Evading law enforcement charges in California (whether it be through the streets of Los Angeles or on the freeways of the Southland) can result in serious, potential misdemeanor or felony charges that, if not defended properly, can result in a jail or prison sentence. With the recent uproar in Ferguson and other cities in the United States over alleged police misconduct including the choking death of Eric Garner by police who claimed he was resisting arrest (see http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/15/showbiz/samuel-jackson-i-cant-breathe/) many wonder when it is ok to evade the police to protect themselves. We have all seen police car chases on TV including the famous OJ Simpson slow speed chase from Los Angeles to San Diego and wonder what charges a person may face for avoid and/or intentionally evading the police. In the OJ situation and in other cases, whether a person is charged with misdemeanor or felony evading the police depends on their conduct and their reckless disregard for the safety of other around them.
Misdemeanor Evading Police Charges in California
Pursuant to California Penal Code section 2800.1, a defendant is guilty of evading a police officer or law enforcement official if they:
- Had the specific intent to evade the law enforcement officer;
- The law enforcement officer’s vehicle, at the time of the alleged evading, exhibited a minimum one red lighted lamp which was visible from the front of the vehicle and the defendant either saw the light or lights or should have seen the light or lights;
- The law enforcement vehicle using a siren as necessary;
- The law enforcement vehicle was marked in a distinctive manner and
- The law enforcement vehicle was in operation by a law enforcement and/or peace officer wearing a uniform indicating they were law enforcement.
Defenses to evading the police may vary and could include self-defense if the alleged defendant could prove that either they or another was in imminent danger of bodily injury or death by the officer. If the officer was using allowable force, such a defense could be more complicated.
In many instances, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to get a charged reduced to a “failure to yield” infraction charge under California Vehicle Code section 21806 especially where an overzealous police officers charges a motorist with evading during a traffic stop where the motorist waits a little too long to pull over after the office activates his red lamps and sirens. Although a misdemeanor evading police charge in California may be reduced or dismissed, it can also have serious consequences including a $1000.00 fine with penalty assessments that can almost triple the fine and up to a year in county jail.
Felony Evading a Peace Officer in CA
Whether you reside in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino or Riverside Counties, if you are involved in a serious high speed chase by vehicle, you may face a felony charge of evading a peace officer by reckless driving. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the proseuction must prove, pursuant to California Penal Code section 2800.2, that:
1. A peace officer driving a motor vehicle was pursuing the accused;
2. The accused, who was also driving a motor vehicle, willfully fled from, or tried to elude, the officer, intending to evade the officer;
3. During the pursuit, the accused drove with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property;
4. All of the following were also proved beyond a reasonable doubt:
(a) There was at least one lighted red lamp visible from the front of the peace officer’s vehicle;
(b) The accused either saw or reasonably should have seen the lamp;
(c) The peace officer’s vehicle was sounding a siren as reasonably necessary;
(d) The peace officer’s vehicle was distinctively marked; AND (e) The peace officer was wearing a distinctive uniform.
The basic distinction between a misdemeanor and felony evading charge is that a felony can arise where the evading is done in such a wanton and reckless manner that the safety of others and/or property is considered disregarded. Such facts that may be used to include wanton or reckless conduct may include speeding, running red lights and other activity during a police pursuit. However, a criminal defense lawyer can argue different defenses and use different facts to show that a driver’s conduct was merely negligent and not reckless which can lead to either plea bargain which may result in reduction of charges or a not guilty verdict to serious felony charges.
Importance of consulting with and retaining a criminal attorney familiar with the laws of the State of California on evading police:
Whether or not one has a defense to felony or misdemeanor evading charges will be determined by an experienced criminal defense attorney who takes the time to examine and investigate the facts including the conduct of law enforcement and/or the peace officer involved in the incident. When arrested for evading in California (no matter which county, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside San Bernardino or Orange County), one should immediately consult with and/or retain a criminal defense lawyer to determine all avenues in resolving the case in a favorable and equitable fashion. Glotzer & Sweat LLP has decades of experience in defending such charges and minimizing the impact that one bad decision can have on a person’s life. For a free consultation on any defense of evasion of a peace officer or other criminal accusation arising in Southern California, call our toll free 24 hour hotline: 866-229-0101 or in Los Angeles, call 310-623-3771.