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The police power to detain and arrest suspects is fairly broad, with a few general limitations. If police officers have a reasonable suspicion that you've committed a crime, they may attempt to arrest you, and evading that arrest may be a crime in and of itself.
Depending on the circumstances and the state statute involved, the penalties for resisting or evading arrest can be severe. Here's a look at some general principles when it comes to running from police, and the possible consequences.
While police officers are permitted to stop someone on a public street and ask questions, individuals are equally entitled to refuse to answer any such questions and walk away. In order to actually detain or search someone on the street, cops need a "reasonable and articulable suspicion" that the person engaged in criminal activity.
In order to arrest someone, police either need a valid warrant or some narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement must exist. Police may arrest felony suspects in a public place -- if the circumstances make it reasonable to do so -- or those who commit misdemeanors in an officer's presence. If the reason for the arrest is valid and the arrest itself is legal, it is a crime to resist or evade arrest. (While some courts have ruled that you can't be charged with a criminal attempt to escape if the arrest was unlawful, for your safety you should probably follow officer instructions and challenge the arrest in court later.)
Punishment for Leaving
States may vary in how they define arrest or police custody, the circumstances needed for conviction if you're evading arrest, and the penalties involved. Under Texas law, "[a] person commits an offense if he intentionally flees from a person he knows is a peace officer or federal special investigator attempting lawfully to arrest or detain him." Evading arrest or detention is a misdemeanor in the Lone Star State, but can be a felony if the person fleeing has prior convictions, uses a vehicle to escape, or causes someone's death while escaping.
In Florida, resisting, obstructing, or opposing any officer or "other person legally authorized to execute process in the execution of legal process or in the lawful execution of any legal duty, without offering or doing violence to the person of the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree." As misdemeanors, both are punishable but up to one year in jail, though fines may vary.
Your best bet, if charged with a crime or otherwise facing arrest, is to go to an experienced criminal defense attorney instead of going on the run.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.