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I have a friend who mouthed off to a cop, and was booked for, he says, "Failure to Obey". I'm no lawyer, but have googled about and found the following statute, Alabama Code - Section 32-5A-4:

Obedience to police officers and firemen.

No person shall willfully fail or refuse to comply with any lawful order or direction of any police officer or fireman invested by law with authority to direct, control or regulate traffic.

Upon reading, it sounds as though it authorizes the police to literally issue arbitrary orders which must be obeyed, which seems wild.

The specific story that I've been given is that my friend hassled a cop about being "illegally parked" (the cop's parking job, not the friend). The cop says 'Get out of my face'. My friend "backs up" and repeats his remarks about the officer's parking job. At this point he was arrested on "Failure to obey".

Taken at face value, it seems as though by not walking away the first time, my friend is in violation of the above cited statute. Is there any fighting this?

EDIT:

Per @bdb484's sage advice, I went looking for municipal codes, and found Sec. 39-54 in Mobile, AL's repertoire, not conveniently located in the `traffic' sections:

Failing to obey direction of order of police officer.

It shall be unlawful and an offense against the city for any person to fail to obey the direction or order of a member of the police department of the city while such member is acting in an official capacity in carrying out his duties.

Seems I'd best start taking dancing lessons in case I'm ever asked to do so by a police officer. :)

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I think the key point here is that your friend was charged with a traffic offense when he does not sound like he was part of traffic.

I suppose you could argue that read literally, the statute imposes penalties for any violation of any order at any time in any place under any circumstances, as long as the police office had authority to direct traffic. I doubt, though, that Alabama courts interpret this so broadly.

More likely, they would require that the offender be moving in traffic, which is defined as "Pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles, streetcars and other conveyances either singly or together while using any highway for purposes of travel" (Section 32-1-1.1). If your buddy was in a parking lot or on a sidewalk, I'm not sure how you'd make that stick.

There are, however, probably several other laws imposing broader restrictions that apply outside the traffic context, especially when considering the possibility that the charges were for a violation of a local ordinance. For instance, Daphne, Ala., has this statute:

Sec. 14-2. - Failure to obey a police officer.

(a) Failing to obey direction or order of police officer. It shall be unlawful and an offense against the City of Daphne for any person to fail to obey the lawful direction or lawful order of a sworn officer of the police department of the City of Daphne, Alabama, while such officer is acting in an official capacity and/or is carrying out his/her lawful duties within the city limits and/or police jurisdiction thereof.

(b) Resisting or interfering with officer; assisting in escape. It shall be unlawful for any person to resist a sworn officer of the City of Daphne, Alabama, police department, in the lawful discharge of his/her lawful duty or shall in any way interfere with or hinder or prevent said officer from discharging his/her lawful duty as an officer. It shall be unlawful to offer or endeavor to do or assist any person in the custody of any policeman to escape or attempt to escape from such custody or rescue or attempt to rescue any person so in custody, and such act occurs within the city limits and/or lawful police jurisdiction of the City of Daphne, Alabama.

(c) Punishment. A violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty dollars ($50.00) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or by imprisonment in the municipal jail for a period not exceeding six (6) months, or both, or in the alternative, may be sentenced to community service or any other lawful remedial action which the municipal judge may deem appropriate.

In the end, I would be willing to bet that there's some statute that they could squeeze this into (there always is). More interesting is the question of whether this was First Amendment retaliation. By your friend's telling (but probably not by the officer's), the most reasonable reading of this scenario is that the cop got pissed off for being criticized and arrested your buddy as a result. If that's the case, it may be that your friend would have a civil-rights case against the city.

  • "I doubt, though, that Alabama courts interpret this so broadly." This is what I was thinking. I'll try to find some case law interpreting it. I suspect that taking it to the appellate courts, which is what a first amendment fight would entail, is more than he'd like to chew, despite what he might tell you. :p – Scott Nov 4 '18 at 12:32
  • +1 on the local ordinances, I hadn't even thought of that. I'll go look for that now. :) – Scott Nov 4 '18 at 12:40
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The key point here is that a person is only required to obey

any lawful order or direction

by this law. Arbitrary or unreasonable orders would not, I should think constitute "lawful orders". Exactly what would or would not be considered as a "lawful order" will depend very much on the specific facts of the case, and may also depend on other laws.

In the case as described, the only order given was "Get out of my face" and that was at least arguably obeyed. On those facts the arrest might well not stand up. However, I am sure that the officer would tell a different story.

Anyone who has been arrested under such a law would be very wise to get an experienced, locally knowledgeable lawyer. The details off the situation, and what can be proved, will no doubt be vital.

  • both yours and bdb484's are correct and immensely helpful answers. I can unfortunately accept only one. – Scott Nov 4 '18 at 13:57

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