In an attempt to avoid getting arrested, a person may try to evade a pursuing officer, especially if they have committed an offense. In the state of California, eluding an officer is an offense that can be convicted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. It depends on the gravity of the crime and whether or not you caused an accident while fleeing.
However, there are instances when a person can be arrested for fleeing from the police, while in the real sense, they were not aware the officer was pursuing them. If that is your case and you need help with a solid defense, Long Beach Criminal Attorney is here to offer just that. We have a team of criminal defense attorneys serving Long Beach, CA, who have excellent skills and experience in handling all manner of criminal offenses.
Legal Definition of California Evading Police
California law on evading an officer is under Section 2800.1 of the state Vehicle Code. According to this law, a person commits the offense when they willingly flee or attempt to escape from a pursuing police officer while operating a vehicle. To understand this offense better, let us look at the elements of the crime. They are the facts a prosecutor must demonstrate in court beyond any reasonable doubt for the offender to be found guilty of the offense. These are:
- An officer, who was driving a vehicle, was following the defendant
- The offender, who was also operating a car, willfully escaped, or attempted to avoid the officer with the intention of evading him/her
All of these also need to be true:
- That the police officer’s vehicle had, as a minimum, one of its front red lamps visibly lighted
- That the defendant saw or must have seen the lighted lamp
- That the police's car has its siren on, at a reasonable sound
- That the police’s car was uniquely marked
- That the officer was in a distinct uniform
The judge eventually determines the issue of whether or not the officer was following the defendant after examining all the facts of the case. The same goes for the matter of whether or not the defendant was avoiding the police officer.
To understand this offense even better, let us look at some of the terms and phrases used in this definition in detail:
As used in most criminal offenses, a person is believed to have acted willfully if they did so on purpose or willingly. However, acting on purpose does not mean that the person intended to break the law, cause harm to another person, or take advantage of the other person.
Distinctively Marked Uniform and Vehicle
To be found guilty of California Vehicle Code 2800.1, a person must have fled from a pursuing car that is characteristically marked and from an officer wearing a unique uniform. A distinctively marked vehicle is one that bears features that are easy to notice by other motorists. These may include a siren, a lighted red lamp, and, as a minimum, one feature that distinguishes vehicles used by police officers.
A unique uniform, on the other hand, is a type of clothing used by law enforcement officers to identify them as members of their force. Note that for this offense, the uniform doesn’t have to be full or in any particular formality or level. However, an officer's badge, when used alone, may not be sufficient for a motorist to identify the officer as one.
Penalties for California Fleeing from the Police
Generally, willfully evading a pursuing officer is a misdemeanor offense in the state of California. As a misdemeanor, the crime can be punished by:
- A jail term of not more than one year
- A fine of not more than $1,000
- Both jail term and fine
It is worth noting that in addition to these penalties, anyone found guilty of fleeing from a pursuing officer may have their vehicle impounded for a minimum period of 30 days. This is according to Section 14602.7 of California Vehicle Code.
The good thing is that this is not an offense that has negative consequences on immigration. Under the U.S. immigration law, there are criminal convictions that could affect your stay in the country and cause you to get deported. Some of these convictions could also make it impossible for one to gain admission into the country. Fleeing from a pursuing officer is, fortunately, not one of them.
Another thing to note is that after conviction, a person can petition the court to have this offense expunged from their criminal record. As provided under Section 1203.4 of California Laws, expungement releases the defendant from possibly all the disabilities and penalties that come with having a criminal conviction on your record. This law allows a person to be freed of all the penalties from a misdemeanor to a felony conviction, but under the following conditions:
- That the person has completed their probation, whether a misdemeanor or felony
- That the person is not currently facing a criminal charge, in jail or on probation
What this means is that as soon as the defendant is done serving their probation or prison term for evading the police, they could try to have their crime expunged.
Lastly, the offense of fleeing from the police doesn’t have any effect on a person's gun rights, like other criminal offenses. Getting a conviction for escaping from a pursuing officer will, therefore, not affect your rights to own or acquire a gun.
Possible Legal Defenses for Evading a Police Officer
Even though this is an offense that does not carry so many severe consequences like other criminal acts, fleeing from a pursuing officer is still a serious offense. A conviction will see you serving time behind bars for more than six months. You will still need to pay the fines if the court decides to give you both penalties. For that reason, there is a need to fight your charges with the help of the best criminal defense attorney. The good thing is that there are several defenses an attorney can use to compel the court to either drop the charges or reduce them to more lenient charges. Some of these are:
- You Did Not Intend to Evade the Officer
A person is only guilty of avoiding or trying to escape an officer if that is their intention in the first place. If you did not intend to get away from an officer, the court will not find you guilty of the offense and could drop your charges. However, the challenge is in convincing the court that you did not intend to evade the police. The officer must have arrested and charged you with evading because they believe that you were sure you were being pursued, and you knew or should have known that the vehicle pursuing yours was a police vehicle. If that was not the case, then you may be able to have your charges dropped.
- The Officer Did Not have a Distinguishing Uniform, or their Vehicle was Not Unique
The requirements for a distinguished police vehicle and outstanding uniform must be satisfied for a person to be found guilty of the offense. If the officer was not only in a police badge, for instance, and the rest of his/her clothes were civilian clothes, it might have been difficult for the defendant to know that he/she was indeed a law enforcement officer.
If, on the other hand, the police vehicle did not have the flashing red/blue lights, there was no way for the defendant to know that the car was pursuing him/her. The same would be true if the vehicle did not sound any siren. If any of these is not valid, the defendant would not be guilty of evading if he/she does not stop.
- You Did Not Act Willfully
Some people will willingly flee from the law, especially if they have committed an offense and are avoiding getting arrested. However, some motorists flee from an officer without meaning to do so. If, for instance, the defendant was avoiding causing an accident at the exact spot the police wanted him/her to stop, they will not be guilty of evading even if they drove off after the police sounded a siren. If a person feels that the place is not safe for them to stop, they may use that to argue out their reason for not stopping when the police tried to stop them.
California’s Evading Police and Related Offenses
There are crimes in the state of California that are strictly related to the criminal act of fleeing from a police officer. These are offenses that are charged with or in place of evading an officer. Some of these offenses are:
California’s Recklessly Evading a Police Officer
The law against this offense is provided under Section 2800.2 of California Vehicle Code. The crime occurs when a person flees from a pursuing officer and in the process, drives their vehicle with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of people and property. When a person drives recklessly in the process of evading the police, and through their dangerous acts or carelessness, they cause an accident, the offense could be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
The wanton or willful disregard for safety is the main factor that distinguishes California Vehicle Code 2800.1 from vehicle Code 2800.2. The decision to charge the offense as either a felony or a misdemeanor lies with the judge. He/she considers factors such as the circumstances of the crime and the defendant's criminal history to make the decision.
If you are convicted of a felony offense, you get penalties similar to those a defendant could face from simply evading an officer. However, if you are sentenced to a felony offense, the penalties will be slightly more, and may include:
- Felony probation
- Prison time for sixteen months, two years or three years
- Fines amounting to $10,000
In addition, the offender could have their vehicle impounded for at least a month as well as license suspension for the period of their probation.
Evading an Officer Causing an Injury
This is a very similar offense like the two above, but with a different fact. The offense is provided under Section 2800.3 of the state Vehicle Code. The main distinguishing factor, in this case, will be if it results in injury or death, from the act of evading a pursuing officer. For a person to be found guilty of this offense, the injury or death of another person must have been a natural, probable, and direct consequence of the defendant's actions. There should be proof the injury and death could not have occurred if the defendant was not evading the officer.
The resulting injury should be a severe physical injury. Some of the physical injuries that would be considered dangerous for this offense include the following:
- Loss of consciousness
- Bone fractures
- Impairment or loss of the functioning or a specific part of the body
- Wounds that may require extensive suturing
- A serious disfigurement
The penalties for this offense depends on whether the defendant caused a severe injury or death of another person. If the other person suffered a severe physical injury, the crime will be a wobbler, which means that it could be convicted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If, by evading an officer, the defendant caused the death of another person, the offense will be sentenced as a felony.
Find a Long Beach Criminal Attorney Near Me
Evading the police is in itself a serious offense, which becomes more severe if a person caused an accident while evading. At the Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we have a team of well-trained and experienced criminal defense attorneys who are willing to take you through the legal process if you are facing charges for fleeing from the law. Our competency puts us in the best position to have your charges dropped or reduced, depending on the amount of evidence gathered against you. Call us at 562-308-7807 today and let us help you get through this case.