If you are operating a motor vehicle and you intentionally attempt to escape from a police officer, you may face charges under 2800.1 VC. In most cases, a police officer may pursue you using a vehicle or a motorcycle. Evading a police officer is a crime in California, and the associated penalties are detrimental. California Criminal Lawyer Group assists people who are facing charges for evading a police officer.
Evading a Police Officer under California Law
For a prosecutor to prove that you are guilty of evading a police officer, he/she has to prove several elements. The prosecutor has to prove that a law enforcement officer operating a vehicle or motorcycle was pursuing you. It must be evident that you were also operating a car, and you intentionally fled or attempted to flee from the police officer intending to escape/evade him/her. It must be evident that you could see at least one well-lit red light from the anterior of the law enforcement officer's vehicle. The prosecutor has to prove that you saw the light or that under reasonable circumstances, you should have clearly seen the light.
For you to face charges for evading a police officer, it must be evident that you were aware that you were dealing with a police officer. The prosecutor has to ensure that while you were evading, the officer's vehicle had an audible siren. The officer's vehicle must have been marked distinctively, and the officer must have been wearing his/her full uniform at the time you committed the offense.
You may also face charges if you flee from a police officer riding on a bicycle. In this case, the elements of the crime would be a little different. However, most crimes under Vehicle Code 2800.1 entail pursuits involving motor vehicles where both the police and the defendant are operating motor vehicles.
Intentionally or Willfully
You can only face charges for evading a police officer if it is evident that you evaded the police officer deliberately or on purpose. Also, you must have had a specific intent for evading the police officer. Acting intentionally/purposely means that you acted on purpose. It does not mean that you intended to break the law or hurt another person. It does not also mean that you intended to gain an advantage by evading the officer. Instead, it implies that you were aware of your actions, and you were aware that you were fleeing from an officer. The crime falls under the category of specific intent crimes. Therefore, you may not face charges unless you had a particular intent for evading the police officer. If you had another reason for fleeing from an officer, you might use this reason as a basis for your defense.
Marking of a Police Officer's Car
According to California law 2800.1 VC, a police car should be marked in a distinctive manner. Proper marking of a police vehicle will help the defendant know that he/she is being pursued by the police. The law requires a police vehicle to have a minimum of one well-lit red light, and the light should be clearly visible/seen from the anterior side of the police officer's vehicle. At the time of the pursuit, the police officer should sound his siren if necessary. In addition to a red light and siren, a police vehicle should be marked in some other way. For instance, on the outer side of the car, the name of the police or the police department should be clearly marked. At the time of the pursuit, the police vehicle should flash clear and blue lights, and the lights should be visible by the driver being pursued. The vehicle may also flash the headlights at the time of the pursuit. If the police vehicle does not bear any other marking other than the siren and the red lighting, you can claim that you did not recognize the police vehicle. This way, you can be able to fight the charges of evading a police vehicle. The law emphasizes the presence of red lighting clearly visible/seen from the anterior side of the police officer's vehicle. Absence of the red light may form a good basis of defense/fighting evading a police officer charges.
The Police Officer Should be in Official Uniform
It may be hard to identify a police officer if the officer is not adorned in a distinctive uniform. Vehicle code 2800.1 VC outlines that at the time of the pursuit, an officer should be wearing the distinctive official uniform. Distinctive official uniform means the legal clothing used by the police department/agency. A uniform helps to distinguish a police officer from the members of the general public. The uniform does not have to be full but should be adequate to distinguish the law enforcement officer from the general public. The uniform must have a certain level of formality. If the officer is just carrying a badge and not clothed in uniform, the badge may not be an adequate distinctive feature.
A police officer may pursue you while wearing a bulletproof vest and a covering bearing the name 'police.' The police officer may also be wearing a gun belt at the time of the pursuit. Even if a bulletproof vest and vest covering do not constitute full uniform, it is adequate to distinguish a police officer from members of the public. Therefore, escaping from an officer who is adorned in this clothing may attract criminal charges.
Punishment for Evading a Police Officer
According to California law, this offense is a misdemeanor offense. The associated penalties include misdemeanor probation. Also known as summary probation or informal probation, summary probation does not have any probation conditions. The court does not assign you a probation officer to monitor your progress. You may also have to report to the court regularly to report on your progress. While on probation, you may have to take part in community work. In most cases, when the court recommends probation, you will not go to jail. You serve probation instead of jail time.
Misdemeanor charges may also attract jail time. You may face imprisonment in California county jail for a period that does not exceed one year. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000. The court may impound the vehicle that you use to escape or flee from the police officer. The vehicle impoundment may last for up to thirty days. The judge may also suspend your California driver's license for a period equivalent to your probation period. Regardless of the number of police officers who pursued you, you are only charged with one count of evading an officer at a time.
You might lose your right to operating a commercial vehicle for one year if you were operating a commercial vehicle at the time of evading the officer. If you commit more than one violation under misdemeanor evading a police officer, you may lose your commercial California driver's license for life. This is a very harsh penalty because most people who hold commercial California driver's licenses depend on them to earn a livelihood.
Felony Reckless Evading a Police Officer
In some instances, you may face charges for felony reckless evading of a police officer as outlined under 2800.2VC. You may face charges for this offense if you evade a police officer in a motor vehicle as outlined in the misdemeanor offense of evading an officer (Vehicle Code2800.1). In evading an officer, it must be evident that you drove your vehicle with intention or disregard for the safety and well-being of other people or property. This disregard is known as wanton disregard of safety. You are guilty of felony reckless evading an officer if you operate your vehicle in a reckless or dangerous manner while avoiding or escaping a police officer.
Wanton Disregard of Human Life
To be guilty of felony reckless, it must be evident that you operated a vehicle in a careless manner. When are you guilty of acting with a wanton disregard of the safety of people or property? You are guilty of wanton disregard if, at the time of committing the crime, you were aware that your actions would pose a great and unjustifiable risk of harm to other individuals or property. It must be evident that despite knowing the risk of your actions posed, you chose to ignore that risk and continue with your operations. It is important to note that even if you did not cause any damage and even if you did not intend to cause any damage, you might still face acting with wanton disregard charges.
If you commit three or more traffic violations that qualify as violations according to the CA Vehicle Code, you may be guilty of acting with wanton disregard of safety. This will not take into account how dangerous or harmless the violations were under the circumstances. Does evading a police officer while under the influence qualify as wanton disregard of safety? No, being under the influence while evading a police officer does not qualify as wanton disregard of safety. You need to have committed an additional act other than driving while intoxicated to face charges for wanton disregard of safety.
A felony reckless evading a police officer is a wobbler offense under California law. The offense may either attract misdemeanor or felony charges. While choosing whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor, the prosecutor may consider your criminal history. The prosecutor will also consider the facts surrounding your case, including the seriousness of the offense. In most instances, however, the majority of prosecutors in California charge an offense under Vehicle Code 2800.2 as a felony.
If the prosecutor chooses to charge the offense as a misdemeanor, the penalties may include misdemeanor summary probation. You may also serve minimum jail time of six months and maximum jail time of one year in a California county jail. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000.
If the prosecutor chooses to assign felony charges for an offense under Vehicle Code 2800.2, the associated penalties may include formal felony probation. Formal felony probation has more probation conditions than a misdemeanor summary probation. The conditions for formal felony probation may include conducting community work and meeting with the probation officer on a regular basis. For felony charges, you may serve long imprisonment in a California state prison. The imprisonment period may range from sixteen months, two years, or three years in state prison. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.
Other penalties for a crime under Vehicle Code 2800.2 include the impoundment of the vehicle that you were driving at the time of evading the police officer. The court may impound your vehicle for a period of thirty days. License suspension may also be a condition for probation. Just like in the case of misdemeanor evading of a police officer, you may lose the privilege of operating a commercial vehicle for a period of one year. If you commit several violations under the vehicle code 2800.2, you may lose the privilege to operate a commercial vehicle for a lifetime.
Fighting Charges for Evading a Police Officer
If you are facing charges for a misdemeanor or felony reckless evading a police officer, you can adopt several defense strategies. There are several defense strategies, and your attorney can help you choose the most relevant strategies. Common legal defenses are as follows:
You Did Not Have a Specific Intent
You could not face charges under vehicle code 2800.1 if you did not intentionally evade a police officer. It must be evident that you specifically/particularly intended to evade a police officer for you to face charges under Vehicle Code 2800.1. You may assert that you did not understand that the police were requesting you to pull over because you were distracted by another factor. You may also assert that you were in an unfamiliar or unsafe neighborhood, and you were not sure that the person pulling you over was a police officer or an imposter. Therefore, you can point out that you were not evading, but you were trying to drive to a location that you felt safe to pull over. By asserting this, you can successfully challenge the prosecutor's allegations that you were trying to evade a police officer.
Lack of Adequate Evidence
California law outlines specific requirements of how a police officer should dress and the markings that a police vehicle should bear. When filing charges against you in court, the prosecutor must prove that the police pursuing you were in the proper uniform to help distinguish him/her from the general public. The prosecutor must also prove that the police were driving a well-marked vehicle and that the vehicle had red lighting clearly visible to you and an audible siren. In most cases, prosecutors are not able to prove these facts in court. You and your attorney can, therefore, assert that there was not sufficient evidence to show that the person or persons pursuing you were police officers. A prosecutor will try to convict you even if the police officer had not complied with the law and was not in uniform. However, your attorney can challenge the prosecutor's evidence in court, leading to a reduction or dismissal of your charges.
You Were Under the Influence
You can use the legal defense of being under the influence or voluntary intoxication to fight charges for evading a police officer. If at the time of evading the officer, you were intoxicated with drugs or another substance, you can use this defense strategy. You can point out that due to intoxication, you were not in a position to make good judgment. You were not capable of forming the specific intent of evading the officer because you were intoxicated. If you confirm this, you may not face charges for evading a police officer. It is important to note that if you use this defense strategy, you may face charges for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. However, it may be better to face charges for driving under the influence than to face charges for evading a police officer. For instance, first-time DUI charges carry a lower possible jail time than the crime of evading a police officer. For a first-time DUI, the applicable county jail time does not exceed six months. However, for misdemeanor charges, you may face jail time of up to one year. The stigma that comes with a DUI offense may be much lower than the stigma of evading an officer.
You Did Not Drive Recklessly
If you are facing charges for felony reckless evading of a police officer, you can assert that you did not drive your vehicle in a reckless manner. At times, the prosecutor may turn a case of misdemeanor charges to a felony reckless charge. For you to face charges under Vehicle Code 2800.2, you must have operated your vehicle in a manner likely to pose an unreasonable risk. You may also face reckless driving charges if you evade a number of traffic laws. However, if you feel that you did not operate your vehicle in a reckless manner while evading the police officer, you can challenge the prosecutor's evidence in court. For example, if you were speeding your car on an empty freeway, this act may not qualify as reckless driving. In addition, if you drove your vehicle in a slightly dangerous manner but in a place and at a time where you were unlikely to cause an injury, you can challenge charges for reckless driving in court. Instead of charging you with felony reckless evading of a police officer, the prosecutor may charge you with a lesser crime of misdemeanor evading of a police officer.
The Police Stopped Your Vehicle Illegally
To stop your vehicle or to request you to pull over, a police officer should have a probable cause. For instance, a police officer may stop your vehicle if he/she suspects that you are under the influence of drugs. A police officer may also stop your vehicle if he/she suspects that you are engaged in criminal activity. However, if the police did not have probable cause to stop your vehicle and accuses you of evading him/her, you can fight the charges in court. You can assert that the police decided to stop you without any cause. You may say that you did not stop because you feared facing police brutality. You can also point out that you failed to stop because you felt you were a victim of racial profiling. The illegal stop by the police may make the court dismiss any charges against you.
You may face charges for several other offenses alongside charges or instead of charges of evading a police officer, as we will discuss below.
Evading Causing Bodily Injury or Death
Vehicle Code 2800.3 outlines the crime of evading causing bodily injury or death. You may face charges under Vehicle Code 2800.3 if in the process of evading the officer, you inflict serious injuries or cause the demise of another person. An offense of evading causing bodily injury is a wobbler offense and may attract misdemeanor or felony charges. The penalties for this offense may include imprisonment for a period ranging from three years, five years, or seven years.
If you evade a police officer and in the process cause the demise of another person, you will face enhanced charges. The imprisonment period may vary from four years, six years, or ten years in a California state prison.
Other offenses, which are closely related to the offense of evading a police officer include:
- Reckless driving under Vehicle Code 23103
- Disturbing the Peace under California Penal Code 415 PC
Contact a San Jose Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you are facing charges for evading a police officer, California Criminal Lawyer Group can assist. Our attorneys understand California law and can assist you in fighting the charges. Contact us at 408-622-0204 and speak to one of our attorneys.