Evading or Eluding the Police in a Vehicle

Criminal charges for car chases and fleeing from law enforcement in a vehicle.

Most drivers simply pull over when police come up from behind with lights and sirens activate. But what happens if a motorist refuses to stop, fails to stop in a timely manner, or leads police on a high-speed chase? Drivers who just ignore police and keep on driving or actively try to get away from police can be convicted of fleeing or eluding law enforcement.

Evading or Attempting to Elude Law Enforcement

In every state, it's, of course, illegal to refuse to stop when directed to do so by law enforcement. Depending on where you live, the offense might be called:

  • "fleeing" an officer
  • "attempting to elude" an officer
  • "failure to stop at the direction of" police, or
  • "attempting to evade" law enforcement.

While state laws differ slightly in the details, fleeing or eluding is generally defined as knowingly refusing to stop after being given a visual or auditory direction to do so by law enforcement. A direction from an officer to pull over can include a siren, flashing lights, or even a hand signal or verbal command. Also, the law requires the motorist to stop promptly. Motorists who drive a few extra blocks before stopping risk being ticketed for fleeing or eluding.

Generally, a driver can be legitimately convicted of an evading offense only if the officer gave the driver fair notice prior to the alleged evasion. In other words, the officer initiating the stop must have been in a clearly-marked police vehicle or in uniform and directed the driver to stop in a manner that reasonably should have been seen or heard by the driver. So, simply avoiding a patrolling officer or a DUI checkpoint isn't considered fleeing or eluding an officer.

Penalties for Fleeing From the Police

A driver convicted of fleeing or eluding can be subject to a wide range of penalties. In some states, evading an officer is a misdemeanor. For misdemeanor convictions, a driver might face something like up to six months in jail and a maximum $1,000 in fines. In other states, evading an officer is a felony offense. Convicted motorists can be looking at substantial prison time and thousands of dollars in fines.

Also, most evading convictions can result in license-related penalties such as revocation or various restrictions.

Whatever the baseline penalties are for evading arrest, certain aggravating factors can make matters worse for the convicted driver. For example, drivers who cause property damage, injuries, or reach excessive speeds (high-speed chases) during a chase are often subject to increased penalties.

And, depending on the situation, an evading incident could additionally lead to criminal charges such as reckless driving or vehicular homicide.

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