Refusing to Stop for Police

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 What Does it Mean to Refuse to Stop for Police?

Chase scenes are entertaining in movies, but in real life, they usually end badly. Refusing to stop for police or evading a police officer is a criminal act, defined as not stopping when told to by a police officer. It does not matter whether the police officer verbally instructs a person to stop or flashes their lights. However the officer signals a person to stop, not pulling over for the police is a crime. 

A person can be charged with misdemeanor eluding police, which is punishable by six months in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Or, a person could be charged with a felony. The type of evading police felony with which a person is charged depends on the facts of the case.

To be prosecuted for the crime, the following elements must be shown:

  • While a person was driving, the person willfully attempted to get rid of a police officer;
  • The person kept driving with the intent to evade the officer;
  • The officer’s vehicle had at least one red light flashing that was visible from the front;
  • The person saw or should have seen the red light;
  • The officer’s siren was in operation;
  • The officer was driving a distinctively marked car;
  • The officer was in uniform.

Can I Refuse to Stop for Police?

If a police officer requests that a person pull over and stop, under no circumstances can the person refuse to stop. Even if the person believes the police officer has no valid reason to stop them, they must pull over on request.

As long as the police officer can establish probable cause that violation of a law, ordinance, or traffic safety code was reasonably suspected, then the stop is legal. The best practice is for the driver to find a safe place to pull over and allow the officer to explain why they are stopping the driver.

The driver should give the officer the information the officer requests, such as driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration. A person may ask to remain silent and talk to their lawyer after producing the required information. After a person asks to speak to their lawyer, the officer cannot cannot question a person any further.

Is Refusing to Stop a Misdemeanor?

Whether a failure to stop charge is a felony or misdemeanor depends largely on the driver’s actions. For example, regardless of whether the driver means to be evasive, leading the police on a high-speed chase will be charged as a felony. If an accident happens as a result of the chase, the charges could be worse. That could lead to reckless driving and other charges against the driver who refused to stop for police officers.

If a person does make the stop as signaled, although with a delay, the failure to stop immediately might be charged as a misdemeanor only.

What Are the Penalties for Refusing to Stop for Police?

Penalties for the crimes of failing to stop for a police officer and evading the police vary from state to state. There is no uniform penalty throughout the U.S. 

Failing to stop can be punished by fines of anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 in some states and imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months. Willfully evading the police, that is, driving away from the police, could be punished more severely, with fines of between $5,000 and $25,000 and  imprisonment for not less than 14 days and not more than six months. 

If a person evading the police causes any bodily harm or death their driver’s license could be suspended for five years, or for a period of from 10 years to life. The person who evaded police may have points added to their driving record.

What Should I Do If I Am Stopped by a Police Officer?

If you are stopped by a police officer in a marked car for a traffic violation, keep in mind the following tips to increase your chances of avoiding a citation. It will make the traffic stop a less stressful experience:

  • Slow down and safely pull over as soon as possible, failing to do so may lead to charges of  evading the police officer;
  • Remain calm; remember that the goal is to get through the interaction and get to your destination; if you have a cause for complaint, that can be dealt with later; it will not be resolved at the moment of the stop;
  • Turn off the engine;
  • Keep both hands clearly in sight on the steering wheel; if the driver needs to reach for 

What Should I Do If the Police Car Is Unmarked?

Many police departments use both marked and unmarked patrol cars for conducting traffic stops. In some cases, however, the driver of the unmarked vehicle attempting to pull you over could be someone pretending to be a police officer for the purpose of carrying out an illegal activity. Impersonating a police officer is illegal, but it does happen. The best practice is to:

  • Turn on four-way hazard lights to notify the officer that the driver will pull over;
  • Assess the police car for make and model; in the United States, police sedans are almost always a Ford Crown Victoria, a Chevy Impala, a Dodge Intrepid, a Dodge Charger, or a Chevy Lumina; police SUVs are almost always a Chevy Tahoe, a Ford F150, or a Dodge Durango; also the vehicles are usually fairly new and in good condition;
  • Call 911 and ask the dispatcher to verify that it is an actual police officer. Try to offer the dispatcher the make, model and license plate of both vehicles, as well as the location; if a person has real reason to suspect they are being stopped by someone who is impersonating an officer, call 911 and ask for an immediate response;
  • Turn on your hazard lights and drive to the nearest well-lit and populated area; 
  • If an officer wearing plain clothes operates the unmarked vehicle, request that a uniformed officer respond;
  • Always confirm that the individual is actually a police officer; a law enforcement officer must show a person their badge upon request, and no real police officer would refuse to do this;
  • Ask to have a uniformed officer respond to the scene;
  • Do not roll your window down completely; pass a driver’s license and other required documentation through a narrow opening;
  • If a person is concerned about their safety with respect to law enforcement while driving, it might be a good idea to check the law in the jurisdiction where the person lives in order to find out if traffic stops by officers in unmarked cars is allowed; it is not allowed everywhere, e.g. in New York City. A person should make sure to find out about routine practice in all of the jurisdictions in which the person drives, e.g. state, county, municipal and other law enforcement operating in the area.

How Can an Attorney Help Me?

If you have been charged with failing to stop for an office or with willfully evading a stop, you probably want to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The lawyer can analyze the facts of your case and advise you of the best way forward. The lawyer can handle pre-trial plea negotiations and any hearings or trial that may be necessary. You are most likely to get the best possible outcome with an experienced criminal defense lawyer representing your interests.

If you believe that you were dealt with unfairly by the office, a criminal defense lawyer can also advise you about solutions to a problem with an officer.

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