HOW IS DISOBEYING A POLICE OFFICER A CRIME?

HOW IS DISOBEYING A POLICE OFFICER A CRIME? DON’T I HAVE RIGHTS?

You certainly do have rights! You have a ton of rights under the New Hampshire and the United States Constitutions.  You do have the right to be silent, to have a lawyer, to have a trial, and to insist upon a warrant before any police officers search your home or belongings.  These rights are sacred, and at OSBORNE LAW, we are happy to discuss your rights with you all day long!

Disobeying a Police Officer is a law that can be found in the New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Code, RSA 265:4.  Before we tell you what that law is all about, let us first explain what it is not.  Disobeying an Officer is not a law that punishes you for refusing questions about your guilt or innocence.  It is not a law that forces you to allow a police officer to search your car.  It is not a law that says you cannot call your lawyer if you are in your car as a police officer runs your license and registration information.  You have and retain those rights no matter where you are, whether you are in your home, your car, or walking on the sidewalk.

Disobeying a Police Officer (or Disobeying an Officer as it is known) is a law that tries to make a police officer’s job easier and safer during routine traffic stops.

Disobeying a Police Officer reminds drivers that when they drive a car on the highways and byways of New Hampshire, they have agreed (implicitly) to honor basic police requests.  Almost none of these basic police requests really interfere with your constitutional freedoms.  In fact, when you read the actual Disobeying an Officer law, you will see that most of the prohibited behaviors would be outlawed even if you weren’t in your car.  Please read the relevant sections of the law below, together with our commentary:

  1. No person, while driving or in charge of a vehicle, shall:

OSBORNE LAW:  First, notice that Disobeying an Officer is a law that only applies to the driver.  Passengers are NOT required or forced to provide police officers with their ID, license, or any information whatsoever.

(a) Refuse, when requested by a law enforcement officer, to give his name, address, date of birth, and the name and address of the owner of such vehicle;

OSBORNE LAW:  So, if you are a driver and you are controlling a car outside of your home, you have to provide this information to a police officer if stopped or pulled over.  Of course, you really aren’t revealing a whole lot about yourself because this is basic information that the officer probably already has just by calling in a background check to dispatch or the DMV.  This basic information can already be found on your driver’s license and your car registration.  This portion of the law requires you to provide identification.  Nowhere does it say that you have to confess to wrongdoing, admit to knowing your license was suspended, where you were coming from, who was your high school crush, or how many beers you had with dinner.  When the conversation with the officer starts to go beyond your basic license and ID information, then you can invoke your constitutional right to remain silent without having to worry about being charged with Disobeying an Officer.

(b) Give a false name, date of birth, address, name and address of the owner of such vehicle, or any other false information to a law enforcement officer that would hinder the law enforcement officer from properly identifying the person in charge of such motor vehicle;

OSBORNE LAW:  Even if you weren’t driving a car, you still wouldn’t be allowed to lie to the police or give them false information that leads them on a wild goose chase.  Laws such as False Report, Obstruction of Justice, etc., already prohibit lying to police.  You always have the right to remain silent and say nothing – but we think most legal scholars would agree that you don’t have a right to lie to police.  There is a difference.  Silence = golden.  Lies = big problems.  Unsure? Call OSBORNE LAW.

(c) Purposely neglect to stop when signaled to stop by any law enforcement officer who is in uniform or who displays his badge conspicuously on the outside of his outer coat or garment, or who signals such person to stop by means of any authorized audible or visual emergency warning signals; or otherwise willfully attempt to elude pursuit by a law enforcement officer by increasing speed, extinguishing headlamps while still in motion or abandoning a vehicle while being pursued;

OSBORNE LAW:  Once again, this is another provision of the Disobeying an Officer law that doesn’t change anything just because you are in a car.  If you were walking down the street or in a shopping mall, and a police officer told you to stop, you would stop.  You would not be allowed to run away.  To do so would be the crime of Resisting Arrest or Resisting Detention.  Not being allowed to duck into alleyways or accelerate into a high-speed chase with the police is not a violation of your constitutional rights.

(d) Refuse, on demand of such officer, to sign his name in the presence of such officer;

OSBORNE LAW:  Ok.  This one is a little weird.  But, in almost 20 years of criminal practice, Attorney Mark Osborne has yet to see the case where a police officer demands a writing sample/signature from someone alongside the highway.  We can envision a few instances when (depending on the officer’s intended use for your signature) his/her request does NOT pass constitutional muster.  If the police officer’s intended use is to extract from you an admission, a writing sample, or some other incriminating evidence, call a lawyer before you sign anything.  If you simply forgot to sign a registration or an insurance card, you probably have nothing to worry about.  What if the officer’s demand for your signature seems well beyond the reason for which he/she stopped you?  In that case, you may consider politely declining to sign anything and ask to call your lawyer. 

(e) Refuse, on demand of such officer, to produce his license to drive such vehicle or his certificate of registration or to permit such officer to take the license or certificate in hand for the purpose of examination;

OSBORNE LAW:  NO surprise here.  This section is very much like section (a) above.  When you are the driver of a car, and you are stopped/pulled over by a police officer; you must give him/her your license and car registration if asked.  This is true if you are the driver – NOT AS A PASSENGER!  IF YOU ARE A PASSENGER IN A CAR, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PROVIDE THE POLICE OFFICER WITH ANY IDENTIFICATION OR LICENSE.  Most police officers don’t realize or care that passengers do not have to provide them with ID.  Thus, they will usually ask a passenger for his/her license or ID.  The passenger has the right to say no without any legal consequences.  As a driver, though, there is nothing crazy or unconstitutional about your having to give a police officer your driver’s license when driving on the street.

(f) Refuse or neglect to produce his license when requested by a court or justice, or refuse to surrender to the director or to any authorized employee of the department or other authorized representative of the director any license, registration certificate or number plate upon demand after suspension or revocation of the same.

OSBORNE LAW:  The DMV giveth, and the DMV taketh.  Just be sure that whoever is asking you to surrender your license or plates has the authority to do so and has afforded you due process.  Any time an authority, court, or government agency asks you to surrender your freedom to drive or own a car, contact a lawyer right away.  At OSBORNE LAW, we are happy to help you with DMV and driver’s license matters.