The Yale Law Journal

March 2020

The Power of Police Officers to Give “Lawful Orders”

Criminal LawCriminal ProcedurePolicing

abstract. Forty-four states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government make it a crime to disobey the “lawful orders” of police officers. But there is significant uncertainty about what makes an order lawful. This uncertainty leaves people in the dark about their rights and obligations, risks unfair convictions, and allows police to needlessly escalate confrontations due to civilian confusion or minor noncompliance. This Comment proposes a model statute that would clarify and limit officers’ authority while informing civilians about the legal risks of disobedience.

author. Yale Law School, J.D. 2019. I am deeply grateful to Steven Duke for supervising this project and encouraging me to pursue publication. Thanks to Orin Kerr for providing very helpful feedback on my draft. Thanks also to Alaa Chaker and other members of the Yale Law Journal for careful editing and thoughtful suggestions. This Comment expresses only my opinions and has no connection to my job as a judicial clerk or the views of any court.