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The Legal Definition of Evading a Police Officer

According to California's Vehicle Code 2800.1, you will be charged with the criminal offense of evading a police officer if you willfully try to escape a law enforcement official who is actively pursuing you while you are driving a motor vehicle. The police officer may be pursuing you using either a motorcycle or a motor vehicle.

For you to be convicted of police evasion in California, you must have committed the crime willingly and with the intention to fulfill a specific goal. This means that you must have evaded the law enforcement official for a particular reason, maybe to avoid arrest or being caught red-handed while in the act of breaking the law. Your intention to evade the officer must also be clear enough. You wouldn't be convicted of officer evading in California if you didn't have any specific intent. In California, the offense of evading an officer is charged as a misdemeanor.

What the Prosecution Should Prove for You to Be Convicted of Evading a Police Officer

There are various facts which the prosecution should prove for you to be convicted of the offense of evading a police officer. Note that in all criminal cases, the burden of proof is usually on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. Here are the facts which the prosecutor must assert:

  1. The law enforcement officer was pursuing you with a motorcycle or a motor vehicle, and he motioned you to pull over appropriately with the right gestures.
  2. You had a willful and a specific intent to evade the police officer.
  3. The vehicle which the law enforcement officer was using to pursue you with had red lights that were visible from the frontal side.
  4. You could easily see these red lights. The California jury can't convict you of evading a police officer if the prosecution fails to prove that you saw the red lights, no matter how much the officer's vehicle was distinctly and appropriately marked.
  5. The law enforcement officer who was pursuing you sounded a siren, which you heard but you willfully ignored it.
  6. The vehicle which the police officer was utilizing had the name and seal of a law enforcement department, and it could be distinguished easily from other cars.
  7. The police officer had put on his official uniform while pursuing you. This uniform should mark him out clearly from other members of the public as a law enforcement official. As per California’s jury instructions – a badge is not sufficient to prove that a person is a law enforcement officer.

You would be arrested for evading a police officer if the law enforcement official pursued you with a motorcycle. In such instances, the jury won't consider the facts listed above.

Punishments for Evading a Police Officer

In California, the penalties for evading a police officer include a probation term, a jail sentence which may be up to one year, and a fine which does not exceed one thousand dollars. Moreover, the vehicle which you utilized to flee from the law enforcement official may be impounded for a maximum of thirty days. If you are put on summary probation, the judge may suspend your driving license. 

Sometimes, more than one officer may pursue you. Regardless of how many law enforcement officers pursued you, you will only be convicted of one single count of police officer evasion.

Drivers of commercial vehicles face more severe penalties if they are convicted of the offense of evading a police officer. Besides being ordered to serve a probation or jail term, or paying a hefty fine, you will lose your commercial driver’s license. After the lapse of one year, you may get back your license.

If you are convicted of two or more counts of evading an officer while operating a commercial motor vehicle, your license may be suspended forever. This offense is quite grievous since you will lose your means of livelihood if your commercial driver’s license is suspended.

Legal Defenses to Evading a Police Officer

There are very few legal defenses to evading a police officer. You should consider all of them before you accept a plea bargain agreement. Your attorney will apply these defenses to help you become acquitted, per the facts of your case. Some of these defenses are:

1. Lack of Intent

For you to be convicted of evading a police officer, the prosecution must prove that you had a specific intent. Failure of them showing that you had a clear intention will lead to an acquittal.

For instance, you can tell the court that you didn’t know that a law enforcement officer was pursuing you. Or rather, you thought that a hired criminal gang was hunting you down, and you fled for your life; thus mistaking the law enforcement officials as criminals in disguise.

2. Emergency <

You might have been rushing to solve a particular problem when the law enforcement officer motioned you to pull over. Maybe you were taking your pregnant wife, who was in labor pains, to the hospital so that she can give birth. Or perhaps, you had run late for an interview of your dream job.

If you choose to use this defense, you will have to prove to the court that the emergency existed. You can solely rely on oral testimonials from people who knew that you had an emergency the day when you were arrested. Besides witnesses, you can produce written documentation, photos, and videos which prove that you had an emergency. This way, you will water down the case of the prosecution by asserting that you didn’t have a specific intent of evading the police officer.

3. Insufficient Evidence

Vehicle Code 2800.1 states all the facts which the prosecution should prove for an accused person to be held guilty of evading a police officer. For instance, the accused person must have seen a red lamp, the police officer should have put on an official uniform, the siren should have been sounded, and its wailing should have been loud enough for the accused person to hear, and the pursuing vehicle should have been distinctly marked. 

Sometimes, the investigation officers may fail to do a thorough job of investigating you. As a result, the prosecution may have insufficient evidence, and they will be unable to prove all the facts listed in VC 2800.1 beyond a reasonable doubt. In such a situation, your attorney will raise the defense of insufficient evidence, and you will be acquitted, or your charges will be reduced.

4. Incorrect Police Procedures

Some law enforcement officers may tend to do their work unprofessionally. Maybe they flagged you down in the wrong way, and you couldn’t tell from the gestures which they used that they were instructing you to stop. In such scenarios, your attorney can apply this defense in your favor.

5. Voluntary Intoxication

You can decide to tell the court that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs while evading the police officer. This way, the court will know that you were not in the right state of mind; therefore, you had no specific and willful intent to evade the officer.

Take note that you may end up being charged with California DUI if you apply this defense of voluntary intoxication in your police evasion case. However, the penalties for a first time California DUI are less severe when compared to the offense of evading a law enforcement officer. Furthermore, a DUI conviction comes with less societal stigma than a police evasion conviction.

Related Charges to Evading a Police Officer

You can confuse between the offense of evading a police officer with other charges which are quite similar to it, though very different. Here are some of the related charges to evading a police officer:

1. Felony Reckless Evading an Officer

This offense is an aggravated version of misdemeanor evading a police officer. According to Vehicle Code 2800.2, you will be charged with felony reckless evading an officer if you try to flee from a law enforcement official, but you do so recklessly and with a blatant disregard for the sanctity and safety of persons and property.

This offense is categorized as a wobbler in California, and it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, per the discretion of the prosecutor. Most of the time, California prosecutors charge it as a felony. A felonious conviction of this offense will make you serve a state prison sentence of sixteen months, two years, or three years or you may pay a fine which may be up to ten thousand dollars.

2. Hit and Run

According to California’s Vehicle Code 20002, if any person, while driving, causes an accident which results in the destruction of life or property of another person, or physical injuries to someone else, the person should stop driving, identify the victims of the accident, and leave them a note which gives the personal details of the driver and an explanation of the cause of the accident. In case you damage property or injure another person while driving and you fail to implement these steps as highlighted by VC 20002, you will be charged with the offense of hit and run; as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

Normally, California's prosecution department will charge you with misdemeanor hit and run if you had damaged someone else's property. Its penalties include a state prison sentence of up to six months or a fine which should not exceed one thousand dollars. On the other hand, the prosecution will charge you of felony hit and run if you injured or caused death to another person. The penalties for felony hit and run include a four-year limit jail sentence or a fine which may be up to ten thousand dollars. Also, the aggrieved party may institute a personal injury lawsuit to receive monetary compensation from you.

3. Evading Causing Injury or Death

While in the act of evading a police officer, you may have injured or killed another person. In such instances, the prosecution will charge you of the offense of evading causing injury or death.

This offense is a wobbler. The prosecutor would charge you of either misdemeanor evading causing injury or felony evading causing injury if your criminal act of police officer evasion resulted in the physical bodily injuries of an innocent bystander in the crime scene. These charges may make you face a potential prison sentence of either three, five, or seven years. Evading causing death has a more severe penalty of either four, six, or ten years in state prison.

4. Resisting Arrest

You will have broken California law if you willfully restrict, delay, or obstruct a law enforcement official from conducting his duties. Though no one plans on being arrested, you shouldn’t resist arrest when a police officer wants to put you behind bars. If you resist arrest, the prosecution will charge you of the offense of resisting arrest, together with the crime you were initially arrested for.

This offense is closely related to evading a police officer because a person convicted of resisting arrest usually has a specific intent – to flee from the police officer to avoid arrest. Often, the crime of evading a police officer is committed with the help of a motor vehicle. On the other hand, a person can commit the offense of resisting arrest while on foot or using other transportation modes. When convicted for resisting arrest, you will have to pay a fine, which may be up to one thousand dollars, or you may serve a state prison sentence of one year.

5. Disturbing the Peace

The crime of disturbing the peace is well explained in the Penal Code of California 415. Compared to evading a police officer, this offense has less grievous penalties. In fact, most prosecutors will charge you of disturbing the peace after a plea bargaining agreement with your attorney. Your defense attorney can enter into such agreements with the prosecution to reduce your police evasion charges. This is especially in circumstances where the prosecutor has insufficient evidence.

The penalties for disturbing the peace include a jail term which should not exceed ninety days or a fine which is not more than four hundred dollars. Moreover, a conviction of disturbing the peace has much less stigma than a conviction of evading a police officer.

6. Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle

In California, it is illegal for a person to drive or take a motor vehicle which does not belong to him, even if he has no intention to steal it. This is well-illustrated by California's Vehicle Code 10851. Most people refer to this offense as joyriding.

For you to be convicted of this offense, the prosecution must prove that you willingly took another person's vehicle without consent, and you had an intent to deprive the motor vehicle owner of his rightful possession of the car for a particular period. One of the primary defenses to this offense is consent, where you assert that the owner permitted you to take the car. You can also utilize the defense of necessity if you had to take the vehicle to attend to an emergency.

The offense of joyriding is a wobbler in California, and prosecutors may file it as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If this offense is charged as a felony, the accused person risks facing a maximum of three years in state prison. The penalty for misdemeanor unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle is a jail term of up to one year. However, if you joyride an ambulance, a marked car for a law enforcement agency or a firefighting department, or any vehicle utilized for transporting disabled persons; this offense will be charged as a felony, and its punishment is a sentence in state prison of up to four years.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Specializing in Officer Evasion Charges Near Me

You can raise any of the defenses that we have discussed to fight off your police evasion charges. However, for your case to be dismissed or your charges reduced, you need the expertise and experience of a reliable law firm. Don’t risk your life by attempting to speak out for yourself. The Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is composed of a team of defense attorneys who will work hard, smart, and do all that it takes to help you win your case. Call us today at 310-502-1314, and will be there for you in each step of the way.