The sound of a siren blaring behind you and the sight of a police car coming are not exactly pleasant stimuli when you are driving. Usually, they are indicators that you have done something wrong, but whatever you do, avoid engaging in unlawful flight.
We understand that the knee-jerk response some people have for pursuing law enforcement is to drive away. You may not even be thinking clearly about what you are doing. Your fight or flight instincts kicked in, and the latter won out.
In this article, we will detail why fleeing any pursuing law enforcement vehicle is a bad idea. Stay tuned to learn about potential penalties you may face and defenses you can use against those charges.
Defining Unlawful Flight from Pursuing Law Enforcement
To get things started, let’s first define what unlawful flight from law enforcement is. Per Arizona law, any driver who willfully flees or attempts to elude a pursuing law enforcement official can be found guilty of this particular offense.
Driving away from the police is illegal. Learning that fleeing or at least attempting to flee from the police constitutes a criminal offense should come as no surprise.
However, there are some notable elements of this law that people may not know about.
Unlawful Flight from an Authorized Emergency Vehicle
There must be a clear reason why the police officer asked you to stop. Police officers typically ask drivers to stop for one of four reasons.
Due to a Suspected Violation
The first reason is related to a suspicion that they have. If the police had reason to believe that you committed a crime of some sort, then they may possess the authority to pull you over.
This is usually the case if a police officer thinks you were speeding, moving through a red light, or if they thought you were driving under the influence of alcohol. That suspicion is substantial enough for them.
Due to an Actual Violation
Another reason why the police officer may ask you to pull over is they saw you commit a violation. Drivers who text while operating their vehicle will be stopped by a police officer right away. The same goes for committing almost any other offense.
Fleeing from the police officer in that scenario could land you in more significant trouble.
Due to Being a Suspected Individual
It does not happen as often in real life as it does in the movies, but criminals will go on the run sometimes. When something like that happens, alerts will usually go out to police officers in the area, informing them of a criminal on the loose.
The police officers may sometimes receive precise information such as the vehicle’s license plate and a clear description of the suspect. It is also possible that the information given to the police officers is somewhat unclear. They may have a general description of the culprit’s appearance and the color of the vehicle, but nothing more.
If a police officer does not have precise information to work with, they may ask drivers who resemble the assailant to stop. They may do something similar for all drivers operating vehicles that look similar to what the suspect has.
In pursuit of a criminal, the police may deem it necessary to cast a wide net. You may be affected by that if you look somewhat like the criminal or have a vehicle similar to what they have.
Being annoyed that a police officer asked you to stop due to a case of mistaken identity is understandable. Still, things could turn out worse if you refuse to stop your vehicle.
Due to an Emergency Call
Lastly, a police officer may also ask you to pull over due to an emergency call. The police may have received a call specifically about you and your vehicle. You will need to comply with that order from the police or risk running afoul of the law.
What Police Officers Can Do to Chase You Down
The law grants police officers special exemptions if they are pursuing a suspected criminal. If the vehicle pursuing you has an operating siren that is visible 500 feet from the front of the vehicle, they can do certain things on the road.
Drive Past Red Lights and Stop Signs
You may have thought of potentially running a red light to avoid the pursuing police officers. Do note that such an action will not work in your favor.
Police officers pursuing a suspected criminal can drive through a red light or a stop sign. They can do that if they first slow down to ensure they can proceed past the red light or stop sign safely.
Ignore Laws about Turning or Moving in Specified Directions
The signs indicating that vehicles must turn a certain way or head to a particular road do not apply to police officers during the pursuit. They can drive down whichever road necessary to reach your vehicle.
Disregard Speed Limits
Police officers are also not obligated to heed speed limits if they have their sirens blaring while chasing down a potential offender. They can continue to operate their authorized emergency vehicles in that manner if they are not endangering anyone or any property.
Unlawful Flight from an Unmarked Vehicle
It is obvious that you need to stop if you see a police car tailing you and asking you to pull over. However, law enforcement officials do not always use police cars.
There are times when police officers will use an unmarked vehicle instead of an authorized emergency vehicle.
Police officers operate unmarked vehicles for different reasons. Most of the time, police officers use those unmarked vehicles to enforce traffic regulations.
A police officer driving a clearly marked authorized emergency vehicle is one thing. You know right away that you should probably stop in that situation.
Figuring out what to do when an unmarked vehicle is approaching you is tougher. Still, you can be charged with a crime if you decide to flee. The factors detailed below will determine whether your decision to drive away from the unmarked vehicle constitutes a violation of the law.
You Admitted to Knowing That the Unmarked Vehicle Was Being Used by Law Enforcement
After you decide to stop after a brief chase, the police officer may come up to your window and ask if you knew they were law enforcement. The answer you give there will go a long way towards the outcome of a potential case.
Confirming that you knew law enforcement was pursuing you could prove harmful to you in court. It is a big piece of evidence the police can use against you if they charge you with unlawful flight.
Evidence Indicates That You Knew the Unmarked Vehicle Was Being Used by Law Enforcement
You are not out of the woods, even if you claim you did not know the unmarked vehicle was law enforcement. If the police officers can come up with evidence indicating that you knew they were law enforcement, they can charge you with unlawful flight.
Why Do Drivers Flee from Law Enforcement?
Trying to run from the law is generally not advisable. So, why do people attempt it anyway? Listed below are some of the reasons why drivers try to speed away from law enforcement.
The Driver Was Unaware of the Presence of Law Enforcement
When police officers use unmarked vehicles, there is always a chance that drivers will not recognize them. Some drivers may attempt to flee because they are unsure if police officers are chasing them down. That would be an unfortunate situation for any driver, and it can happen from time to time.
The Driver Was Afraid of Being Caught in a Trap
Nefarious individuals will use whatever means necessary to trick unsuspecting victims. They may masquerade as police officers driving unmarked vehicles by using sirens.
If you have been victimized by those criminals before, you will naturally be wary of being targeted again. Even if you hear that familiar siren, you may not stop unless you see a real police car behind you.
The Driver Committed a Violation of Some Kind
The driver may also try to escape from the cops simply because they know they did something wrong. They may be driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, or trying to escape some other charge.
Some individuals may be aware that law enforcement catching up to them will turn out badly no matter what, so they would rather try to escape instead of pulling over.
What Are the Penalties for Unlawful Flight from Pursuing Law Enforcement?
Anyone found guilty of unlawful flight from pursuing law enforcement can receive a class 5 felony. A class 5 felony is a serious charge in Arizona.
Guilty parties usually render community service as part of their punishment. They may also pay fines. In some cases, the offending party may also be put on probation.
The most significant penalty in an unlawful flight case is prison time.
The minimum prison sentence for a class 5 felony in Arizona is nine months in prison. The presumptive sentence is a year and a half of incarceration. Meanwhile, being hit with the maximum sentence could mean that you will spend the next two years in prison.
It is still possible for a guilty individual to avoid prison time in an unlawful flight case. If they have no other felonies on their record, the judge may show leniency and opt for probation instead. Working with an experienced lawyer can also help you avoid the harshest possible penalty.
There are some benefits people may receive from having no felonies on their record, but there are also penalties that stem from having a criminal history. If you are a repeat offender, you could find yourself saddled with a longer prison sentence.
What Are Potential Defenses That Can Be Used in an Unlawful Flight Case?
Do not lose hope even if they charge you with unlawful flight, and you genuinely were not trying to avoid the police. There are still defenses you can use to justify your actions.
You Did Not Know That the Police Officers Were Using an Unmarked Vehicle
This is among the more effective defenses in unlawful flight cases.
Did the cops use an unmarked vehicle to chase you? If so, you and your attorney can argue that you were unaware that police officers were in that vehicle.
It would be difficult to prove that you knew about their presence if they were using anything other than a police car. Avoid saying anything they can construe as an admission that you knew the police were pursuing you. The police officers should be the ones tasked with proving you committed a crime.
You Wanted to Find a Safe Spot before Pulling Over
The police officers may start telling you to pull over in the middle of a road with fast-moving vehicles. Being concerned for your safety, you decide not to stop right away. Instead, you drive a bit more until you can find a suitable spot to park your vehicle.
You did not do anything wrong from your perspective, and you certainly were not trying to avoid the police. However, the police officers may interpret your refusal to stop right away as an attempt at an unlawful flight.
Make your intentions clear in court and use that as your defense.
You Were Dealing with an Emergency
One more defense you can use is to say that you were rushing to an emergency when the police officers asked you to pull over. Stopping to tell the police officers about your emergency is the smart move in that situation. At that time, though, you may have been too preoccupied with the crisis to think that clearly.
Mention that in court and use it to explain your refusal to pull over immediately.
An unlawful flight charge is one you can successfully fight against. Reach out to us at the Schill Law Group and let us help you defend yourself against this serious accusation.