On the surface, “eluding the police” sounds like a rather straightforward charge. However, in practice, the way the Virginia Code defines “eluding” raises several important questions.
For example, what happens if you miss a police officer’s signal to stop? Furthermore, what if you didn’t know you were being pursued? And what does the state do when people or property are harmed during such an altercation?
In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions. We’ll also go over the overall consequences of running from the police, whether you are on foot or in a vehicle.
Is Failing to Stop for the Police a Crime in Virginia?
The Virginia Code defines eluding the police as the “willful and wanton” disregard of a signal to stop from a police officer.
The same law also applies to any attempt to deliberately escape from the police when they try to stop you.
The law doesn’t distinguish between fleeing in a car and running away on foot—both are equally illegal in Virginia.
This definition has a few implications that may not be obvious at first. For example, in order to count as eluding:
- You must have seen, heard, and understood the signal to stop.
- You must not have had a good reason to doubt that the person pursuing you was a police officer.
If you didn’t understand what was happening, or who was pursuing you, you may have a defense for your charges. However, you will have to provide evidence to support your case.
What are the Consequences of Eluding the Police?
If you are found guilty of eluding the police, your penalties will depend on whether or not you prevented (or “interfered with”) the operation of a law enforcement vehicle, or endangered a person, during the event.
The person endangered can be yourself, the officers, and/or the public.
Of course, in many cases you will also face other charges connected to the incident.
For example, if you attempted to elude the police while driving recklessly, you will face reckless driving charges in addition to the charges for fleeing.
By itself, eluding the police is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
The penalties for this crime can include a fine of up to a $1,000 and up to six months of jail time.
In addition, a person convicted of eluding the police will have their license suspended for no less than 30 days but up to one year.
If you prevented the operation of a police vehicle or endangered a person during the incident, the charge becomes a Class 6 felony.
This is a much more serious crime, with a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and one to five years in prison.
You will also face license suspension, as with the misdemeanor offense.
Felony Convictions and Eluding the Police
Keep in mind that felony convictions have significant consequences beyond their direct penalties.
In particular, being convicted of a felony in Virginia will result in the permanent loss of several rights, including the right to vote and the right to own firearms.
While your rights can be restored later, this is not an easy process.
Can I Fight a Charge of Eluding the Police?
Whether or not there is a defense to your charges will depend on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
The following are examples of some defenses to a charge of eluding the police:
- Arguing that you didn’t “willfully disregard” the signal to stop
- Arguing that you had a reason to believe the person pursuing you was not a police officer
- Showing that you eluded the police for a necessary reason, such as a medical emergency
Arguing Against “Willful Disregard”
In order to be convicted for eluding the police, you must have willfully disregarded a police officer’s order to stop or pull over.
If you can successfully argue that you did so unintentionally, you may be able to fight your charges.
One very common scenario occurs when the police attempt to arrest a person in a place where they are unable to pull over safely.
In fact, it’s possible to face elusion charges just because you took too long to pull over.
In such a case, you may be able to argue that you were attempting to comply with the order, but felt you couldn’t do so safely and therefore did not elude the police.
In some unusual cases, you may also be able to prove that it was reasonable for you to believe that the person following you was not a police officer.
For example, an unmarked police vehicle pulling you over at night without sirens might seem suspicious.
However, keep in mind that this is an “affirmative” defense.
This means that you have to actually prove it was reasonable for you to have such a belief, not simply introduce a plausible alternative argument for your conduct.
Finally, if you failed to stop for a police officer for an incredibly important reason (such as taking someone to the hospital) you might also have a defense on the grounds of necessity.
Judges and prosecutors aren’t heartless, so, in some circumstances, they may agree to an amendment to the charges if you can prove (affirmatively) that you eluded the police for a very specific, necessary reason.
However, it should be noted that what you may consider necessary may not rise to such a level in the eyes of the law.
For this reason, you should speak with your attorney to determine if this would be a possibility.
Eluding the police is a serious and somewhat complicated crime in Virginia.
If you are charged with running from the police, you need to contact a Virginia traffic lawyer immediately.
Eluding the police is a crime, not a traffic infraction, and is a charge you need to deal with immediately.
Remember that the consequences of a conviction can be immense, including fines, jail time, and a suspended license.