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.
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:
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.
In all criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
In states that have crimes specific to evading arrest or fleeing police, prosecutors must generally prove that:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Factors that might make evading arrest a felony include:
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.
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.
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.
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.