Evading or eluding the police can be charged when someone intentionally flees the scene despite a police officer ordering them to stop. Sometimes it can be charged as a type of resisting or obstructing the police. Fleeing the scene may not need to occur immediately. A driver may stop initially in response to a police order and then speed away. This still may support a charge of evading the police, as may leading the police in an extended chase before eventually pulling over. Evading the police is usually charged in the context of a driver fleeing the scene, but evading arrest on foot can be charged as a separate crime.
Elements of Evading the Police
It is important to be aware that evading the police requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant acted intentionally. If evidence suggests that they did not notice the officer or were not in a position to hear the officer’s order, the prosecution probably cannot get a conviction. Or if someone chooses to leave a road on which a police car is traveling, this does not amount to evading the police if there was no order to stop.
However, an order to stop does not need to be explicit and verbal. Courts usually have found that hand gestures can constitute an order if they are clear. Perhaps more relevant to the motor vehicle context, flashing lights and sirens are considered an order to stop. Sometimes simply displaying a badge may be enough in certain circumstances. The prosecution cannot sustain a charge if the officer was issuing an order when they were not on duty or when there was no reason to think that they were an officer.
You can be charged with evading the police even if you were not actually operating the vehicle that fled from the officer. Sometimes a passenger can be charged with evading the police if they told the driver to leave the scene or otherwise actively participated in the flight.
Penalties for Evading the Police
In some states, evading the police is charged as a misdemeanor, while other states may charge it as a felony. Still other states allow it to be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Evading the police usually is a misdemeanor if the situation is straightforward, and the defendant simply fled the scene. Aggravating factors that can result in a felony charge may include a physical confrontation with the officer. Putting bystanders at risk, such as in a high-speed chase on a crowded highway, may escalate the charge to a felony. Damaging or disabling the officer’s vehicle may be an aggravating factor. If the driver injures or even kills the officer, they may face a felony charge of evading the police in addition to more serious charges, such as assault or homicide.
Prison sentences that may result from a conviction of evading the police vary by state. A misdemeanor conviction will not result in more than a year of imprisonment. More often, it will result in a few months of imprisonment and a modest fine. A felony conviction of evading the police may result in 10 years in prison or even more, as well as larger fines.