Evading a police officer is an offense that can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor in California. An individual notices police flashing through their rearview mirror or hear the police sirens indicating he or she needs to pull over. He/she, however, may pretend not to have heard or seen the sirens and thus keep driving or increase their speed. If you have been charged with evading a police officer, you need to hire the services of a defense attorney as soon as you can. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we are experienced in criminal defense cases and can offer you excellent representation to fight your case.
Understanding the Crime of Evading a Police Officer
California law makes it a criminal offense for an individual to purposely and willingly evade a police officer under VEH 2800.1. If you are accused of evading a police officer, a prosecutor must prove various elements to the offense for a conviction. These elements are:
- The police officer was in pursuit of the defendant in a vehicle
- The defendant was also in a car and willingly fled or tried to evade the officer to elude him or her
- That the following were facts:
- At least one red lamp was lit and visible the front of the officer car
- The defendant must have seen or was able to see the lamp
- The officer's car sounded a siren audibly enough for the defendant to hear
- The vehicle the officer was driving was marked
- The officer was in unmistakable uniform
It is important to note that the jury or judge examining the case and its facts are the ones that determine if the officer was in pursuit of the defendant or not. Similarly, the jury or judge is mandated with deciding if the defendant was fleeing or had the intention to elude the officer.
In determining the case, two questions arise as to the meaning of willfully and distinctive uniform or marked car. Here, we discuss these terms under the law and the role they play in determining the case.
A willful act is committed when it is done purposely or willingly. The law does not require a person to have an intention to violate the law, injure or hurt another, or benefit from the act.
Distinctive Uniform or Distinctively Marked
According to VEH 2800.1, it is a requirement for a police officer in pursuit of a suspect to be in a car. The car should be distinctly marked, and the officer dressed in a distinctive uniform. A distinctively marked vehicle has noticeable features drivers can quickly notice. Such features include a siren, red lamp, and any other element that makes it unique from other cars.
Distinctive uniform, on the other hand, is the dressing adopted by a police department or agency to identify or distinguish its members from the rest uniquely. The attire is not required to be complete or in any formality. However, a badge only is not sufficient in this case.
Penalties for Evading a Police Officer VEH 2800.1
When a person is accused of trying to elude a police officer in their car, they are likely to face misdemeanor charges. A conviction of this offense would mean county jail imprisonment for not more than a year or a cash fine not exceeding $1,000. In some cases, a defendant can be sentenced to both.
Legal Defenses For VEH 2800.1 Violations - Evading a Police Officer
When accused of this crime, you need a criminal defense attorney to formulate defense strategies on your behalf. Some of the defense strategies your lawyer may try to use in your case may include:
- You had no Intention of Evading
As earlier discussed, a person is guilty of this offense if he or she flees to get away from an officer in their pursuit to evade the cop, avoid, or escape from him. Your lawyer can use this defense to argue that your actions were not intentional.
- Lack of Flashing Lights
Under this statute, if a police officer had not even a single red flashing light on when pursuing the defendant, the accused cannot be found guilty of this offense. Your lawyer can challenge the prosecutor’s case by arguing that the police officer did not flash a light when pursuing the defendant.
- No Willful or Intentional Act
To get a conviction, a prosecutor must show that the defendant was fleeing the police willfully. However, to avoid a guilty verdict, the defendant, on the other hand, through their lawyer must demonstrate that their actions were not willful. Your lawyer can argue that you drove away because you were avoiding a crash.
- Immigration Consequences for Evading a Police Officer
If you are convicted of violating this law, your immigration status is not affected. Although there are various crimes in California that the violation may lead to a person getting deported or inadmissible, this is not one of them.
Expungement of the Conviction Record
After a conviction of this offense, a defendant who serves their punishment successfully can apply to have their record expunged. According to PEN 1203.4, a person is allowed to make an application to get their records expunged. The request releases the person from almost all effects of a VEH 2800.1 conviction.
PEN 1203.4 allows a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor to get their record expunged as long as the person meets the following two conditions:
- The individual must have their probation successfully and
- The individual is not in jail, still serving his or her probation or charged with another criminal offense.
This application means that on completing your jail sentence or probation period successfully, you can ask your lawyer to help you apply for the expungement of your record.
How Would a Conviction Affect your Gun Rights?
There are various misdemeanor and felony convictions in the state of California that can result in a person losing the privilege of owning a gun. Some misdemeanor convictions in California can also result in an individual’s gun rights being revoked for ten years.
Fortunately, a VEH 2800.1 conviction does not affect your gun rights. If you had a gun, you would continue owning the firearm. Neither will you be banned from using or possessing a firearm for any period.
Related Offenses to Evading a Police Officer
Various offenses can be charged instead of or alongside this offense. Here, we discuss these three offenses in detail. These offenses are:
- VEH 2800.2, Reckless Evading
A violation of this statute is prosecuted as a felony. A person is accused of this offense if, by the use of their vehicle, they try to evade an officer, and they do so carelessly and willingly without regard for the safety of others or property.
The offense of reckless evading involves fleeing from a police officer in a vehicle while dangerously driving. For the prosecution to get a conviction for this offense, they must prove the various elements, as found in VEH 2800.1 above, in addition to establishing the defendant was reckless.
There is one element that serves to distinguish this offense from that of misdemeanor evading a police officer. For a person to be found guilty of reckless evading, there must be evidence of their reckless driving. A person is said to act in absolute disregard of property or other people while evading an officer when:
- The individual is aware that their actions caused unnecessary risk to injure others and
- The person intentionally ignores the possible risk
Even when a person causes no damage by his or her actions, their actions can still be termed as wanton disregard. Additionally, the individual does not have to have had intentions to cause damage. However, because their actions would have resulted in a loss, the person will be prosecuted on felony charges of reckless evading.
For instance, to avoid a police officer that is pursuing him, John takes a sudden illegal turn and drives against traffic and at high speed. Along the road, he comes across pedestrians, the abrupt brakes, and avoids hitting them. Braking slows down his speed and allows the officer to catch up with him and arrest him. Although he did not cause any harm, and he never intended to, he will still be charged with reckless evading, which is a felony in California.
Additionally, under VEH 2800.2, if a defendant has committed at least three traffic violations of the assigned violation point count, the defendant is considered to have driven with absolute disregard for safety. A defendant can earn violation points if he/she was driving when the traffic was light, and he/she was asked to pull over, but instead, he/she tried to evade the police.
In the process, he/she violates various traffic rules, such as making a wrong turn, running a red light, among others. These offenses can earn him/her points on his/her driver’s license. When police catch up with him/her, even if the chase lasted only a few minutes and there was no danger to other motorists or pedestrians, the defendant is still guilty of reckless evading. He/she accumulated three violations and was still reckless in his/her driving.
It is also important to note that driving under the influence and trying to evade a police officer does not necessarily amount to reckless evading. For this crime to stick, the defendant’s driving must have involved absolute disregard for safety besides driving while intoxicated.
Penalties for VEH 2800.2 Violations
Reckless evading of a police officer is a wobbler offense in California. The prosecutors decide whether to charge it as a felony or a misdemeanor. The decision is based on the facts of the crime and the criminal history of the defendant.
However, prosecutors in California prefer to charge this offense as a felony. If it is charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties for this offense are:
- The defendant can be sentenced to a summary probation
- The defendant can be jailed for between six months and twelve months
- The defendant can be charged a fine not exceeding $1,000
- The defendant can be sentenced to both or either the jail time and fine
A felony conviction, on the other hand, carries stiffer penalties. These penalties include:
- A defendant may be sentenced to formal probation
- The defendant will be sentenced to state prison for sixteen or twenty-four or thirty-six months
- The defendant can be charged a fine not exceeding $10,000
- The defendant may be sentenced to both fines and jail time or either of them
Despite the number of officers or cars that pursued you, you will face one charge of reckless evading for the chase that resulted in your arrest.
Impounding Your Vehicle and License Suspension
Whether the charges brought against you are misdemeanors or felonies, a conviction on reckless evading may lead the judge to impose other penalties on you. The judge may decide to:
- Order for the impounding of the vehicle you used to evade for thirty days
- Order a suspension of your license if you have been sentenced to probation
If you are a commercial driver’s license holder, a reckless evading conviction leads to a license suspension. The suspension means that for a year, you will not be able to drive. Should you be convicted of another count of VEH 2800.2, you risk your license being revoked for life.
Legal Defenses for VEH 2800.2 Violations
The legal defenses your lawyer may use are similar to those of standard or misdemeanor evading of a police officer. However, because of the element of recklessness, the strategies differ. Some of the strategies your lawyer will use will include:
There was no Specific Intent
A person is found guilty of this offense if they specifically planned the evasion of a police officer. For instance, it can be argued that the lighting was not adequate to know if the vehicle for a police officer.
It has been argued before that a person pulled over at a dangerous neighborhood where he or she is not sure if it is the police. Further, a thug may decide to flee to evade the possibly dangerous situation. The defendant did not do this intending to avoid a police officer, but they genuinely believed the situation was dangerous. If your lawyer can convince the court, then you will not be found guilty of reckless evading.
It is equally not easy for a prosecutor to convince or demonstrate to the court that you intentionally were evading a police officer under these circumstances.
As earlier discussed, there are specific requirements on the appearance of an officer’s vehicle and dressing for a person to get convicted of this offense. The prosecution is tasked with showing evidence that the requirements as stipulated were met. In most cases, this is usually hard to demonstrate.
Lack of Evidence for Reckless Driving
There are times a prosecutor will try to make a simple case of evading a police officer to a felony one. They do so by claiming the defendant was driving dangerously when they did not. For a defendant to be convicted of violating VEH 2800.2, he or she needs to have been operating a vehicle in a manner that caused unnecessary risk. Alternatively, the prosecution must be able to demonstrate that the defendant in their driving violated various traffic rules.
Sometimes, a defendant may have been driving at high speed. However, it was at a place and time, less likely to cause injuries or damages. Should this be the case, your lawyer can convince the jury, and your charges dropped to those of misdemeanor evading. If you succeed in this, the penalties for misdemeanor evading are much less to those of felony reckless evading.
An Illegal Stop Led to an Arrest
Before a police officer decides to pull over a person, they should have reasonable suspicion that the person was or is engaged in illegal activity. It essentially means that a police officer should not pull over a person without reasons to do so. If they did, and the defendant was concerned about possible police brutality or racial profiling, the defendant is not guilty of reckless evading. Sometimes the illegal stop would override any wrong a defendant is said to have done.
- VEH 2800.3 – Evading a Police Officer and Causing Injuries or Death
Sometimes when a suspect is evading a police officer, they may cause injuries or death to another person. Such actions violate the VEH 2800.3 statute. A person will be prosecuted on these charges when:
- A suspect by use of their car evades a police officer according to VEH 2800.1 and
- During the process, the suspect caused significant injuries or death to a third party
If the prosecution can prove the above two elements, a defendant can be convicted of the crime.
Causing Injuries or Death
For a person to be guilty of this offense, the prosecution must demonstrate how the suspect’s actions resulted in injuries or death of another person. The following must be factual if the defendant is to be found guilty:
- The injuries or the demise of the victim was due to the direct, probable and natural repercussions of the suspect’s actions
- The injuries or death to the victim would have been avoided if the defendant had not engaged in evading the police officer
A consequence is described as probable and natural when an average person understands that it can happen based on the circumstances.
Significant Bodily Injury
Not every injury is categorized as severe. For the charges of this offense to stick, there must be substantial impairment of a person’s physical body. Some of the injuries that may count as significant to warrant this charge include but not limited to:
- The victim suffering from broken bones or fractures
- The victim suffering wounds that require extensive suturing
- When the victim loses consciousness
- When a victim suffers a concussion
- When a victim loses a body part or its function
- When the victim suffers significant disfigurement
VEH 2800.3 Penalties
The penalties for this offense depend on the seriousness of the injuries a victim suffered. When a victim suffers injuries, the violation is a wobbler. The prosecution may charge the defendant with misdemeanor or felony charges. A conviction is based on the facts of the crime, as well as the defendant's criminal background.
If a defendant is found guilty of a misdemeanor, he or she will face the following possible penalties:
- The defendant may be sentenced to a summary probation
- They face county jail time of not more than a year
- The defendant will be ordered to pay a fine of between $2,000 and $10,000
- The defendant can be sentenced to both jail time and fines or either of them.
If the defendant is found guilty on felony charges, he or she is likely to face the following penalties:
- The judge may sentence him or her to formal probation
- They may face state imprisonment for three or five or seven years
- They may be ordered to pay a fine of between $2,000 and $10,000
- The defendant can be sentenced to both imprisonment and fine or either of them
Evading a Police Officer and Causing Death
If your crime of evading a police officer resulted in the death of a third party, your violations of VEH 2800.3 will be prosecuted as felony offenses. The penalties for this are more severe, with increased state imprisonment of four or six or ten years.
When a defendant is convicted on felony charges for this offense, they lose the right to possess a firearm. Subsequently, the judge often orders for the impounding of the vehicle that was involved in the chase for thirty days. If you have been sentenced to probation, your license will be suspended for a time as a requirement of probation.
Additionally, if the defendant holds a commercial driver’s license and is convicted of violating VEH 2800.3, they are denied the right to drive a commercial vehicle. Their licenses will be suspended for a year. If the defendant gets another conviction on evading a police officer, their commercial driver's license is revoked for life.
With a lawyer, he or she can formulate various defense strategies to fight the allegations. Some of the common defense strategies are similar to those of misdemeanor or felony evading. However, other defenses can be argued by your attorney.
For instance, your lawyer can challenge the prosecution to demonstrate that your driving was the result of the injuries and death of the victim. The injuries that a victim sustained can be challenged based on their severity. If the prosecutor is unable to convince the jury the injuries were significant enough, you may be charged with a lesser crime of reckless evading a police officer.
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Charges on evading a police officer are severe, and often, the penalties can be devastating to the defendant. It is, however, possible to fight against these allegations and get a dismissal or be charged on a lesser offense. All this is possible when one hires the services of an experienced criminal attorney. At the LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we can formulate excellent defense strategies against these allegations. Call us at 310-935-1675 and let us help you fight them.