This scenario could happen: you’re out in public enjoying some free time, maybe shopping. It appears a police officer is in trouble and needs assistance. Should you help? Can you help? Could your best intentions be misconstrued?
What the law says
Georgia provides immunity from criminal liability for any person who “reasonably and in good faith” assists a law enforcement officer in trouble. Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 16-3-22 protects an individual who assists an officer in distress by the following language:
(a) Any person who renders assistance reasonably and in good faith to any law enforcement officer who is being hindered in the performance of his official duties or whose life is being endangered by the conduct of any other person or persons while performing his official duties shall be immune to the same extent as the law enforcement officer from any criminal liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of rendering assistance to the law enforcement officer.
Furthermore. . .
(b) The official report of the law enforcement agency shall create a rebuttable presumption of good faith and reasonableness on the part of the person who assists the law enforcement officer.
Let’s discuss some practical considerations. Even if your goal is to assist the officer, he or she may not know that. Keep in mind first and foremost, the law does not require you to assist. If you should decide to assist:
- Make your intentions clear.
- Let the officer know in the clearest manner possible, you are there to assist him or her. You are not the bad guy.
- Follow the officer’s commands, especially any commands to stop physical action.
Remember, you are only immune to the same extent as the officer is immune: if the suspect is in custody, and the officer (or officers) have terminated a physical response, you must do so as well.
Taking any action after the officer has taken the suspect into custody could open you up to liability for any injuries incurred, either to the suspect or the officer. And if other officers arrive and command you to stop, do so: those officers must interpret the scene as they find it, and if you fail to follow their commands it could be wrongly assumed you are an accomplice to the suspect, and that wouldn’t be helpful at all.
Make an informed decision before you assist a law enforcement officer, and don’t put yourself in harm’s way: remember, police are trained professionals, and what may seem like an uncontrolled situation to you could be a controlled situation to them.
For any questions regarding defending a third party or coming to the aid of a law enforcement officer, please contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to an Independent Program Attorney.