Old California Law No Longer a Misdemeanor for San Diegans

Many states have old, outdated laws in existence. Unfortunately, the laws make no sense and do not coincide with society in 2019. This is why early this September, Governor Newsom signed a bill that no longer makes it a misdemeanor for citizens to refuse to help the police. The law is an outdated one from the days of the Wild West and is known as the California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872.

What is the California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872?

Although you may have not heard of the law, the California Posse Comitatus Act of 1872 made it a crime, specifically a misdemeanor, for an able-bodied person over the age of 18 to refuse to assist the police in making arrests or taking people into custody. The elements of the law are:

  • Person must be 18 years of age or older
  • Person must be able-bodied – meaning no physical ailments or disabilities
  •  Police must request assistance on demand

The law dates back to the Wild West days when cowboys and outlaws, or fugitives and bandits wandered around the State of California.

The law allowed for citizens to receive a misdemeanor charge along with a fine of up to $1,000 for refusing or failing to help police make arrests or catch suspects, when the police request the help on demand.

How Was the Law Found?

According to an article in CNN, the interns of Senator Hertzberg found the old law. They were tasked with identifying old laws in the books. When they found this law was still in existence, Senator Hertzberg introduced State Senate Bill 192 to remove the law.

Had the Law Been Used Recently?

Unfortunately, yes.

Law enforcement made an attempt to use it to its benefit recently. According to a report by the Sacramento Bee, the law was referred to in 2014 when a sheriff’s office used posse comitatus as a defense in a lawsuit filed against them for an allegation by a man and woman saying they were deceived into responding to a 911 call by the sheriff’s office.

What Does ‘Posse Comitatus’ Mean?

Black’s Law Dictionary defines posse comitatus as the power or force of the county. The term is Latin, much like many legal terms. While the term also applies to a U.S. federal law, 18 U.S.C. Section 1385, the federal law reserves itself to the use of military personnel.

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