Eluding a Law Enforcement Vehicle
Attempting to Elude a Pursuing Police Vehicle is a Class C Felony, designated as a “Felony Traffic Offense.” There is no minimum jail time required for such a conviction, unless a special sentencing enhancement applies, which is discussed below. Often, Eluding charges carry a "Reckless Endangerment" companion allegation if any other person was put at risk by the driver.
The language and legislative history of RCW 46.61.024 indicate the Legislature’s concern with eradicating or minimizing the risk of high-speed chases. In an attempt to protect Washington citizens from such high risk events, the Legislature has classified Eluding as a Class C felony. In fact, even if an arrest or detention by a law enforcement officer was unlawful, fleeing is still illegal if done in a manner that indicates a wanton and willful disregard for the life and property of others. Washington courts have held that the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures does not create a constitutional right to react unreasonably to an illegal detention.
Serious allegations require serious defense. Call Ashbach Law Offices at 360-659-4950 or 888-WA-LAW-NW today for a free, personalized case evaluation. We give each case the individual attention and concern it deserves.
The Eluding statute states that “Any driver of a motor vehicle who willfully fails or refuses to immediately bring his or her vehicle to a stop and who drives his or her vehicle in a reckless manner while attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, after being given a visual or audible signal to bring the vehicle to a stop, shall be guilty of a class C felony. The signal given by the police officer may be by hand, voice, emergency light, or siren. The officer giving such a signal shall be in uniform and the vehicle shall be equipped with lights and sirens.”
Courts have inferred “immediately” to mean “as soon as reasonably possible” once signaled by the police officer. It is irrelevant whether the officer had the authority to stop the driver in the first place.
The driver must have knowledge that he or she is being pursued be a law enforcement officer AND that the officer has signaled a stop; this is something that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that in some instances whether or not the police vehicle is an “unmarked car” is a very relevant inquiry.
It is not necessary that the driving endangered anyone else or that there was a high probability that harm could occur. Courts have held that the evidence only has to establish that a juror could infer a willful or wanton disregard for the lives or property of others.
An affirmative defense to Attempting to Elude must be established by a preponderance of the evidence that (a) a reasonable person would not believe that the signal to stop was given by a police officer; and (b) driving after the signal to stop was reasonable under the circumstances.
If a driver charged with Attempting to Elude is convicted, that driver’s license is to be revoked by the Department of Licensing for at least a year.
In addition to the standard range sentences for Attempting to Elude convictions, a possibility of an exceptional (enhanced) sentence exists. If the driver’s actions resulted in threat of physical injury or harm to one or more persons other than the defendant or the pursuing law enforcement officer, the sentence is to be enhanced by 12 months and a day. This results in a presumptive prison sentence, even for a person with no prior felony convictions.