Is Running From the Police (or Evading Arrest) a Crime?

Running from police is a serious criminal offense and dangerous to boot.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 5/26/2023

On top of being dangerous, running from police can result in serious criminal charges. The crime of evading arrest is committed when a person flees on foot or in a vehicle from a police officer to avoid being apprehended, detained, or arrested. The crime goes by different names depending on the jurisdiction, but most states consider the offense a felony when a person flees in a vehicle or any person suffers injuries.

What Is Evading Arrest?

The crime of evading arrest occurs when a person knowingly ignores a police officer's demand to stop or pull over and attempts to flee to escape arrest, detention, or investigation. Some states have specific laws against evading arrest on foot or by vehicle. Other states prohibit the act of fleeing law enforcement through their laws against obstructing justice or resisting arrest.

Depending on the jurisdiction, a person who knowingly tries to evade police may violate one of the following laws:

  • evading arrest or evading a law enforcement officer
  • eluding, fleeing, or escaping police
  • vehicular fleeing or eluding
  • obstruction of justice
  • obstructing an officer's duties, or
  • resisting arrest.

The laws in most states define "police officer" or "law enforcement officer" broadly to include police, state patrol, transit and conservation officers, sheriff deputies, university police, correctional officers, and state criminal investigative officers.

How Does a Prosecutor Prove Charges for Evading Arrest?

In all criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Elements of Evading Arrest

In states that have crimes specific to evading arrest or fleeing police, prosecutors must generally prove that:

  • a law enforcement officer in uniform or a marked vehicle directed a person to stop using a visual or audible signal
  • the person was aware that the officer directed them to stop, and
  • the person knowingly refused to obey the order by fleeing the officer.

The visual or audible signal to stop can be a hand signal, voice, siren, or emergency lights. Fleeing occurs when a person takes off on foot, refuses to stop a vehicle, speeds up a vehicle, or turns off their vehicle lights.

Elements of Obstruction or Resisting Arrest

The elements described above typically meet the definition of obstruction or resisting arrest.

Obstructing an officer is committed when someone knowingly hinders or interferes with a police officer who's performing official duties. The person does not need to use force to obstruct justice. Any conduct that prevents an officer from successfully performing an official duty could constitute obstruction, which includes fleeing or evading arrest.

Resisting arrest occurs when a person interferes with a law enforcement officer's attempt to perform a lawful arrest. Evading or fleeing is just one way a person may commit this offense.

What Are the Penalties for Evading Arrest or Fleeing Police?

Punishment for evading or eluding police varies depending on the state and the circumstances of the offense. Typically, the offense starts as a misdemeanor and increases to a felony as the level or risk of harm increases.

Misdemeanor Evading Arrest

Evading an officer on foot, obstructing justice, and resisting arrest are usually misdemeanor offenses. Misdemeanors commonly carry a maximum punishment of one year in jail, plus a fine.

Felony Evading Arrest

Factors that might make evading arrest a felony include:

  • a defendant has prior convictions for flight, resisting arrest, or obstruction
  • the defendant uses force against the officer
  • the defendant flees in a vehicle
  • the offense results in injuries to a bystander or officer, or
  • the defendant's behavior that creates a risk of death or serious injury (such as leading police in a high-speed chase).

Felony penalties carry prison sentences of a year or more, plus stiff fines. For felony evading, penalties may range from a few years to a decade or more in prison. A person will likely face harsh penalties if anyone suffers serious bodily harm or death or the defendant engages in reckless behavior (such as a high-speed chase or using force against an officer). If the offense involved a vehicle, the court may suspend or revoke the defendant's driver's license as well.

What Are Defenses to Charges for Evading Arrest?

A defendant might defend against evading or fleeing charges in one of a few ways.

Innocence. A defendant might claim that they were not the fleeing suspect and someone else was evading police.

No intent or knowledge. Most evading or fleeing statutes require the prosecutor to prove that the defendant knowingly ignored or refused to obey an officer's command to stop. If the officer's command wasn't clear (say the officer says "Hey, you. Come over here!") or the officer is in plain clothes (and briefly flashes what might be a badge), a defendant might argue they didn't knowingly evade or flee the officer. Rather, the defendant could claim they were scared someone was following them or had no idea the person was an officer.

Don't Run From Police

If you are stopped by a police officer, obey the officer's instructions. Even if don't think the officer has any reason to question or stop you, it's not a good idea to resist arrest or run away. Fleeing or resisting arrest can endanger you, the officer, and innocent bystanders. If an officer believes you have a weapon and could harm others, the officer might use deadly force. It's much safer to fight any battles in a courtroom.

Getting Legal Help

If you face charges for evading arrest or fleeing police, talk to a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can help you understand the criminal legal process, protect your rights, and zealously defend your case.

Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you