SJC Clarifies Rules on Police Chases and Resisting Arrest

Today, in two separate opinions, COMMONWEALTH vs. Luzander MONTOYA. SJC-10526 June 15, 2010 and COMMONWEALTH vs. Quintos Q., a juvenile. SJC-10517 June 15, 2010, the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts refined the rules that law enforcement must operate under when deciding whether to charge someone with resisting arrest.

In the case of Quintos Q., the Court held that a suspect who runs from police cannot be charged with resisting arrest – despite shouted orders to stop.

In the case of Montoya, the Court held that a fleeing suspect can be convicted of resisting arrest when officers’ lives are put in danger such as this defendant who jumped over a fence and into a canal 20 feet below as officers chased him on foot.

Writing for the Court in both case, Justice Roderick Ireland wrote in the first that “[t]he test is whether a reasonable person would have understood that he was under arrest.  In the circumstances here, a passenger in the vehicle, innocent of any crime, could not reasonably be said to understand the pursuit and the words, ‘Stop, police,’ to mean more than simply an order to stop. He added, “although it is true that police do not need to use the word ‘arrest’ in order for there to be an arrest, it does not follow that saying the word ‘stop’ was the equivalent of an arrest in this case.”

In the second case, Justice Ireland wrote that “[a] rational jury could have concluded that the defendant created a substantial risk of bodily injury to the officers” and that ”the risk of bodily injury came from the fence located at the precipice of the canal, which presented a tripping hazard, especially in the dim light, as well as from the canal itself whose bottom had a ‘pretty deep’ layer of muck and mire and which was deep enough that the defendant had to tread water until his rescue.”

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