Being pulled over by a law enforcement officer can be incredibly stressful for most people. From the moment those lights flash behind them, a driver's mind starts to race through worries. Informed motorists know that it is best to remain calm and simply look for a safe place to pull over. The same principle applies to other legitimate police commands outside of a vehicle as well. When officers ask people to do something (or stop doing something), it is in their best interests to follow orders.
Whether it is the flashing lights of a police cruiser or an officer telling them to stop, anyone who does not stop promptly at the signal of a police officer could potentially face charges for evading, fleeing, or eluding a law enforcement officer. These are state law criminal charges, which could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances of the incident.
This article contains more detailed information about the criminal consequences o eluding the police.
Typical Elements of the Crime of Eluding the Police
To prove a charge of eluding police, the prosecution must establish several different facts about the incident beyond a reasonable doubt. Different jurisdictions' statutes have different requirements. For example, in some states the prosecutor might be required to show that the police vehicle in pursuit was distinctively marked or that the officer was in full uniform. Similarly, it might be required that the officer's vehicle used some particular combination of lights and sirens as part of the demand to stop.
If vehicles are not involved, the officer must signal an order either verbally, via a 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. Take an example of a state-specific statute for evading the police. In Texas, a prosecutor must establish each of the following elements to achieve a conviction on a "Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Police" charge:
- The defendant was operating a motor vehicle;
- The defendant willfully failed or refused to bring a vehicle to a stop - or fled - or attempted to elude a pursuing police vehicle;
- The defendant was given a visual or audible signal (by hand, voice, emergency light, or siren) to stop;
- The officer was in uniform, with their badge displayed prominently, and;
- The police vehicle bore the insignia of the law enforcement agency.
While the elements listed above are specific to an officer in a vehicle, the same principles can apply to legitimate police commands that do not involve vehicles. In such cases, individuals who fail to heed a clear police command, whether it is verbal or otherwise made reasonably clear by a distinctively marked officer (wearing a police uniform, showing a badge), may be charged with 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. 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 and what kinds of plea bargains to negotiate. Typically, misdemeanors can have the following punishments.
- Up to one year in jail;
- A fine (amount changes depending on the jurisdiction); and
- One-year (or more) 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 by the defendant, penalties will be substantially greater. Standard felony penalties include:
- Sentences of imprisonment lasting a year or greater (with the possibility of probation);
- A fine that is more than fines for misdemeanors; and
- One-year or longer driver's license suspension.
Possible Defenses to Evading Police
Nor every charge that arises from fleeing the police will necessarily result in a conviction for the crime. There are several possible defenses for a criminal charge of eluding police.
Lack of Intent
A prosecutor needs to prove intent or (in legal jargon) mens rea. That is, the prosecutor would need to prove that the defendant made certain acts intentionally.
Mistaken Identity / Alibi
The prosecution needs to prove who was driving the vehicle. If the officer fails to identify the driver properly, or if the defendant has reliable evidence that shows they were somewhere else at the time of the incident, the prosecution's case can be defeated.
Duress / Threats
If a carjacking victim speeds away from police at the urging of the robber who holds them at gunpoint, that person can likely assert the legal defense of duress even though they may have technically satisfied every element of the statute.
In some jurisdictions, a person rushing to the hospital because of a serious medical emergency could assert a legal defense for failing to stop at a police signal. In other states, a person is likely to be reminded by the prosecution that ambulances exist for a reason, and the public harm of people speeding away from police vehicles outweighs any marginal benefit from getting to the hospital a few minutes sooner. Even those who are found guilty of the underlying offense may find that asserting necessity could reduce punishment as a mitigating factor.
Get Legal Help Defending Against Your Eluding Police Charges
Whenever you are facing criminal charges, it is in your best interests to consult with a lawyer. A charge of evading police can carry serious and immediate consequences. An experienced criminal defense attorney can investigate the charges against you and negotiate on your behalf.
Get started today and find an experienced criminal lawyer near you.