Evading a Police Officer: The Double Standard Created by the Supreme Court

It has been a busy year for criminal law development.  With the seemingly unending current events surrounding police and citizen relations, the topic of when it is legal to run from police has resurfaced.  It is already established by now that Freddie Gray was not doing anything wrong when he ran from police that tragic April 12.  Police would later find out he had a switchblade in his pocket but that was not the reason why he ran.  According to the police report, the patrol officer made eye contact with Gray, which prompted him to run.  It was later discovered that in communities such as Gray’s, the mere presence of police make people nervous; that was the reason Gray ran.  He was nervous since he has a past record of petty crime.  It would also be discovered that Gray hailed from a neighborhood from Baltimore that had a poverty and unemployment rate of double that of the nation.

Evading a Police Officer

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Illinois v. Wardlow that running away from police is not a justification for arrest (there is no probable cause).  This means that fleeing from police is not, by itself, illegal in the United States.  However, the Supreme Court opinion also stated that fleeing by itself is ‘cause for suspicion.’  The Court made clear that in safe neighborhoods, people not suspected of criminal activity can ignore a police officer who approaches them.  However, in a “high crime” area such as Gray’s neighborhood, fleeing fulfilled the standard of reasonable suspicion that justifies a stop and frisk.  That has created a double standard in neighborhoods where citizens are already afraid of police, and want to avoid them.

Evading Police in California

Evading a police officer is defined in the CA Vehicle Code 2800.1 as “Any person who, while operating a motor vehicle and with the intent to evade, willfully flees or otherwise attempts to elude a pursuing peace officer’s motor vehicle…”  It is a specific intent crime, meaning that police must prove that you intended on evading an officer.

In California, evading a police officer is a crime and as such, is prosecuted heavily.  Specifically, a person can be charged with evading a police officer, also referred to as “misdemeanor evasion,” or “felony evasion” if they flee from a police officer who is pursuing them in a marked vehicle (this includes official motorcycles, bikes, and police cars).  Penalties include imprisonment, monetary fines, probation, a permanent criminal record.

Legal Defenses

The most common defenses to an ‘evading a police officer charge are:

  • A lack of intent to evade (ie. you did not know that the officer was pursuing you);
  • Mistaken identity;
  • Lack of willfulness to evade an office’
  • Lack of willfulness to evade an officer;
  • False accusation;
  • Insufficient evidence; and
  • Falsified police reports.

San Diego Evading a Police Officer Lawyer

The Law Offices of David M. Boertje handles all misdemeanor and felony criminal cases including charges of evading a police officer.  We are dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom, and have successfully represented many defendants, including those with criminal charges for resisting arrest, evading a police officer.’  Don’t hesitate to contact the office today to discuss your case.