When you hear of evading a police officer, you probably imagine a high-speed chase involving several police cars and a felon. However, the offense of evading police is more straightforward than that, and you are likely to commit it more quickly than you would ever expect. Merely driving after a police officer flags you down may earn you criminal charges for the crime of evading a police officer. Sometimes, due to your inexperience in dealing with police officers, you might panic and wrongly decided to avoid the officers. A conviction carries severe consequences such as hefty fines, imprisonment, damage to your reputation, and a lasting criminal record.
If the police arrest you based on evading a police officer, you must contact a competent Orange County Criminal Lawyer. We have extensive experience in representing clients in lawsuits involving driving crimes and will defend you vigorously to ensure that you get the best outcome possible. Whether you mistakenly committed the offense or were accused falsely, we will protect your legal interests and constitutional rights.
California Law on Evading a Police Officer
When a police officer pulls over a vehicle along the roads of California, either of two occurrences is possible. The driver either obeys or, in some situations, the driver declines to stop and continues driving. Sometimes the driver weaves across lanes to avoid the officer.
California law makes it illegal to escape from a police officer who is pursuing you. Under Section 2800.1 VC of California’s Vehicle Code, it is unlawful for you to drive a car while intending to willfully flee or otherwise attempt to evade a peace officer pursuing you in a motor vehicle. In the code, the “motor vehicle” belonging to the peace officer usually refers to a motorcycle or a car. However, you can violate this law by evading a law enforcement officer who is riding a bicycle.
Penalties for Evading a Police Officer
A violation of Section 2800.1 VC, evading a police officer is a misdemeanor. If the prosecutor can prove all the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, you will receive:
- A maximum one-year term in county jail
- A fine of not more than $1,000
- Both a fine and a jail term
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation instead of jail time
- Suspension of your driver’s license
- Impoundment of your car for not more than 30 days under Section 14602.7 VC
However, after a conviction for this offense, you will generally not experience:
- Negative immigration consequences
- An impact on your gun rights
What the Prosecutor Must Prove
For the court to find you guilty of evading a police officer, the prosecutor must prove some facts, also known as the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. These are:
- That the police officer signaled you to stop correctly and used the appropriate procedures. The officer should have done more than merely signaling you or using signs that are difficult to comprehend
- The peace officer was pursuing you in a vehicle, and you were also driving a motor vehicle. The judge or jury will examine all the facts of your case to determine whether or not a law enforcement officer was pursuing you
- While driving, you willfully tried to evade or fled from the pursuing law enforcement officer intending to avoid the officer
Evading a police officer is a specific intent crime. You must act willfully and have the particular goal of committing the crime. Willfully acting means you take action on purpose or deliberately. If you fled from the law enforcement officer for a different reason, other than the intentional and willful disobedience to the officer’s orders, the court should not find you guilty of the offense.
You do not need to have intended to:
- Break any law
- Injure someone else
- Gain an advantage
The jury or judge will evaluate the details of your case to determine whether you had the explicit intention to elude an officer.
All the following statements are true:
- One or more lighted red lights were noticeable by a driver in front of the law enforcement officer’s motor vehicle
- You either noticed or reasonably should have noticed the light: The prosecutor must provide evidence to demonstrate that the police car was fitted with a red lamp that met visibility specifications
- The siren on the police officer’s motor vehicle sounded as reasonably necessary
- The police officer’s car had distinct markings of a police vehicle
- The police officer was in a distinctive uniform
A Distinctive Uniform and a Distinctively Marked Vehicle
Wearing a distinctive uniform means the officer was wearing clothes that a law enforcement agency has adopted to distinguish or identify its force members. The outfit does not need to be complete, or for any specific formality level. A badge without another unique clothing item is not enough. For example, a plainclothes officer with only a badge only is insufficient. A plainclothes officer with a badge and wearing a cap with “police” written on it is adequate, although a badge does not constitute clothing.
A vehicle has distinctive marks if it has reasonably noticeable features that are identifiable by other drivers. They include:
- A red light
- A siren
- At least one extra feature that differentiates it from other vehicles that do not belong to law enforcement agencies.
Section 2800.1 VC outlines the specific features that a law enforcement officer’s vehicle must have to meet the requirements for a charge of evading a police officer. The car should have:
- One or more lighted red lams
- One or more sirens that the officer has set off to sound as reasonably necessary
- A distinctive mark to indicate the vehicle belongs to a law enforcement agency. Specifically, it must have either the seal or the name of the law enforcement agency printed on the car’s exterior or flashing blue or white lights that are visible to a driver. The seal and name serve to protect the public from non-law enforcement officers with sirens or lights.
Common Defenses Used to Fight Charges of Evading a Police Officer
After the prosecutors charge you with the offense of evading a police officer, your attorney has a chance to mount a defense to beat the accusations. Some of the arguments that your attorney can use include:
- No willful Intent
Having the intent is one of the critical elements that the prosecutor must prove if they are to secure a conviction for evading a police officer. Section 2800.1 VC of the California Vehicle Code explicitly states that you commit a misdemeanor offense if you “willfully” flee or attempt to evade a police officer. Therefore, you are only guilty of a crime if you escape from a pursuing police officer with the specific intention to avoid, escape, or evade that officer. For this reason, the court should not convict you of the offense if you had no willful intent to evade the officer. For example, if you did not respond to the officer’s signal to pull over because you reasonably were not aware that the police officer was stopping you, your defense may be successful. Another valid example is if you did not stop due to dangerous traffic conditions.
- Insufficient Evidence
It is a requirement under Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC that the police officer should be reasonably recognizable as a law enforcement officer. Recognizable signs are that the officer must be in regular police uniform, and the officer’s motor vehicle must have distinctive markings, one or more red lights visible by the driver in front, and a siren. If the evidence against you does not meet at least one of these elements, your attorney can use the insufficient evidence in your defense.
For example, you cannot be guilty of evading a police officer if the vehicle the officer was driving did not have a logo or an emblem that differentiated it from regular cars. Having a siren and a red light is not enough. Neither is having an amber light sufficient. You can defend yourself by saying that without a logo or symbol, you could not stop because you feared that another person was impersonating an officer, and you were concerned for your safety.
The other element that is usually easier to fight is whether the officer’s red lamp was noticeable, and the siren loud enough. The prosecutor must prove that you saw or could have been able to see the red light. Also, the siren should be more than 115 decibels. Therefore, the prosecution must provide proof of its recent testing and calibration.
- No flashing Lights
You are only guilty of evading a police officer if that officer’s vehicle was flashing at least one red light during the pursuit. You can defend yourself by saying that the officer did not turn on his flashing light.
- Improper Police Procedure
California law requires the police to follow proper procedures in stopping motorists. If the officer did not keep to the right process, your defense might be valid. For example, if the officer stopped beside you at a stop sign, looked you in the eyes and gestured. You continued driving on, and later, the officer stopped and arrested you for evading an officer. You could state that you did not recognize that the officer was pulling you over because you could not interpret the gesture to mean that you should stop. Your defense is valid because the officer did not comply with the proper procedures, and you reasonably were not aware that the officer was pulling you over.
You can use this defense if you had an emergency, and pulling over would have compromised either your safety or that of another person. For example, if you were speeding because you had to take a sick relative to the emergency room and did not stop after the police pulled you over. You were concerned about the health of your loved one, and you had to keep driving until you arrived at the hospital. This defense could be valid.
- Voluntary Intoxication
This defense applies if you can demonstrate that you were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. Therefore, you were not fully conscious of your decisions. Due to the intoxication and inability to make sound decisions, the court can conclude that you did not have the willful or specific intent to elude the officer.
Unfortunately, using intoxication as your defense will initiate DUI charges. However, a conviction for drunk driving is better than a sentence for evading a police officer. The penalty for misdemeanor DUI is lighter because you only spend less than six months in jail. Also, a criminal record of conviction for DUI carries less stigma than a sentence and criminal history for evading a police officer.
Offenses Related to Evading a Police Officer
There are other offenses under California law that closely relate to evading a police officer. They include:
Reckless evading a police officer
Under Section 2800.2 VC of the California Vehicle Code, it is an offense to:
- Willfully flee or attempt to evade a pursuing law enforcement officer in a vehicle, and
- While doing so, drive with wanton or willful inattention to the safety of people or property.
Unlike VC 2800.1 evading a police officer, the prosecutor must also prove the additional element of wanton or deliberate inattention to safety in a case of VC 2800.2 felony reckless evading. Wanton or willful disregard for other people's safety or that of property includes:
- Driving to flee or attempt to escape from a pursuing law enforcement officer during which you commit at least three traffic offenses, or
- You cause damage to property
This offense is a wobbler meaning it can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor charges carry potential penalties of:
- Imprisonment in a county jail for between six months and 364 days
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
- Both a fine and time in jail
Reckless evading a police officer as a felony is punishable by:
- Incarceration in state prison for 16 months, or two or three years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
- Both imprisonment and a fine
Evading a Police Officer Causing Serious Injury or Death
You commit a crime under 2800.3 VC when you:
- Willfully flee or attempt to evade a pursuing police officer in a vehicle, and
- While doing so, you proximately cause severe injury to or death of someone else.
Unlike sections 2800.1 VC and 2800.2 VC, this section of the Vehicle Code requires that you cause death or injury to another person.
When you willfully escape or try to avoid a pursuing officer, and in the process, you cause serious bodily harm to another person, you commit a wobbler offense. Misdemeanor charges attract:
- A county jail term not exceeding 364 days
- A fine of between $2,000 and $10,000
- Both jail time and a fine
Felony charges carry possible penalties of:
- A state prison term of three, five, or seven years
- A fine of between $2,000 and $10,000
- Both time in prison and a fine
If your intentional flight or attempt to escape results in death, you will serve a term of four, six, or ten years in state prison.
Section 148(a)(1) PC of the California Penal Code makes it illegal to delay, resist or obstruct emergency medical technicians or law enforcement officers from performing their duties. This statute is similar to that of evading a police officer. It applies when you flee from an officer either on foot or using other forms of transportation except for a motor vehicle. Resisting arrest in California is a misdemeanor, whose potential penalties are:
- Incarceration in a county jail for a maximum of 364 days
- A fine not exceeding $,1000
- Both jail time and a fine
Exhibition of Speed
Under Section 23109(c) VC, it is unlawful to use a motor vehicle to participate in a highway speed contest. Under this section, a speed contest includes racing against the clock, another motor vehicle, or any other timing device. Under the same statute, an event to measure the time necessary to travel a prescribed route that is longer than 20 miles, but where you do not exceed speed limits, does not count as a speed contest.
Exhibition of speed is a misdemeanor, and often, it is a valuable plea bargain for DUI with a low BAC or other mitigating factors. A conviction will attract:
- A minimum24-hour county jail term, but not exceeding 90 days
- A fine of between $355 and $1,000
- Both incarceration and a fine
- Suspension of your driver’s license for between 90 days and six months
- Community service for 40 hours
Hit and Run
Section 20002 VC of California’s Vehicle Code requires that if you get into an accident that results only in property damage, including vehicles, you should immediately stop at the nearest point where you will not obstruct traffic or endanger other motorists. You must also:
- Find the person in charge or the owner of that property, or
- Leave a written message indicating your name and address and other information relevant to the incident
Hit and run involving damage to property is a misdemeanor punishable by:
- Incarceration in a county jail for not more than six months
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
If your hit and run causes injury or death, the offense is a wobbler. The penalties for severe bodily injury are stiffer than for slight injury. A misdemeanor conviction under Section 20001(b)(2) VC carries:
- A minimum 90-day sentence but not exceeding one year in county jail
- A fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000
A felony conviction for hit and run with death or injury under Section 20001(b)(2) VC carries. Potential penalties for felony hit and run include:
- A sentence of 16 months, two or three years in state prison. The sentence would extend to two, three, or four years if permanent, serious injury or death occurred.
- A fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000
- Both a fine and imprisonment
Disturbing the Peace
It is an offense under Section 415 PC to disturb the peace. This offense often works as a plea bargain when the prosecutors charge you with evading a police officer, but their case is weak, and they do not want to dismiss the charges. A conviction and a criminal record for disturbing the peace carries less stigma than a sentence for evading a police officer. It also has lenient penalties, including:
- A jail sentence, not exceeding 90 days
- A fine not exceeding $400
Frequently Asked Questions About VC 2800.1, Evading a Police Officer
Here are some questions that most clients ask about evading a police officer. They will help you to understand VC 2800.1 better.
- An officer on a bicycle signaled me to pull over, but I did not. Can the court convict me for evading a police officer?
Yes. Under VC 2800.1, the court will convict you if the prosecution proves that you evaded a police officer on a bicycle. The conviction will be valid even if the officer used a hand signal or gave a verbal command to pull over.
- I was unable to stop because I had an emergency. Can police still charge me with evading an officer?
For you to get a conviction for evading a police officer, the law requires that you must specifically have an intention to elude or flee. If you were responding to an emergency like rushing a loved one to the hospital, your attorney could use the emergency as a valid defense during your trial.
- I attempted to flee from one officer, but I ended up in a chase with several police cars. Can I face multiple counts for the offense of evading a police officer?
California courts have determined that you can only receive a conviction for one count of fleeing or evading an officer regardless of the number of officers pursuing you. Therefore, you should face one count of the offense. However, a conviction is likely to earn you more severe sentencing, depending on the specific details of your case.
- I have a previous conviction for evading a police officer. Can I get an expungement?
Yes. Section 1203.4 PC of the Penal Code allows expungement for a felony or a misdemeanor offense provided you:
- Complete your misdemeanor or felony probation
- Are not currently on probation, in jail, or facing criminal charges
This provision means that once you complete your jail term or probation, you can begin the process of expungement. A PC 1203.4 expungement releases you from almost all disabilities and penalties arising from your conviction.
Consult An Orange County Criminal Lawyer
If you are facing charges of evading a police officer, your best chance at avoiding the severe penalties is to call a criminal lawyer from the Orange County Criminal Lawyer immediately at 714-262-4833. We have years of experience in successfully representing our clients in Orange County, CA, in their lawsuits. We will raise the most appropriate defense from the list above to possibly have your charges reduced or dismissed. We will evaluate the details of the case and put up a compelling defense strategy to help you get the best possible outcome.