for any person to "willfully and unlawfully resist, delay or obstruct a public officer in discharging or attempting to discharge a duty of his office." The statute is very broad, and courts have upheld convictions for a variety of actions including but not limited to: providing a false name, fleeing an officer investigating reasonable suspicion of a crime, or interfering with an officer's investigation of someone else, to name a few examples. Also, the statute is not limited to just police but any government official discharging their official duties. The "official duties" element of the crime is susceptible to skilled advocacy, as courts will require that the government prove the offended public officer was not acting outside of their authority. Courts have rejected charges based upon a defendant's refusal of a so-called "consensual" encounter (officers approach individual or group without any reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity), for failing to provide a social security number to arresting officers, leaving the scene of execution of a search warrant of someone else's property, etc...

The State Must Prove RDO is Willful & Unlawful

Another avenue of defending a RDO charge is to contest the State's evidence regarding the willfulness of the actions of the accused. The State must prove that the purpose of the Defendant's actions was to resist, delay, or obstruct the officer as opposed to some other, lawful purpose. Thus in a recent North Carolina criminal case, State v. Humphreys, the Court of Appeals held that the State had failed to prove that the defendant was guilty of RDO when she yelled at, distracted, and refused a police officer's orders to move, while that officer was searching her child's vehicle. Some key language from Humphreys  makes clear the burden faced by the State:
"When a defendant merely remonstrates, she does not resist arrest. Similarly even if a defendant resists arrest but does so with the belief she has the right to ... she does not act willfully and unlawfully under [the statute]."
The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the charges, even while viewing the evidence "in the light most favorable to the State" citing "insufficient evidence Defendant Defendant acted willfully in purposeful or deliberate violation of the law as she reasonably believed she had the right to act as she did in observing the officers and protesting what she perceived as an unlawful search."
We Can Help
Whenever law enforcement officers think you may have committed a crime, it's a good idea to inquire whether you may leave/terminate the contact, and if the answer is yes, do so. If they tell you that you are not free to leave, the only thing you should say after that is to ask to speak to a lawyer, and to refuse to answer ANY questions without a lawyer. Refusal to waive constitutional rights can not be a violation of the RDO statute. Thus, you should never consent to a search, waive your right to remain silent, or waive the right to have an attorney present during questions. These rights are specifically guaranteed to protect us against overzealous law enforcement and an overreaching government.
If you are charged with Resist, Delay, or Obstruct, having experienced legal counsel can play an important role in the outcome of the case.  Give us a call to discuss the charges and any defenses that may be available- we offer free consultations for criminal charges!