A high-speed chase, or police chase, refers to instances where the driver of a vehicle has refused to stop for police when signaled to pull over and attempted to flee the police vehicle. High-speed chases can also occur in connection with other crimes, such as when a car acts as the getaway vehicle for a robbery. High-speed chases sometimes refer to chases between two non-police cars, though the term usually refers to instances where a police car is in pursuit.

As the name implies, high-speed car chases can involve high speeds well above posted speed limits. High-speed chases can be particularly dangerous for other drivers and pedestrians. High-speed chases can cause property damage along the way. Speeds above 100 mph can sometimes occur on open highways and freeways.

Are There any Penalties for High-Speed Chase Charges?

High-speed chase charges can result in severe criminal penalties. Depending on the circumstances, the charge can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. A police chase may be charged as a misdemeanor depending on the factors, such as:

  • Relatively low speeds
  • Little to no property damage
  • No resulting injury to any parties

Misdemeanor charges can result in criminal fines and jail sentences of up to 1 year in a county facility.

However, a police chase can be classified as a penalty if certain factors are present, such as:

  • Very high speeds
  • Major property damage was caused during the chase
  • Injury or death resulting to other parties
  • Endangering the lives of other drivers or pedestrians

Felony charges can result in severe consequences such as expensive criminal fines and sentences ranging from 2-15 years in a federal prison facility. The prison sentences may increase if the charges are combined with other legal issues such as DUI, vehicular manslaughter, or injury to a police officer. Penalties may vary according to state law.

Are There any Defenses Available for High-Speed Chase Charges?

Raising a defense to high-speed chase charges can be difficult in many cases. The efforts to elude or escape a police vehicle tend to involve intentional conduct. However, certain defenses may exist. For instance, if the person was experiencing a medical emergency or unintentionally intoxicated without their consent, they may have a defense available to them.

When is Law Enforcement Liable for Injuries Caused During Police Chases?

Law enforcement must perform a delicate balancing act during high-speed chases. Police must protect the public and uphold the basic fundamental rights crucial to our nation’s justice system. However, police must be able to conduct high-speed chases, even if they put others in danger.

Police sometimes must chase after people evading their custody. The people running may have committed dangerous or violent crimes. They may be a risk of causing danger to the public.

However, police chases often occur on public roads or in residential areas. Multiple vehicles going at high speeds in one area can be deadly. The public may be endangered when vehicles go off-road, onto the wrong side of the road, or evade blockades or other on-road obstructions.

Are There Ever Accidents in Police Chases?

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that about 250,000 high-speed police chases occur every year. About 6,000-8,000 police chases result in a collision, killing around 500 people per year and injuring about 5,000.

In the 1980s, the California Highway Patrol, trying to determine the effectiveness and necessity of high-speed chases, found that 70% of all police chases ended with no accidents, and 77% of suspects are caught. This lends credibility to the argument that police chases are necessary and practical.

However, many police chases occur after simple traffic violations or suspicion of wrongdoing. These acts may not be serious enough to warrant a police chase.

Can Law Enforcement be Held Liable for Injuries?

There are generally two ways to recover damages against police agencies when high-speed pursuits result in injuries to innocent people.

The first way is through simple negligence. Government actors often have sovereign immunity. Police are state agencies and actors. Police are immune from liability except as permitted by some states’ sovereign immunity laws.

Even if police can be sued under sovereign immunity, some state statutes limit damages for victims to $200,000 per claim or $300,000 per lawsuit when there are multiple injured parties.

Victims can sue under Section 1983, a federal statute that provides a private right of action to citizens whose civil rights were violated by government agencies. However, liability under Section 1983 requires more than simple negligence. An injured party must show that the police acted recklessly in their pursuit or with actions that would “shock the conscience.”

When Can Police Engage in a Chase?

Generally, police agencies may set their own policies on pursuing suspects and when not to. Some police agencies limit the ability to pursue based upon what the person being chased is suspected of doing. Other police agencies make case-by-case decisions based on the area, weather conditions, or traffic conditions.

Some state highway patrols provide guidelines for when and how police chases can occur. It is possible to find a state highway patrol negligent for police chase injuries when they fail to follow their own guidelines.

Some state highway patrol manuals only allow pursuits when a felony has been committed. Others only allow pursuits when there is a suspected DUI or reckless driving violation. Motorcycles can only be pursued in some states when a forcible felony is suspected.

In some states, pursuing vehicles must use their emergency flashers and lights and cannot exceed 15 mph over the speed limit unless there is an immediate threat, the officers’ immediate presence is needed, or circumstances allow higher speeds.

Other police or emergency vehicles are only limited by their own policies, which may vary depending on state law.

Some states allow emergency vehicles to disregard the rules of the road when attending to an actual emergency. Some state laws say that emergency vehicles must slow down as necessary for safe operation at red lights and stop signs, but disregard regulations and speed limits so long as doing so does not endanger life or property.

Some state laws plainly say that the allowances for emergency vehicles do not protect the driver from the consequences of their reckless disregard for the safety of others.

States with these laws appear to have some admission that liability can lie with emergency personnel when they do not consider the policies in their manual. These may include things like taking into account how busy the roadway is, the weather conditions, and the potential risk of danger by allowing the suspect to get away vs. the risk of injuring innocent people by continuing with a high–speed pursuit.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with High-Speed Chase Charges?

High-speed chase charges can result in strict criminal penalties. You may need to hire a traffic violation attorney in your area if you need assistance with police chase or high-speed chase charges. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and guidance throughout your case.

Your lawyer can provide you with valuable representation during court meetings and hearings. Use LegalMatch to find a criminal law attorney near you today.