A police stop is often stressful. When an officer asks you to stop or see the cruiser lights flashing, your mind begins to race. You should try and keep calm in this overwhelming situation and find a safe spot to pull over. It would help if you did the same even after stopping by ensuring you comply with all the orders issued by the officer.
If you fail to pull over after an officer has instructed you, you could face evading a police officer charge. The offense can be filed as a misdemeanor based on your case’s nature. A conviction for contravention attracts detrimental penalties. Luckily, the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney offers legal assistance to individuals charged with evading or eluding an officer. Below is what you need to know about fleeing an officer.
Evading an Officer Overview
Per Vehicle Code (VC) 2800.1, it is a crime to purposefully elude, evade, or flee a police officer pursuing you in your vehicle while performing lawful duties. Whether the officer was driving a patrol cruiser or riding a motorcycle is not essential if you were fleeing an officer in pursuit. The offense is deemed a specific intent crime, meaning the prosecutor must prove your actions were intended to elude or lose an officer in pursuit to avoid arrest or being caught contravening the law. Your willfulness to evade the officer must be clear for the prosecutor to gain a conviction. If these elements of the case are not proven beyond reasonable certainty, you are not guilty under the law.
Elements of Evading an Officer
The prosecutor must prove multiple aspects of the case to gain a conviction. For instance, the prosecutor must illustrate that the officer pursuing you was in a police car distinctively marked, the sirens were sounded, or the officer was in uniform. The police car must have also flashed a red light indicating you should stop. And even if the lights were flashed, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you spotted them or that a reasonable person under your circumstances could have seen the lights.
Similarly, you must have been driving a car, or you purposefully fled or attempted to elude a law enforcement officer to escape arrest or being caught in the act of commissioning a crime.
Also, to face charges of evading an officer, it must be clear the person instructing you to stop or pull over was an officer. You could face charges for eluding an officer even if you were riding a bicycle. Nonetheless, the elements to be proven when a bicycle is involved differ from those when a car is involved. Most VC 2800.1 violations involve police pursuing in their vehicle while you are driving yours. Let us take a keener look at these elements.
Intentionally or Purposefully
A VC 2800.1 infringement is a crime of specific intent, meaning you must have evaded or tried to evade the officers deliberately to commit a crime. Acting willfully or intentionally means you clearly wanted to flee the officer but not necessarily commit a crime or injure another party. Also, it is not a must that you intentionally flee the officer to gain an advantage. Instead, it means you were conscious of your conduct and knew you were escaping the law enforcer. If there were other reasons for escaping, you could use lack of intentions or willfulness as a defense.
VC 2800.1 enumerates how police vehicles should be distinctively marked. Proper marking helps you identify the car and know that an officer is pursuing you. The requirements are as follows:
- The police car should have at least one well-lighted red light visible from the front
- The car must have at least one audible siren
- The officer’s car must be distinctively marked as a police vehicle on top of the red lamp and siren.
For example, the outside of the police vehicle can have the officer’s department name or a marked seal. Further, when instructing you to pull over, the officer must flash the blue or white lights which you can see or ought to see. Again, the car can flash the front lights while pursuing. When the only distinctive marks on the police car were the siren and red lamps, you can argue that you could not identify the vehicle as one belonging to the police to avoid a conviction for evading an officer charge.
The Officer Must be in Uniform
Identifying an officer who is not in a unique uniform is challenging. The law is clear that an officer must be in a distinctive uniform at the time of the pursuit. The official uniform helps differentiate officers on duty from members of the public. Although the officer does not necessarily need to be in full uniform, their clothing must be sufficient to distinguish the officers from civilians. Producing a badge alone is not enough to formally identify the officer.
An adequate uniform could be a bulletproof vest or clothing clearly labeled with the name police. Even though the bulletproof vest is not a complete uniform, it clearly distinguishes the officer from the public. So, if you escape someone adorned in adequate police clothing, you are guilty of a VC 2800.1 violation charge.
Penalties for a VC 2800.1 Violation
The offense of fleeing an officer under VC 2800.1 is a misdemeanor. When convicted, the violation is penalized as follows:
- At most 12 months in a Los Angeles city jail
- Court-imposed fines of no more than $1,000
Additionally, the vehicle used to flee the police could be impounded for thirty days. Sometimes, the judge can impose misdemeanor probation in place of the jail term, but the challenge is that your driving privileges will be suspended. While on probation, you will be assigned a supervising officer responsible for reporting to the court on your progress. The terms of probation include community labor.
You must understand that even if several officers in one police vehicle are pursuing you, you will only be charged for eluding a single police officer. Nonetheless, you risk sentence enhancement when the pursuit continues to the extent several police cars are pursuing. Besides, if you have multiple incidents of evading officers, you will face several counts of VC 2800.1 violation.
You could also lose your commercial driving privileges if you flee or attempt to escape an officer while driving a commercial vehicle. If you have a prior for evading an officer using a commercial car, a subsequent conviction will result in losing the commercial driver’s license for life. Losing a driver’s license is severe because it means losing a livelihood if you rely on a commercial license to make a living.
Reckless Eluding or Fleeing an Officer
Evading an officer could be filed as a wobbler under VC 2800.2 when you recklessly flee an officer. The crime involves deliberately escaping an officer in pursuit while operating your car recklessly with a disregard for the safety of other road users and property. You will face these charges when you flee an officer in a motor vehicle, and in the process of escaping, you drive your car, disregarding people's and property's safety.
Assume an officer signals you to stop, but you disobey the orders and flee at a speed of 70mph on an open highway. In these circumstances, you will face VC 2800.1 violation charges because you did not risk lives or properties by driving at that speed on an open highway. However, if the stop happened in the crowded Los Angeles city streets, driving at 70mph would risk lives and property. Under these circumstances, you will face charges for reckless evading of an officer, which could be filed as a felony or misdemeanor.
A misdemeanor conviction for a VC 2800.2 violation attracts:
- Between six to twelve months of county jail incarceration
- Monetary court fines not exceeding $1,000
- Impoundment of the car you were fleeing on for thirty days
On the other hand, a conviction for a felony VC 2800.2 violation is punishable by:
- Between sixteen to thirty-six months in prison
- Court-imposed fines of no more than $10,000
- Vehicle impoundment for thirty days
On top of these penalties, a conviction will have severe ramifications on various aspects of your life. First, you will lose your commercial driving privileges for an entire year. Without a commercial driver’s license, your employer will release you from your responsibilities, and you will not have a source of livelihood. Matters will be worse if you have a subsequent conviction. At least two convictions for VC 2800.2 violations will result in a lifetime suspension of your CDL.
Similarly, when you are escaping an officer to avoid an arrest for a crime like production, distribution, or sale of controlled substances, a conviction will result in losing driving privileges, even if it is your first offense.
Also, a felony sentence for reckless evading of an officer will result in permanent loss of firearm purchase, possession, or ownership rights. These consequences are severe because PEN 29800 prohibits individuals convicted of felonies from owning a firearm.
With these severe consequences on the line, it is critical to have an experienced criminal attorney in your corner. Your attorney will argue that your conduct at the time of fleeing does not amount to disregard for the security of road users and property. Instead, you had an emergency that requires you to act as you did. Again, if the way of driving does not qualify as reckless, the charges will be reduced to a VC 2800.1 violation which is a misdemeanor and carries lesser penalties.
Eluding an Officer While Causing Harm or Death
When you evade or attempt to flee an officer pursuing you in a vehicle and cause an accident resulting in injuries or death, you will be criminally liable under VC 2800.3. The victim of your actions could be a fellow driver, passenger, or occupant in your vehicle. For you to face charges under this statute, the victim must have sustained severe bodily injuries or death due to your driving. If the physical injuries are minor or the victim suffers psychological distress, you have not violated VC 2800.3.
Evading an officer, leading to injuries or death, is a wobbler, which allows the prosecutor to file the charge as a felony or misdemeanor based on injury severity, the case’s facts, and your criminal record.
A misdemeanor sentence is punishable by:
- No more than a full year in jail
- Between $2,000 to $10,000 court fines
- Impoundment of the car in question
VC 2800.3 violation attracts the following penalties:
- A state prison incarceration ranging from three to seven years
- Court-imposed fines of between $2,000 to $10,000
- Car impoundment
If a felony charge involves the death of another person using the road when evading the police, you risk a prison sentence of four to ten years.
Contesting Charges for Evading an Officer
Just because you face charges for eluding an officer does not necessarily mean you committed the offense. Several legal defenses are available to help you fight the charges. These legal defenses are:
1. You Did Not Intend to Flee the Officer
Before you are found guilty of evading or fleeing an officer, the prosecutor must show that you intended to escape the officer in pursuit. Therefore, unless you deliberately fled the officer, you are not guilty of a VC 2800.1 violation. Your defense attorney can argue that heavy traffic, bad weather, or failure to see the officer on time hindered you from obeying the traffic officer’s orders to pull over. Also, the attorney can claim that you saw a police car behind you but were unaware it was pursuing you. Or, you were not fleeing but looking for a safe location to make the stop. If it was not safe to stop or you were unaware you were being pulled over, the charges would be dropped.
2. You Were Acting Out of Necessity
Perhaps someone had a medical emergency, and you rushed them to the hospital when the officer signaled you to stop and refused. Your attorney can argue that you were driving your pregnant wife, who was in labor, to the hospital, and the concern for their safety or the unborn baby's safety was why you could not obey the officer’s orders to pull over.
Proving you had a genuine emergency will not be easy. You will need statements from witnesses around you when you had a medical emergency on the day or time of apprehension. Additionally, you can table evidence in videos or written documents to prove you had an emergency. That way, you will convince the court that escaping the officers was not willful. Although having an emergency does not change the fact that you failed to stop, it reduces or eliminates the penalties for the offense.
3. The Traffic Stop Was Illegal
Police officers had strict guidelines that must be adhered to when stopping someone in traffic. One of these requirements is probable cause. The officer must have valid reasons for pulling you over, like suspicion you are committing a crime or under the influence. Nonetheless, you can defeat the charges in court when an officer lacks a valid reason to stop your vehicle and alleges you tried to escape. Your attorney will assert the officer had no valid reason to make the stop in the first place and you did not see the need to stop. Further, you can argue, through your legal team, that you were afraid the officer was racially profiling you and could not risk stopping. That way, the charges against you will be dismissed.
4. Inadequate Evidence
VC 2800.1 is clear on the dress code of an officer and the marking of the police car that is pursuing you. The officer must be in adequate uniform, making it easy for you to differentiate them from the general public. The pursuing vehicle should be distinctively marked, have a visible red lamb, and an audible siren. When the pursuing officers do not meet these requirements by the law, your attorney can argue that the prosecutor lacks sufficient evidence to demonstrate to the court that the individuals pursuing you at the time of the alleged crime were law enforcers and not imposters. You will obtain a charge reduction or dismissal with an argument like this.
5. You were Driving While Intoxicated
Another defense against a VC 2800.1 violation is arguing that you were drunk or drugged at the time of the incident. By making this argument, you demonstrate to the court that voluntary intoxication caused you to fail to stop. Alcohol or drugs interfere with your judgment, and as a result, you were not in a position to form specific intent to escape the officer to avoid arrest for drunk driving. If your attorney makes the court believe this, you will not face charges for evading an officer. Instead, you will be charged with driving while drunk or drugged. Nonetheless, a first DUI's penalties are lesser than those of a VC 2800.1 violation. Besides, the social stigma associated with a DUI sentence is less than that of fleeing an officer.
Offenses Related to Eluding an Officer
Several other charges could be filed against you with or instead of evading an officer. These charges are:
Per PEN 148a, it is a crime to intentionally restrict, obstruct or delay a police officer or medical technician from performing their duties. Usually, arrests are sudden and unplanned, but this does not give you the right to resist one. When you obstruct or delay an arrest, you face two charges, one for resisting apprehension and the other for the baseline crime.
The offense is related to evading an officer in that when you restrict or delay an arrest, you have the specific intent to flee or escape an impending arrest. You will face resisting arrest counts if you try to escape or elude an officer on foot, using a bike, motorcycle, bus, or any other transportation mode. A conviction for a PEN 148a violation is punishable by monetary court fines of up to $1,000 or jail incarceration for a full year.
Hit and Run
VC 20002 prohibits individuals who cause accidents that result in property destruction, loss of life, or bodily harm from leaving or fleeing the scene without identifying the victim and sharing contact information. The law requires that after you cause an accident, you stop, check on those that have been injured, and exchange information. When you fail to adhere to these stipulations, you risk felony or misdemeanor VC 20002 violation charges.
Illegal Taking or Driving of a Car
Under VC 10851, you are discouraged from taking or driving someone else’s vehicle, even when you do not plan on stealing the car. The offense is also known as joyriding. Typically, the offense occurs when you are fleeing, pursuing officers, and hijacking another person’s car to make it difficult for the officers to find you. If you are lucky to escape, the owner of the car you hijacked will be wrongfully charged with a VC 10851 violation.
For a conviction for the crime to happen, the prosecutor must prove you took somebody else’s car without their consent and intended to deprive them of its benefits for some time, however short. Whether or not you planned on returning the vehicle is not relevant to this case. You risk felony or misdemeanor consequences based on your case’s circumstances if convicted of this offense. The penalties for a misdemeanor offense include a full year behind bars in county jail. On the other hand, a felony is punishable by no more than three years in prison.
However, you will be charged with a felony if you take or drive an ambulance or a uniquely marked police, firefighting department, or disabled persons’ vehicle. A sentence for this offense will result in up to forty-eight months in prison.
Find a Profound Driving Offense Attorney Near Me
It is critical to consult with a criminal attorney when accused of any crime. The offense of eluding or fleeing the police is severely punished, and the consequences are immediately felt. We are ready to investigate the case and defeat the charges at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. If a charge defeat is impossible, we will negotiate for a reduced sentence on your behalf. Call us today at 424-333-0943 for a zero-obligation consultation.