Being pulled over by a law enforcement officer can be incredibly stressful. From the moment those lights flash, your mind starts to race. It’s important to remain calm and look for a safe place to pull over. The same is true for other legitimate police commands when you’re not in your vehicle. When an officer asks you to do something (or stop doing something), it’s in your best interests to follow orders.
An individual who doesn’t stop promptly after a police officer issues an order, whether it’s a police cruiser with its lights flashing or an officer telling them to stop, could face charges for evading, fleeing, or eluding a law enforcement officer. This is a state law criminal charge that may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony. Here’s what you need to know about evading the police.
Elements of the Crime of Evading the Police
A conviction for evading the police requires the prosecution to establish several different facts about the incident. For example, it must be established that the police vehicle in pursuit was distinctively marked or that the officer was in full uniform and (if in a vehicle) that sirens were sounded as reasonably as possible. The officer's vehicle must exhibit at least one red light to indicate the demand to stop.
If vehicles are not involved, the officer must signal an order either verbally, via hand gesture, or some other means that is clear to the individual being pursued. These factors can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the case.
The prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt all the “elements” of the crime. In many states the crime of evading an officer in a police vehicle is established by showing:
- The police officer was pursuing you in a motor vehicle;
- You were also driving the vehicle when you willfully fled, or tried to evade the pursuing police; and
- The following was true:
- The police officer’s vehicle had at least one red light visible from the front;
- You saw or should have seen the red light;
- The police officer sounded the siren;
- The vehicle was distinctively marked as a police officer’s vehicle; and
- The official was wearing a police officer’s uniform.
While the elements listed above are specific to an officer in a vehicle, the same principles apply to legitimate police commands that don’t involve vehicles. In such cases, individuals who fail to heed a clear police command, whether it’s verbal or otherwise made reasonably clear by a distinctively marked officer (wearing a police uniform, showing a badge), may be charged for evading police.
Penalties for Evading the Police
A criminal charge of fleeing or evading the police may be either a misdemeanor or felony charge, depending on the circumstances. Generally fleeing the police in a vehicle is a felony charge, but eluding the police on foot is usually a misdemeanor. In either case, penalties depend on the severity of the crime charged, and can include:
Prosecutors generally have a great degree of flexibility in deciding what crimes to charge, how to punish them, and what kinds of plea bargains to negotiate. Not always, but misdemeanors can have the following punishments.
- Up to one year in jail;
- A fine of up to $1,000; and
- One-year driver’s license suspension.
Felonies can also be punished in a range of ways so that the punishment matches the severity of the crime. For example, if during the act of fleeing someone is harmed or killed, penalties will be substantially greater. Standard felony penalties include:
- Up to years in state prison;
- A fine of $10,000;
- One-year driver’s license suspension; and
- Impoundment of your car.
Possible Defenses to Evading Police
Being charged with a crime is not the same as having committed the crime. There are several possible defenses for a criminal charge of evading police.
Lack of Intent
A prosecutor needs to prove intent or in legal jargon mens rea. That is, the police need to prove you intended to flee the pursuing officer. If you were speeding and saw a police car behind you in the distance, but not aware it was pursuing you, you can’t be convicted of evading the police.
The prosecution needs to prove that you were the driver of the vehicle. Perhaps you look like the driver, but were in fact not the driver of the car. Perhaps the car belonged to you, but you were not driving.
If you maintain that you were not the driver, and have an alibi. You will need an alibi witness to testify to your presence at a different location at the time of the alleged violation.
Duress / Threats
Your actions may be excused if you can prove that you were forced or under duress when you evaded the police. Typically you will need to prove that you were under a realistic threat of violence or actual violence to be able to use this defense.
Perhaps you were rushing to the hospital because of a serious illness or condition and failed to stop. Although you are guilty of the underlying offense, a valid necessity may reduce or eliminate any punishment.
Get Legal Help Defending Against Your Evading Police Charges
Whenever you're facing criminal charges, it’s in your best interests to consult with a lawyer. A charge of evading the police carries serious and immediate consequences. An experienced criminal defense attorney can investigate the charges against and negotiate on your behalf. Get started today and find an experienced criminal lawyer near you.