When you suspect that you are on the wrong and you do not want to face an arrest, fleeing from the police may sound like a good idea. However, this is a severe offense in California, and one of the crimes we handle at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney. There are exceptions though; for instance, the police may assume that you were fleeing from them when that is not your real intent. In that case, you need the best legal representation to fight the charge of evading a police officer.
Understanding Evading a Police Officer and What It Entails
California laws make it illegal for any person to escape from the police when officers are pursuing them. Fleeing or trying to evade an officer that is coming after you while you are driving a car is a severe offense in the state, punishable by law. There are many instances when this can happen.
Example: A person is driving home from work. When they are just a few blocks away from their home, a traffic police officer realizes that one of their tail lights is out. The police flash his lights, to motion the person to stop. Since the person is too tired to stop, and they are only a few meters away from their home, they decide to keep driving.
The same thing could happen when you are on the freeway. For some reason, a police officer signals you to stop, but because you do not want to get arrested, you increase the speed of your car and drive away. The police come after you, and in your effort to escape from the officer, you start weaving your way through traffic, endangering the lives of other motorists on the road.
Both cases of fleeing from a police officer are criminal offenses. They could leave you serving a jail term or paying hefty fines if you are found guilty of the crime. California laws against evading a police officer are provided under Section 2800.1 of California Vehicle Code. According to this law, a person is found guilty of evading a peace officer if they willfully fled or made attempts to escape from an officer that was pursuing them.
To understand the legal explanation of this offense better, let us look at the elements of this crime, which a prosecutor must prove for an offender to be convicted. The following are the elements of the crime:
- A police officer was pursuing an offender while driving in a vehicle or riding a bicycle
- The offender, who was also operating a car or on a bike, willfully tried to flee or fled from the officer
- The officer had a minimum of one lighted lamp from the forward-facing of their vehicle, which was visible
- The offender saw or should have reasonably seen the bright light
- The officer sounded a siren in a very reasonable way
- The officer's car was distinctively marked
- The police officer was in a unique uniform
These seven elements of the crime must all be proven for the offender to be charged under Section 2800.1 of California Vehicle Code. From the aspects of the crime, let us examine some of the legal phrases separately.
Willfully fleeing from a police officer with a specific intention to avoid escape
A person is guilty of this offense if they did evade a police officer willfully with only one specific intent. 'Willfully' in this case means that they did so on purpose or willingly. Note that your intention at that instant may not have been to commit a crime, take advantage, or hurt another person, but only to escape from the officer that is pursuing you.
The crime of evading a police officer needs to have a specific intention in it. What this means is that the offender needs to have a particular intention in the commission of the crime. The main aim, in this case, will be to evade the officer to avoid being arrested or for another reason. If an offender escaped a police officer for another reason, they could use that reason as a defense against this offense.
Example: A man is driving his pregnant wife to a hospital. In a state of panic, he operates at a higher speed than required. A police officer makes an effort to pull the man over, but the man's mind is on getting his wife to the hospital safely. Afterward, the police officer apprehends the man successfully. The man may not be found guilty of evading the officer because his primary intent at that instant was to rush his wife to the hospital and not to elude the officer.
An officer's vehicle
There are particular requirements about how the officer's car must appear. They are provided under Section 2800.1 of the California Vehicle Code. These must be satisfied for a person to be found guilty of evading the pursuing officer.
The officer's car must, for instance, have, as a minimum, one of its front lights visibly lighted. Again, the officer needs to be signaling a siren at a reasonable sound. Also, the police officer's vehicle needs to be uniquely marked in another way other than by the lighted lamp or sounding siren.
In California, there are several ways through which a police car can be uniquely marked. Some of these are as follows:
- Through the use of a police seal or name or the police department marked on the outer parts of the vehicle
- Through the use of flashing bright or blue lights that will be noticeable by everyone, including the driver that the officer is pursuing
- Though the use of "Wig Wag" lights or the flashing headlights
The marking should be visible to other motorists. This way, the driver that is evading the officer will not use an invisible marking as an excuse for why they did not stop when the officer pulled then over. If the car is not marked, a California court may not find you guilty of evading a police officer. This would be so even if the officer sounded the siren and had one of their red lamps lighted.
Note that all the three requirements about the officer's car must be satisfied for an offender to be found guilty of fleeing from the officer.
A uniformed officer
The uniform is another essential requirement when a person is facing charges for evading a police officer. This section of the law requires the officer to be in a distinct uniform. A distinct uniform, in this case, means clothes that have been legally adopted by the police agency to set the officers apart from members of the public. Note that the uniform does not have to be full or any level of formality.
If the officer has a badge only, his/her uniform will not be considered sufficient. Since he or she does not have any distinctive clothing, the person may not be found guilty of the charge.
Penalties for California Evading a Police Officer
Evading a police officer as provided under Section 2800.1 of the state's Vehicle Code is a misdemeanor. There are more serious crimes of this offense, provided under Sections 2800.2 and 2800.3, namely Recklessly Evading a Police Officer and Evading an Officer Resulting in Death or Injury.
Misdemeanor Evading a Police Officer
A misdemeanor conviction is the less severe form of Section 2800 of California Vehicle Code, namely Disobeying a Peace Officer. Just as its name suggests, the offense is convicted as a misdemeanor, attracting some or more of the penalties below:
- Summary or misdemeanor probation
- Incarceration for not more than one year in jail
- A maximum fine of $1000
- Impoundment of your car for thirty days at most
In addition to these penalties, the judge may see it fit to suspend your driving license for the same period you will be on misdemeanor probation.
The court will find you guilty of only one offense of evading a police officer for every event the offense was committed, regardless of the number of officers you avoided in that event.
To get misdemeanor probation, your criminal defense attorney and the prosecutor will have to agree to it through a plea agreement. The judge may also grant it during sentencing, especially for first-time offenders. Remember that probation will come with some conditions that you must abide by, failure to which the court might revoke it. Some of these conditions might be not to violate any laws or to abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol, especially if you were evading an officer because of drunk driving.
Commercial drivers may lose their driving privileges for at least one year if they are found liable for evading a police officer. If you have faced a conviction for more than one violation of this law, you might lose your driver's license to revocation for life. Losing one's driver's license is a very harsh penalty for a person who is dependent on their driving license to earn a livelihood. That is why you should seek legal help as soon as you are arrested for evading a police officer.
Recklessly Evading a Police Officer
This offense is covered under Section 2800.2 of the California Vehicle Code and is committed when a person: a) evades a police officer in a car as provided under Section 2800.1 of the state's Vehicle Code, b) While doing so, they willfully drive with no regard for the well-being of people or safety of property.
In this case, recklessly evading a police officer, takes place when a person fleeing from a police officer in a car drives recklessly and dangerously to the point of putting the lives of other motorists in danger.
The elements of this crime are just the same as those provided under Section 2800.1 for misdemeanor evading a police officer plus the fact that you were recklessly and dangerously risking injuring people or damaging property.
The most distinctive element about this offense is the wanton neglect for the well-being of people and the safety of the property. Wanton disregard is the critical element that qualifies this offense to be convicted as a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor. The prosecutor will believe that you had a disregard for safety when the following happens:
- When you drive recklessly knowing too well that your behavior can cause unjust harm to people or property
- When you intentionally ignore the risks of your actions
Wanton disregard of the safety of others or property can happen even if you do not cause an accident or when you do not plan to cause an accident.
This offense could happen when a person makes an unlawful U-turn, over speeds, or drives in the wrong way to avoid police officers who are pursuing him/her. Such a person will avoid hitting other cars or people on the road because their main intention is not to harm anyone but to escape from the police; but since that person posed an unwarrantable risk of injuring people or causing property damage, they may be found guilty of recklessly evading a police officer.
You could still be charged under Section 2800.2 if you are guilty of three or more traffic offenses that have been covered under California Vehicle Code. When this happens, the court has reason to believe that you have a wanton disregard for the safety of people and property.
Felony reckless evading a police officer is a more severe offense when compared to misdemeanor evading a police officer. Some of the penalties you are likely to face if found guilty of the crime include:
- Formal or felony probation
- Sixteen months, two, or three years of incarceration
- A fine of not more than $10,000
Note that anyone that is convicted of reckless evading a police officer is likely to get their car impounded or their driver's license suspended. This is true, regardless of whether you get a felony or misdemeanor. The judge might have your vehicle impounded for at least thirty days. You could also get a license suspension for the same length of time you might be on probation.
For offenders who hold a commercial driver's license, their right to drive a commercial vehicle may be suspended for at least one year if they are found guilty of this offense. More than one violation of Section 2800.2 of the California Vehicle Code will cause the Department of Motor Vehicles to revoke your commercial driver's license for the rest of your life.
Evading a Police Officer Resulting in Death or Injury
This offense is covered under Section 2800.3 of the California Vehicle Code. To be found guilty of this offense, the following main elements of this crime must be satisfied:
- That the offender was evading a police officer in a car as defined under Section 2800.1 of California vehicle Code
- That by doing so, they caused death or severe bodily injury of another person
This section of the law will only be used to convict an offender if their act of evading a police officer resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of another person. This means that:
- The death or injury is the natural, direct, and probable result of your behavior
- The death or injury will not have occurred if you were not evading a police officer
For this statute, serious bodily injury is used to refer to severe impairment in the physical condition of a human being. Some of the injuries that are acceptable as serious bodily injury, in this case, will be:
- Loss of consciousness
- Bone fractures
- Wounds that require extensive suturing
- Serious disfigurement
- Impairment or protracted loss of the functioning of a body part
The penalties an offender can get for violating Section 2800.3 will depend on whether their actions resulted in death or serious bodily injury of another person.
If you only caused an injury, the offense is a wobbler according to California statutes. This means that the prosecutor will either charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony. This is mainly dependent on the conditions of the crime as well as the offender's criminal history.
If convicted as a misdemeanor, the punishments will be misdemeanor probation, a jail term for at most one year, or a fine of between $2000 and $10,000.
If he/she gets a felony conviction, the offender might get felony probation, three, five, or seven years of incarceration, or a fine of between $2000 and $10,000.
If the offense resulted in the death of another person, the offender would receive a felony conviction. The likely punishment for this conviction will be four, six, or ten years behind bars.
Section 2800.3 offenders are likely to face additional penalties such as suspension of their driver's licenses for the length of their probation or vehicle impoundments for one year if they are found liable for the crime.
Legal Defenses for California Evading a Police Officer
From the penalties listed above, it is clear that evading a police officer is one of the most serious offenses in California that will leave you serving a term in prison or jail, paying hefty penalties, or even losing your car or driver's permit. For that reason, you need the best legal help you can get to fight the charges. A competent criminal defense attorney will study the details of your case to determine an avenue they can use to plan a strong defense for you. There are several legal defenses that he/she can use to help your case as we will discuss below.
Your case lacked a specific intention
The only way you can face charges for evading a police officer is if you had a particular intention of fleeing from an officer that was pursuing you. If this specific intent was not there, then the court will not find you guilty of the crime. If you were pulled over by an officer, but you did not stop, it could be because you were too distracted to note that the police officer was stopping you. It could also be because you were not sure that it was a legitimate police officer that was stopping you. A smart attorney will find a way to challenge the claims that you explicitly intended to avoid an officer.
Lack of sufficient evidence
Remember that for you to be found guilty of evading a police officer, there are specific elements that must be fully satisfied by the prosecutor. These include the way the police car should appear and how the officer should be dressed. The prosecutor should be able to prove that all the elements were met, which is not always an easy task. If any of the requirements were not met, then the court will have to drop the charges. A reasonable attorney will always find a way to demonstrate to the court that the evidence brought against the offender is insufficient.
Voluntary intoxication could be used to fight charges for evading a police officer. If you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you couldn’t intentionally avoid a police officer. The court will buy the ides that an intoxicated person is incapable of forming a specific resolve such as fleeing from an officer. However, note that this defense will bring forth another charge of DUI. Your attorney will tell you that pleading guilty of drunk driving is a better option than facing charges of misdemeanor evading a police officer. If the court accepts your defense, you might get a more lenient charge.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
California laws are unambiguous on the penalties faced by anyone found guilty of evading a police officer. Many of these cases come up when a person is evading arrest for an offense they have already committed. However, there are instances when a person innocently flees from the police without knowing that an officer is pursuing them. If you have been arrested for evading a police officer, seek the best criminal defense attorney to help with your case. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney has the best team in place to support you in fighting the charges you are facing and ensuring that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. Call us at 310-564-2605 and let us start planning your defense.
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