Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pennsylvania Resisting Arrest is Crime of Violence Under Begay

In United States v. Stinson, No. 08-1717, the Third Circuit recently ruled that Pennsylvania Resisting Arrest is a crime of violence under Begay. The Pennsylvania statue specifies two ways in which a defendant may resist arrest: (1) by creating a substantial risk of bodily injury to an officer or another; or (2) by employing means justifying or requiring substantial force to overcome the resistance. The Court held that the first "fits squarely within the definition of a crime of violence in the residual clause." Under Begay, the Court had to analyze whether the second "typically involve[s] purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct." The Court held that it does.

"Such conduct poses as great or greater a risk as burglary or extortion . . . . [R]esisting arrest necessarily involves confronting the authority of a police officer who is likely armed and charged with defending the public . . . . [T]he offense engenders a significant risk of conflict and, correspondingly, a significant risk of injury." It is "by definition, purposeful, aggressive and violent," because the statute requires "the intent of preventing a public servant from effectuating a lawful arrest . . . . and knowingly engaging in conflict with another." [Note: This seems to invoke the "powder keg" theory rejected by the Supreme Court in Chambers. The Court purports to distinguish resisting arrest from its walk-away escape decision, Hopkins, in a footnote, however: "[Misdemeanor escape 'is conduct materially less violent and aggressive than the enumerated offenses." . . . Such is not the case with resisting arrest."]

Stinson had argued that because resisting arrest could include passive resistance, it should not be a categorical crime of violence, relying on Commonwealth v. Thompson, 922 A.2d 926 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007), a case in which the defendant and her husband had interlocked arms and legs and refused to respond to commands of officers. The Court found that Thompson was "hardly passive," yelling and waving her hands in an attempt to scare an officer's horse, "causing the animal to rear up," and struggling with the officers "for a few minutes." The Court "found no decision . . . that affirmed a conviction for resisting arrest based on a defendant's inaction or simply 'lying down or 'going limp.'" [Note: This seems to ignore the reality that most resisting arrest prosecutions are resolved without a trial, so there are few reported cases.]

The Court then asserted that the "'ordinary' or 'typical' fact scenario underlying resisting arrest convictions in Pennsylvania" involves purposeful, violent and aggressive conduct.

This was a disappointing result, especially because the Court had granted panel rehearing of the first adverse decision. The Third Circuit Defenders participated as amicus, and David McColgin, EDPA, presented very strong oral argument on behalf of Mr. Stinson.

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