When it comes to law enforcement, police officers have immense power and authority. Because of their unique status in society, crimes that obstruct their duties or harm them in some way are punished severely. Evading an officer is one such criminal offense that isn't taken lightly. It's also one that can involve misunderstandings or lack of intent, which is why it's so important to understand your defense options before pleading guilty to such a charge. But let's first look at the legal definition of evading an officer.
You can be charged with evading an officer under Vehicle Code 2800.1 if, while operating a motor vehicle, you willfully attempt to flee from, evade, or elude a peace officer who is pursuing you. Evading an officer is a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in a county jail.
To be convicted of this offense, the following conditions must be present:
- The peace officer's vehicle had at least one red light that the person fleeing could have reasonably seen
- The officer's vehicle had a siren on (if it was reasonably necessary)
- The officer's vehicle was distinctively marked (i.e. it was not disguised or undercover)
- The officer was operating the vehicle and was in uniform
You can also be charged with evading an officer if the officer was on a bicycle, but the conditions differ a little. The bicycle and officer must have been distinctively marked, the officer gave a verbal command and a hand signal to stop, the officer sounded a horn of at least 115 decibels, and the person fleeing must have reasonably been aware of the signals, command, and horn but fled anyway.
Defenses to an Evading an Officer Charge
Clearly, there are many factors that come into play, each of which needs to be present for you to be convicted. Due to the numerous factors, there are numerous defenses.
For example, you could raise the defense that you did not intend to evade the officer. We've all been in a situation where we didn't realize we were being pulled over. If you had your music up, couldn't hear the siren, didn't see the light, or couldn't see that it was a police officer's car behind you, you could accidentally evade an officer. Without willful intent, however, you are not guilty.
Similarly, you could argue there is not enough evidence you fled willfully. Again, how did the officer know you were willfully evading him or her? That's a difficult call to make in certain conditions. Heavy traffic and bad weather can make it more difficult to know you are being pulled over.
You could also argue you did not have the capacity to realize the officer's identity or intent either due to your own faculties or because the officer was not distinctly marked or used the proper protocol listed above. Being hard of hearing, having poor eyesight, or simply being distracted can all contribute an inability to identify an officer pulling you over. In some cases, you could argue you were intoxicated at the time and didn't realize you were being pulled over. The problem with that defense is you could face DUI charges, but a DUI could potentially carry a lesser sentence.
Likewise, if the officer's vehicle, bicycle, or person were not clearly marked, it's easy to mistake them for a civilian. And it's not uncommon for people to be unsure as to whether the person was an actual police officer. In this day and age, being wary of peace officers is common. This isn't a defense in and of itself, but it happens.
Speak with an attorney if you are facing charges for evading an officer. This can be a difficult offense for the prosecution to prove, so you should thoroughly explore your defense options before appearing in court. An experienced California criminal defense attorney can go over your options, explain what penalties the court can impose, and help you make a strategic and informed decision in your case.
If you are facing charges for evading an officer, we can help. California attorney Christopher Martens knows California criminal defense and will help you fight for your rights. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has helped many Californians fight their charges. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.