Courts Rule NJ Citizens Allowed to Defend Themselves Against Police Brutality


NEWARK — A drug dealer who was sentenced to nine years in prison after a jury convicted him of resisting arrest will get a new trial.

Darnell Reed was arrested April 1, 2013, by two city police officers, who beat him to a bloody pulp after a traffic stop.

A jury later found him not guilty of seven drug and other related charges, and found him guilty of just a single charge: resisting arrest.

But an appellate court panel on Thursday ruled that Reed was denied a fair trial because the judge did not instruct the jury to consider whether Reed was justified in defending himself against police brutality.

The decision said the evidence “supported a finding that the officers used unnecessary and excessive force” and that the jury should have been instructed on the self-defense charge.

The appellate decision rests on decades of court precedence, including a 1970 state Supreme Court case that outlined the rights of citizens to defend themselves against police brutality.

“If in effectuating the arrest or the temporary detention the officers employs excessive and unnecessary force, the citizen may respond or counter with the use of reasonable force to protect himself, and if in doing so the officer is injured no criminal offense has been committed,” the court said in State v. Mulvihill.

Courts have pointed out that there are limited circumstances in which people may fight back or resist.

A citizen is not allowed to resist arrest just because he or she believes the arrest is unlawful or mistaken. The time and place to fight that is later in court.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union instructs people to “remain calm” and not touch officers.

“Don’t resist, even if you’re innocent or if you think the police or ICE are acting unfairly or unlawfully,” the advocacy group says in one of its pamphlets.

The ruling also doesn’t mean that police can never use force. On the contrary, the courts have said that police have the “duty” to use force when someone is resisting arrest.

But if police go overboard, a citizen can defend himself as long as he or she does not use more force than the officers.

A citizen also “loses his privilege of self-defense if he knows that if he submits to the officer, the officer’s excessive use of force will cease,” Thursday’s decision says.

Previous rulings held that the self-defense instruction to the jury is required even when not requested by a defense attorney.

Recent news reports have put police use of force in the spotlight in the state.

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