When police officers attempt to apprehend you or pull you over in Orange County, you are supposed to comply. If you try to flee, you could be arrested and charged with evading a police officer under California Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 VC. This charge is grave and shouldn't be taken lightly. As such, it is essential to retain the services of a proficient criminal defense attorney. Attorneys at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm will start building a robust defense for you immediately.
Understanding Evading a Peace Officer Offense
No driver wants to get pulled over. If you have not committed a crime, this could inconvenience you. You could also be scared of false allegations of an offense or police harassment. You may also want to avoid criminal charges or tickets if you realize the police have seen marijuana or alcohol in your car.
Nonetheless, when you see the light in your rearview mirror, the wisest thing to do is to stop and politely know why the police officers are asking you to stop. You could be worried about nothing, and all the officers want is informing you about your taillight that is out.
If you allow fear to drive you or jump into conclusion, you might end up doing something reckless like speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, engaging in fatal maneuvers, and tailgate. This will not only put other road users in danger but also puts you at risk of facing evading a police officer charge.
Under Vehicle Code Section 2800.1, it is illegal to evade a police or peace officer in a car. Evading a police officer is a criminal act of not stopping when asked by the police. It doesn't matter whether the police flashed their lights or verbally instructed you to stop.
A perfect example is a woman whose driver's license is suspended and is driving to work when the police stop her for a broken tail light. Afraid of being charged with driving on a suspended license, the woman speeds and causes the peace officer to chase her.
How Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 VC is Proved in Orange County
The prosecution must demonstrate the following elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt to prove that the defendant is guilty of violating California Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 VC:
- An officer operating a car was pursuing a defendant
- The defendant was also driving a vehicle and willfully attempted to elude or fled from police, planning to evade them
- There was a lighted red lamp that can be seen from the rear of the police's car
- The defendant either reasonably ought to have seen or saw the police car lights
- The police's car sounded a siren as rationally essential
- The police car was conspicuously marked, and
- The police officer was putting on a distinct uniform
Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 offense could also be a result of evading a peace officer who is cycling a bicycle. However, the facts of the crime are different. Since most of the California misdemeanor evading charges stem from car pursuits, the article will pay attention to that type of offense.
Definition of Key Legal Terms
To get a better understanding of the legal definition of evading a police officer in California, here is an overview of the elements of the crime:
Willful Intent to Evade
A motorist is only found guilty of violating Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC when they evade a police officer willfully with specific intent.
The term willfully can be defined as doing something willingly, on purpose, or deliberately. You don't require to have purposed to:
- Violate the law
- Gain an advantage, or
- Injure another person
For instance, Joseph is a motorist who is suffering from dementia. Sometimes when operating his car, he zones out and isn't aware of his environment. One evening he drives at 60 miles per hour in a 20 miles per hour zone. The police attempt to stop him, but since Joseph does not understand what the police are communicating, he continues driving at the same speed.
As far as the element of crime in question is concerned, Joseph isn't guilty of evading the police. This is because he didn't elude the police willfully.
Specific intent, on the other hand, means you had specifically purposed to commit an offense (evade the police). That means you can't be found guilty if you elude a peace officer for a reason, such as an emergency.
Under Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 VC, there are requirements for which a police vehicle should be marked at the time of the pursuit, which resulted in evading charges. They include:
- There should be more than one red lamp which can be seen from the police vehicle's front
- The police should sound the siren as rationally essential, and
- The car should be distinctively marked using other methods apart from the siren and the red lamp
A police vehicle could be marked using conventional methods like:
- The name or seal of the police on the car's outside
- Flashing headlights, or
- Flashing clear or blue lights which can be seen by the motorist of the vehicle being pursued
You cannot be found guilty of evading a police officer if there is no visible third-element-marking on the police vehicle other than the siren and red lamp. Moreover, you cannot be charged with evading a police officer if there was no visible red lamp from the car's front. This determination is irrespective of how well marked the vehicle is.
Officer in Uniform
Another California Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 requirement is that the police officer pursuing a defendant should be in a distinctive uniform. The term distinctive uniform refers to the clothing adopted by the police to differentiate its officers from the public. It doesn't have to be a complete uniform or contain a certain degree of formality.
Nevertheless, a badge without any other characteristic clothing pieces isn't a complete uniform.
What Penalties are imposed if you Evade a Police Officer?
Evading a police officer is a California misdemeanor. It is punishable by:
- Summary (misdemeanor) probation
- A maximum of $1,000 in fines
- One year in jail, and
- Impoundment of the car you used when fleeing a police officer. the car will be impounded for a maximum of thirty days
Moreover, the judge could withdraw a defendant's driving privileges for some time as a term and condition of the probation.
A defendant will be charged with a single count of California Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 VC for every event that resulted in the charges. The charges are irrespective of the number of officers or police cars pursuing them.
Withdrawal of Commercial Driving Privileges
If you have a commercial driver's license and get charged with a misdemeanor VC 2800.1, you risk having your driving privileges withdrawn for years.
The commercial driver's license could also be withdrawn for a lifetime if you get above one VC section 2800.1 conviction while driving a commercial car.
Bearing in mind that most people who have commercial driver's licenses depend on their work for a source of income, this could be a harsh consequence.
There are numerous legal defenses that any experienced criminal defense lawyer can use on your behalf. Your attorney could use any of the following depending on your case's circumstances:
- Lack of Specific Intent
As noted earlier, a defendant is only found guilty if they planned to elude the police officer pursuing them. You can argue that you were distracted and did not know that the police officer attempted to stop you.
Alternatively, you could argue your life was in danger because of the area where the police attempted pulling you over. It also could be you were not sure that it was a legitimate police officer, and you were looking for a safer location.
- Insufficient Evidence
Vehicle Code Section 2800.1 VC also states how the police's clothing and the vehicle should look like for you to be charged with the offense in question. That means the prosecutor should be in a position to present proof that all these requirements were satisfied.
If any of these requirements are absent, the charges against you will not stick. In some cases, the prosecutor will try convicting you. However, a skilled lawyer who is well-equipped will find gaps in the case.
- Voluntary Intoxication
Voluntary intoxication is another legal defense that can apply if all the following statements are correct:
- When the defendant committed the act that resulted in the charges, they were intoxicated after taking drugs or alcohol, and
- Since they were drunk, they couldn't form the specific intent to elude the police (which is a fact of crime)
When you claim that you were voluntarily intoxicated, you might end up being charged with DUI of drugs or driving under the influence of alcohol. These charges carry lesser consequences than evading a police officer charge. Besides, there is less stigma related to a drunk driving conviction on a criminal record.
- Improper Police Officer Procedure
You could have a valid legal defense in case the officer didn't follow the right procedure to pull you over.
For instance, a law enforcer pulls up next to you at a stoplight, motions for you to pull over, then makes eye contact. It is unclear what the officer wants, so you continue driving. Soon the officer flags you down and puts you in custody for evading him. You would have a valid legal defense for your case since:
- The police officer didn't follow the right procedures, and
- You didn't know that you were being asked to pull over
This defense is used if you were involved in an emergency and didn't stop because it could have affected your safety or that of somebody else.
For instance, you were speeding as you rush your wife, who was in labor, to the hospital when a law enforcer tried to stop you. You were scared about your child and wife's safety and decided to continue driving to the hospital.
Discussed below are offenses that can be charged in place of or together with evading a police officer charges:
Felony Reckless Evading a Police Officer (Vehicle Code Section 2800.2 VC)
You are likely to be charged with Vehicle Code Section 2800.2 VC if you are evading a law enforcer with a wanton and willful disregard for property or persons' safety. It is a wobbler; it could be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. Although, in most cases, it is charged as a felony.
If charged as a felony, it is punishable by:
- Sixteen months, two or three years in California state prison, and
- A maximum of $10,000 in fines
Evading Causing Death or Injury (Vehicle Code Section 2800.3 VC)
In the event you are escaping a police officer, and you cause death or severe bodily injury, you may face Vehicle Code Section 2800.3. Causing severe physical harm is not an offense in and of itself. Instead, it is a sentencing enhancement; the judge will impose more severe penalties than they otherwise would have.
Severe bodily injuries are physical injuries (not financial or emotional ones). They are injuries that involve a significant risk of disfigurement, loss of a body organ or function, or death. It is worth noting that the injury does not have to be severe or permanent. Common examples of severe bodily injuries include paralysis, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury.
If evading the police results only in severe bodily injury, the offense is a California wobbler. A felony attracts three, five, or seven years in prison.
And should the act cause death, the punishment is enhanced to four, six, or ten years in prison.
Disturbing the Peace (Penal Code Section 415 PC)
In certain situations, the evidence presented by the prosecutor is not strong for a Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC conviction. However, the prosecutors may not be willing to let go of the charges altogether. Your criminal defense attorney may introduce disturbing the peace charges in the plea bargain negotiations as an alternative to Code 2800.1 charges.
Penal Code Section 415 is a lesser charge that is punishable by:
- A maximum of ninety days in county jail, and
- Up to $400 in fines
Moreover, a Penal Code Section 415 PC conviction will have less stigma on your record than a Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC charge.
Resisting Arrest (California Penal Code 148(a) (1))
According to the Penal Code Section 148(a) (1), it is illegal to delay, resist, or obstruct an emergency medical technician or peace officer from carrying out their duties. Resisting arrest is charged as a California misdemeanor.
Resisting an arrest could be a person trying to kick or hit a law enforcer who is arresting them or an individual who attempts to stop the police from interviewing witnesses physically.
It is punishable by a one-year jail sentence and up to $1,000 in fines.
Hit and Run
According to Vehicle Code Section 20002, a motorist of a car involved in a road accident resulting only in damage to any property should stop their vehicle at the nearby location. Stopping your vehicle should not slow down traffic or otherwise compromise the safety of other drivers.
Violation of California Vehicle Code Section 20002 VC is a California misdemeanor when damage to assets is involved. It attracts penalties such as a fine of $1,000 and a six-month jail sentence.
If a person is killed or injured, the crime is considered a California felony. A felony charge carries the following consequences:
- A sixteen-month, two, or three-year sentence in California State prison if a person died or sustained a serious injury
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- A maximum of one year in county jail
Exhibition of Speed (Vehicle Code Section 23109 (c))
According to Vehicle Code Section 23109(c), an individual should not participate in a vehicle speed contest while on a freeway. In respect to this article, a vehicle speed contest involves a car race against another car or any timing gadget like a clock.
Exhibition of speed is a California misdemeanor. It carries penalties such as:
- A minimum of twenty-four hours and a maximum of ninety days in jail
- A maximum of one thousand dollars in fines
- Withdrawal of driving privileges for six months and
- Community service
Why it is Essential to Seek Legal Representation
Criminal law is complicated. As a result, the average person will not have an understanding of both the criminal justice process and criminal law. Unfortunately, ignorance or failing to understand is not a defense to avoid being convicted. Even though you have a right to represent yourself in a court of law, the consequences of not having proper legal representation can be serious. That is why it is essential to have someone knowledgeable about both traffic laws in Orange County and your constitutional rights argue on your behalf.
Discussed below are what you should expect from your criminal defense lawyer:
- Assess Your Case
Your criminal defense lawyer should assess your case thoroughly, putting all circumstances surrounding the matter into consideration. Even if you are at fault, the lawyer should handle the case smartly and give suggestions on how to handle the situation.
- Collection of Information
It is essential to collect as many case details as possible. Your attorney will visit the crime scene to gather evidence and other relevant information which can strengthen your case. The legal expert will also talk to witnesses if there are any.
Finally, the defense attorney should protect the evidence collected from being manipulated.
- Keep you Updated
You should also expect your attorney to keep you updated about your case's progress. Moreover, they may be required to show up in court as many times as needed. This should be done promptly, without delay.
- Careful Analysis
The criminal defense attorney should be in a position to analyze as well as judge the evading an officer case well. Their responsibilities include identifying gaps in the prosecutor's case, developing practical legal defenses, and get your charges reduced or even dismissed.
- Handling Pleas
It is not uncommon for the prosecutor to contact your attorney early in the case and make a plea bargain offer. Plea bargaining involves you pleading guilty to a lesser offense with reduced penalties than evading an officer charge. In exchange, the prosecutor saves money and time because you will not go to trial. It is your defense lawyer's responsibility to decide if accepting the offer is in your best interests based on the investigations they have done.
The attorney can also negotiate with the prosecution team to get you an even better deal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is a Peace Officer?
A peace officer is an employee of the state, county, sheriff, or any public law enforcement authority whose duties include:
- Search and seizures
- Arrests, and
- Execution of civil and criminal warrants They are also responsible for the enforcement of traffic, penal, and highway laws.
What Should You Do After Being Pulled Over?
Being asked by the police to stop is extremely stressful. Immediately the lights turn on you, you start questioning what you did wrong and how you can prove your innocence. Well, it is crucial to remain calm and follow the following guidelines:
- Search for a safe area to pull over
- Slow down, turn and then pull over
- Take the keys out of the ignition and put them on your car's dashboard
- Roll down the driver's window
- Don't reach for anything. Instead, have your hands placed on the steering wheel
- Be polite and answer all the questions asked, and
- Follow all orders given
Finding an Experienced Orange County Criminal Attorney Near Me
Evading a police officer in Orange County is a criminal offense. That means if convicted, you will have a criminal record. This could affect your education, career, vehicle premiums, reputation, and finances. It is, therefore, important to consider hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney who understands what is at stake like the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. For more information, contact us at 714-740-7848. Our reliable legal team will be glad to answer your questions.