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Protecting Yourself from Excessive Force During an Arrest

July 23, 2018

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

The majority of Americans know that when a police officer wishes to make an arrest, we should remain as calm as humanly possible and make every attempt to resist arrest. While the majority of arrests are legal and done so in a peaceful manner, many arrests are done with a large degree of force, which inevitably causes the suspect to resist arrest. Police are legally allowed to use as much force as they believe reasonably necessary, under Pennsylvania Criminal Code § 508. It is always easier said than done to refrain from resisting arrest, but when your arm is being bent nearly out of its socket, all rational and calmness will vanish quickly, causing even more force to be used against you to make the arrest.

Your Right to Protect Yourself

You have the right to use force to protect yourself from police brutality, but only in very rare circumstances. In fact, there are many exceptions to this right to use self defense, which are defined below:

  • You cannot use force to protect yourself by resisting an arrest simply because a police officer is making an unlawful arrest, under Pennsylvania Criminal Code § 505;
  • You cannot use force to resist arrest if you did something to cause the officer to use excessive force in the first place;
  • You cannot use force to resist arrest if the officer stops using excessive force; and
  • If the officer’s reason for using excessive force is to make an arrest that you were initially resisting with your own force, said self protective force is not legal.

As such, resisting an arrest that leads to the use of excessive force is not a get out of jail free card. In fact, while you have the right to protect yourself from excessive police force, you do not have the right to fight back after an arrest has been attempted that you resisted or fled from.

So When Can You Use Force Against a Law Enforcement Officer to Protect Yourself?

The following example outlines all of the necessary circumstances in which you would be legally within your rights to use force as self defense against a police officer:

  • You did not initially resist arrest or attempt to flee;
  • You complied with police when asked to put your hands on your head, turn around, get on the ground, to be handcuffed, etc.;
  • The officer then punched you in the face, kicked you while you were not resisting, tasered you repeatedly, choked you, etc.; and
  • You used force to protect yourself but stopped using force when the officer was no longer using excessive force themselves (they became knocked to the ground, went unconscious, or otherwise stopped beating, choking, or kicking you and your safety was no longer in jeopardy).

Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Immediately

Use of self defense against police is extremely complex, and all of the necessary factors must line up in order for it to have been legal, which is why you are strongly encouraged to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you are able in order to review your rights and your options for defense. Call the Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys of van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim for help today.


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