Disobeying Lawful Police Orders

Disobeying a police officer: Don’t do it. You will likely be charged with a crime.

The situation often arises when a LEO (law enforcement officer) tells you to turn around and put your hands behind you back so he/she can cuff you. LEOs have the right to do this. The decision to cuff you is theirs alone. It is for their protection and you must comply.

The LEO’s decision to cuff you may be because you seemed agitated, or were waving your hands around, or (often, in my case) because they learn that you are carrying a sidearm. They need not tell you the reason to cuff you and you should not ask. Just comply.

There is no harm nor shame in being cuffed while the LEO interaction proceeds. When the LEO finishes the curbside investigation and gives you a ticket, a warning, or simply lets you go (assuming that you are not arrested), he/she will remove the cuffs and you can be on your way. As I said, I have been cuffed more than once. Then, when the LEO learns that I am licensed, I am released, usually with an apology. I always reply that no apology is necessary and that I would have done the same thing.

The most important point to remember is that the LEO has the authority to cuff you, to order you to dismount from your vehicle, to order you to stay in your vehicle, to order you retreat beyond 30 feet, to approach, or to obey any other lawful command. If you refuse or resist the command, the LEO is trained to compel compliance via an escalating scale of violence: request, command, hands-on force, pepper-spray, baton, taser, up to and including deadly force if necessary.

You control the level of violence, not the LEO. If you comply upon the LEO request, then smiles and politeness will reign. If you comply only when the LEO issues a stern command, tempers will rise. If you force the officer to lay hands on you, you are committing a crime, and so forth. One way or another, you will be forced to comply. You control how much force the LEO uses by how easily you comply.

The following video shows a 15-year-old girl in Fort Pierce Florida refusing to be cuffed. She is now facing serious felony charges, and may spend years in the state penitentiary. It is so sad, and so easily avoided. In this case, the unfortunate outcome is partly the LEO’s fault because he did not act decisively and immediately to force compliance.

In contrast, the following video shows a college-age young man in Las Vegas refusing to take his hands out of his pockets when ordered to be the LEO. In this case, the young man was not charged with a felony because the LEO acted decisively and immediately to compel compliance.

Dr. Sweet’s grandfatherly advice is: If a cop tells you to do something that is not obviously illegal, don’t hesitate, don’t ask “why”, don’t argue. Just do it.

Next Time: Never Touch a Cop


Frank W. Sweet is an NRA-certified firearms instructor who teaches the safe and effective use of handguns for self-defense. He was awarded an M.A. in Civil War Studies in military history from American Military University in 2001. He is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), Six Gems of Forgotten Civil War History (ISBN 9780939479023), and of numerous published historical essays. To receive a schedule of his firearms training courses, email to fwsweet@ccwvslaw.org. The information above should not be construed as legal advice.

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