Disregarding a signal by a police officer to stop can be construed as eluding the police in Virginia. This is a type of charge that the presiding Judge will not like to see (as opposed somebody speeding for example). Eluding cases carry a wide array of punishments and the main issues will be whether there was a willful disregard of the signal or an endangerment another vehicle. In Fairfax County, the highways and streets are so congested that the Court takes Eluding cases very seriously. However, in all Eluding cases, there must be a willful and wanton disregard for signal.
What is Eluding in Virginia?
There are three types of Eluding in Virginia: Class 2 Misdemeanor, Class 6 Felony, and Class 4 Felony. In each of these types of eluding charges there are separate elements that must be proved by the Commonwealth (i.e. the Government). It is important to have a competent Attorney in these types of cases because they are not a simple traffic ticket. Eluding is governed by Virginia Code §46.2-817 and is a criminal offense that should be addressed properly.
Misdemeanor Eluding is different from Felony Eluding because there is no interference or endangerment present during the act. In this type of case, many of our clients in Fairfax County simply did not notice the officer behind them. While police officers find it hard to believe the client did not see them with their emergency lights activated, many finally realize they are being pursued when the officer hits the siren. The client is either on their phone or simply "zoning out" and thinking about other things. In these cases, because the statute requires a "willful and wanton disregard" of the officer's signal, we have been successful in arguing they were not trying to Elude.
The other type of Misdemeanor Eluding case we see a lot is people trying to find a safe place to pull over after being signaled to stop. Many people are not familiar with the area they are traveling in. In addition, if it is dark out or dicey weather conditions, simply pulling over immediately may not seem like a sensible option for the driver. As a result, the driver will continue at a slow pace to find a safe place to pull over while the officer in the meantime is getting angry. It is our position these are not eluding cases because the person is not acting willfully to disregard the officer's signal because they are simply trying to find a safe place to pull over to address whatever it is the officer was stopping them for.
It should also be pointed out that a person can be convicted of Misdemeanor Eluding for running on foot. If, for example, the person stops and then bolts out of the vehicle and runs the statute does cover an individual who "attempts to escape or elude" on foot. These types of cases are rare because the individual will usually be charged with other crimes that are more harsh such as Obstruction of Justice or Resisting Arrest.
The punishment for Eluding as a Class 2 Misdemeanor is up to six months in jail with a $1000 fine. However, this type of punishment is unlikely. Jail time is possible, in any event, and the case should be thoroughly prepared to avoid this.
Felony Eluding is a step-up from the Misdemeanor because there is the element of endangering another vehicle. Even if there are no other vehicles in the vicinity, endangerment of a police officer's vehicle is included in the statute. Generally speaking, these can be the high-speed chases you see on the show "Cops" where other driver's are at risk as the police officer is conducting the chase. Though not all Felony Eluding cases are so clear.
It is important to point out that interfering with or endangering a person or officer will be case-specific. Someone that simply fails to pull over but is not excessively speeding is arguably not guilty of Felony Eluding. We have had cases in Fairfax County involving clients that did not pull over immediately and were traveling on a major roadway such as I-66. Of course, on that road, they are traveling at a high-rate of speed because the speed limit is higher and the road is larger. Upon review of the footage from the officer's patrol car, it was clear they were speeding but were otherwise maintaining their lane and did not cut off other driver's or put them at any risk. These types of cases are arguably not felony cases.
In Felony Eluding cases, the punishment depends on the outcome of the act. If it can be proven there was a willful and wanton disregard for the officer's signal to stop, and an interference or endangerment of the operation of the officer's vehicle or another person, it is a Class 6 Felony. This means the punishment will be anywhere from no jail up to 5 years in prison and a $2500 fine. If, however, the officer is killed in the pursuit, it is a Class 4 Felony. While this occurrence is rare, the punishment will be anywhere from 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $100,000.
Eluding Will Result in a Driver's License Suspension
In any Eluding conviction in Virginia, there will be license suspension of between 30 days and 1 year by statute. The Judge does not have the authority to go less than a 30 day suspension. However, if the speed is more than 20 miles per hour over the legal limit, which is reckless driving, there is a minimum license suspension of 90 days. It should be noted that because there is no provision in this statute for a restricted license, it is our experience that a Judge will not issue a restricted license in Eluding cases.
Eluding in Fairfax County
If you have been charged with Eluding in Fairfax County, contact us as soon as you can so we can discuss your options. Even if it the charge is a Misdemeanor, a Judge has limited options because most do not believe they have the authority to reduce the charge to any other type of offenses since there are no corresponding statutes allowing it. As a result, their prerogative is to simply determine "guilty" or "not guilty" which is why we always speak to a prosecutor before trial to see if there is room for negotiation of a lesser offense. We will have a trial with the Judge if negotiation is not possible in the case.
Unfortunately, a Fairfax County prosecutor will not speak to those who are unrepresented by an attorney which means a plea deal cannot be made. When we get involved, if they can prove their case, we will attempt to work out a reduction to the lesser offense of Improper Driving or Improper Lane Change so that the Misdemeanor stays off the client's record. Of course, in Felony Eluding cases, an attorney is even more important because prison time is at stake and having to go through a Preliminary Hearing and, perhaps, a trial in Circuit Court is never something someone should face alone.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation
We offer a Free Consultation to discuss your case. Whether it is a Felony Eluding or a Misdemeanor we are in Court everyday and can give you a good sense of what to expect. Virginia, including Fairfax County, considers driving a privilege and not a right. But you have a right to fight your case and you should.