When a police officer attempts to pull you over, it is expected you drive to the side of the road. If you fail to pull over, will your actions result in a criminal prosecution? Yes, it will.
Over the years, many individuals have failed to stop after police officers required them to. They drove off and caused car crashes in which other road users suffered injuries or death. Thus, in the interest of public safety, Vehicle Code 2800.1 makes it an offense to fail to stop when an officer requires you to.
Convictions for VC 2800.1 violations result in time in jail or prison and fines. Additionally, a criminal record complicates your social-economic life post-conviction. It is thus necessary to get in touch with a reputable attorney. We at the Koenig Law Office are ready to assist you should you face evading a police officer charge in Bakersfield.
Evading a Police Officer Under California Law
It is critical to distinguish between evading a police officer and resisting an arrest. Vehicle Code 2800.1 and Vehicle Code 2800.2 define evading a police officer, whereas resisting an arrest is an offense under Penal Code 148.
VC 2800.1 defines evading a police officer as willfully fleeing from a police officer when said officer is pursuing an individual on a bike or in a car. Violations of VC 2800.1 are misdemeanors. Examples of actions that meet VC 2800.1’s definition of evading a police officer include:
- Speeding off when you see the police strobe lights and hear the sirens
- Increasing your speed after being instructed by a police officer to stop
- Stopping, but as soon as a police officer walks out of their vehicle, you take off
- Failing to stop when ordered by an officer to stop
Under VC 2800.2, you evade a police officer in a car while driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other individuals or property. Violations of VC 2800.2 are felony offenses also known as reckless evading.
PC 148 makes it an offense to resist, obstruct, or delay an arrest willfully. Examples of acts considered as resisting an arrest include:
- Fighting police officers as they attempt to slam the cuffs on you
- Swinging at the officers as they try to arrest you
- Charging at the officers threateningly — Both the threat of violence and actual violence are considered
From the above examples, it is evident that evading a police officer requires fleeing after being asked to stop or after an officer attempts to stop you.
Elements the Prosecution Must Prove
You will only be found guilty if the prosecution proves the following.
- The police officer driving the vehicle was pursuing you.
- You were driving a car, willfully tried to elude, fled from the officer, or intended to evade the officer, if charged with a misdemeanor, or you drove with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of individuals and property, if accused of a felony violation and
- All the following were true:
- At least one lighted red lamp was visible in front of the peace officer's vehicle
- You saw or should have reasonably seen the lamp
- The police officer's car sounded the siren as reasonably necessary
- The police car was distinctively marked
- The peace officer wore a distinctive police uniform at the time of the pursuit
If the peace officer was on a bicycle, VC 2800.1(b) details the following as the elements prosecutors must prove.
- The peace officer’s bicycle was distinctively marked
- The bicycle is operated by peace officers while discharging their official duties
- The peace officer issued a verbal command to stop
- The police officer sounded a horn capable of producing at least 115 decibels of sound
- The peace office showed a hand signal commanding you to stop
- You were aware or should have been reasonably aware of the verbal command, horn, and hand signal, but you reuse to comply with the order to stop
Here is a detailed look at the elements.
Your actions should be deliberate and on purpose. Therefore, you are not guilty under VC 2800.1 if your actions were accidental. However, you need not have intended to break the law, hurt another individual, or gain an advantage through your actions.
Willful action is pivotal under VC 2800.2 for you to be found guilty of a felony offense. Under willful action or wanton disregard for safety, the prosecution needs to prove that you drove recklessly with no regard for the danger your driving posed to human life and damage to property. That means you knew the risks but ignored them.
Note: You can be found guilty of a VC 2800.2 violation even if you did not cause any property damage or intend to cause any damage. The risk of the outcome is sufficient to prove willful action.
Further, under VC 2800.2, you will be considered to have driven with a wanton disregard for safety if you committed three or more traffic offenses that earn violation points under California's Vehicle Code. However, driving under the influence (DUI) while evading the officer does not count as reckless evading. Prosecutors must also prove you were engaged in activities that show a wanton disregard for safety in addition to the DUI.
Distinctively Marked Vehicle
VC 2800.1 mandates that the police cars should be distinctively marked. Further, the police officers should have a distinctive uniform.
A distinctly marked police vehicle has unique features that would make an individual reasonably distinguish the car from other passenger vehicles. The vehicles should contain a red lamp, siren, and at least one feature that differentiates the car from vehicles not used for law enforcement purposes.
On the red lamp, whereas police cars flash both blue and red lights when activated, VC 2800.1 requires at least one red light to be visible. That is, you either saw or should have reasonably seen the red light. Therefore, the prosecution must prove that the vehicle in question was fitted with a red light that meets visibility requirements.
Distinctive uniform under the law is all clothing law enforcement agencies adopt to identify or distinguish their officers from other professions. The uniform does not have to be complete or of any particular level of formality. However, a badge without more distinguishing clothing is not enough.
Prosecutors need to provide evidence that would make the jury reasonably conclude your actions show an intention to evade police officers.
Defenses You Can Assert in a VC 2800.1 Violation
Engage with your attorney to identify the best defense strategy for your case. Here are a few he/she can assert to secure the best legal outcome.
a) No Intent to Evade
Intent is a pivotal element in proving guilt. The DA must provide irrefutable evidence to support his/her claim of intent. Failure to do so is an opportunity for your attorney to argue the lack of intent. Without an intent to evade the police officer, you are not guilty of evading a police officer.
For example, you are pulled over by a police officer and indicate that you are pulling over. However, you discover that the traffic conditions are dangerous to pull over at that section. You decide to drive on until you find a safer place to stop.
In this case, you did not intend to evade the police officer but were only looking for a safe place to pull over. Therefore, you lacked an intent to evade the officer.
b) No Willful Action
You are only guilty if you willfully evaded the police officers. The DA must establish willful action on your part beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a guilty verdict. Failure to do so is an opportunity to challenge the case on the grounds of no willful action.
For example, escaping the police to avoid a crash.
c) You Were Rushing Because of an Emergency
Some situations could cause a police officer to stop you, and you reasonably fail to stop owing to the emergency. For example, rushing an individual involved in a car crash to the hospital or a pregnant lady in labor to the ER.
Legitimate emergency cases are justifiable if your attorney can prove you reasonably believed stopping could risk losing the individual's life in the emergency. Your attorney will demonstrate to the court your emergency to explain your actions as not of an individual evading a police officer.
d) Lack of Flashing Lights or a Distinctive Uniform
Police flashing lights, particularly at least one red light, are meant to increase police visibility. A lack of a red light that is sufficiently visible is grounds for challenging the evading a police officer charge because the vehicle was not distinguishable as required by law. Therefore, there was no way of definitively ascertaining that you were being asked to pull over by a peace officer.
e) You Did Not Hear the Officer Shout Stop Neither Did You Hear the Horn on the Bicycle
VC 2800.1(b) requires that police officers on bicycles use hand signals, shout stop to the defendant, or use horns fitted on their bicycles that at least emit sounds of 115 decibels. All these increase an officer’s visibility.
Further, prosecutors need to prove that you were reasonably aware or should have been aware of the command to stop, the hand signal, or the horn. It, therefore, means if you failed to hear the horn, see the hand signal or hear the command to stop, you are not guilty of a VC 2800.1 violation.
f) Your Arrest Was Based on an Illegal Stop
Police officers require reasonable suspicion that you engaged in criminal activity to pull you over. Without reasonable suspicion, the stop is illegal. An illegal stop overrides the charges. Your attorney will challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution on the grounds of the unlawful stop.
This defense applies when an officer arbitrarily decides to pull you over without grounds to do so. You then fail to stop because of a reasonable fear of police brutality, or you believe you are a victim of police brutality. Since the stop was illegal, your attorney will use this and your reasonable or justifiable fear to challenge the case.
g) Insufficient Evidence You Drove Recklessly
Recall that a reckless evading of peace officers requires proof your driving created an unnecessary risk to harm to others and risk to property. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to pursue reckless evading of a police officer's charges when the evidence only supports a misdemeanor evading of a police officer charge.
In this situation, your attorney will assert that whereas you evaded the police officer, your driving did not meet the reckless or wanton disregard for human life and property.
Therefore, insufficient evidence of reckless driving could reduce your charges to a misdemeanor violation from a felony offense.
h) Voluntary Intoxication
Voluntary intoxication as a defense is best applied in situations where there was alcohol use in a reckless driving charge. Acknowledging you were intoxicated is admitting you could not form the specific intent of evading an officer because you were intoxicated.
It follows that this admission will result in DUI charges. However, it could be a better alternative than facing felony reckless driving charges.
Penalties Issued Upon Conviction for Evading a Police Officer
Violations of PC 2800.1 are misdemeanors. Convictions result in the following penalties.
- A jail sentence of no more than one year
- A maximum fine of $1,000, or both
- The judge could also opt for summary probation as opposed to jail time.
If charged and convicted for a VC 2800.2 violation, you will face misdemeanor or felony penalties. Vehicle Code 2800.2 violations are wobbler offenses. The circumstances inform the DA’s decision to pursue misdemeanor or felony charges of your case and your criminal history.
However, in practice, VC 2800.2 violations are handled as felony offenses.
A conviction on misdemeanor charges will result in the penalties outlined above. Felony convictions, on the other hand, result in the following punishments.
- 16 months, two or three years in prison
- A maximum fine of $10,000, or both
- Normal probation is an option instead of serving a prison sentence.
Note: The chase is what counts and not the number of vehicles or police officers that pursued you. Therefore, you will be charged with one count of reckless evading for a single chase regardless of the number of police vehicles and officers involved in the pursuit.
Additionally, the vehicle you used to flee will be impounded for up to thirty days and your driver’s license suspended for a time as a condition of your probation.
Offenses Related to Evading a Police Officer
Prosecutors could opt to charge you with a PC 148 violation as an additional charge and VC 2800.3
a) Resisting Arrest — PC 148
It is an offense to delay, resist, or otherwise obstruct a law enforcement officer or an emergency medical practitioner from discharging his/her duties. In most cases, resisting arrest charges result after a defendant engaged police in a chase and also resisted the arrest.
A conviction for resisting an arrest is punishable by up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both
b) Evading a Police Officer Causing Injury or Death — VC 2800.3
VC 2800.1 already establishes any willful attempt to evade a law enforcement officer as illegal. VC 2800.2 addresses a defendant’s actions while evading a police officer with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life or property. Should your actions result in the serious physical injury or death of another, you will be in violation of VC 2800.3.
Over and above prove willful action and intent to evade a police officer, prosecutors need to demonstrate the victim’s injuries or death were caused by your actions. That means the following need to be true:
- The injury or death was the natural, direct, or probable consequence of your actions
- The injury or death would not have occurred had it not been for you evading a police officer
You can either face misdemeanor or felony charges under VC 2800.3. Misdemeanor violations are punishable by up to one year in jail, fines of between $2,000 to $10,000, or both. Felony convictions, on the other hand, attract a prison sentence of between three, five, or seven years, a fine of between $2,000 to $10,000, or both.
Contact a Driving Offense Criminal Defense Attorney in Bakersfield
Evading a police officer is mistaken for a minor offense. However, a conviction will have a consequential impact on your life. You should engage a defense attorney to assist you in fighting the charges.
Attorneys at the Koenig Law Office have an extensive understanding of driving offenses. We further have experience and comprehensive familiarity with Bakersfield's judicial system. Call us if you or someone you know is facing evading a police officer charges. Our team is ready to analyze your case and develop a winning strategy. Call our team today at 661-793-7222 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.