Defending Against Fleeing or Eluding an Officer Criminal Charges in Florida
A person who is stopped by a law enforcement officer in Florida must remain at the scene of the stop until the police officer grants the individual permission to leave. Not stopping or stopping and then fleeing is a crime, or resisting arrest without violence. The inherent dangerousness of a police chase makes the crime of fleeing and eluding an extremely serious offense in Florida. Eluding or fleeing from the police endangers not only the person who flees and the police officer in pursuit but also the innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when they step into the path of a person running from law enforcement.
People choose to flee from the police for a variety of reasons. All of the reasons people flee from the police reflect the strong desire to preserve their liberty and freedom. One reason people could flee from police is to conceal contraband that is in the car like drugs or a firearm that cannot be lawfully possessed. Other times, people run from the police because they have a warrant for their apprehension, or a passenger in the car has a warrant for his or her apprehension. Additionally, people could run from police because they are intoxicated, or do not have the appropriate licenses or proof of insurance to drive a motor vehicle at that time. Sadly, in some instances, people run from the police because they are afraid of the officers themselves and not because they are attempting to conceal the fruits of a crime.
Eluding police is not a crime unless the driver knows that a law enforcement agent has ordered the driver to stop by using the appropriate signaling devices on the police car. Willfully refusing to stop and comply with police after the officer has appropriately and lawfully signaled the driver to stop is a crime under §316.1935 of the Florida Statutes. Similarly, stopping in response to a lawful police order but then fleeing from the stop is also a crime. Section 316.1935 indicates that fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer is a third-degree felony at a minimum. A third-degree felony in Florida carries with it the possibility of a five-year state prison sentence along with a $5000 fine, probation, and revocation of the driver's rights to operate a motor vehicle.
Florida law authorizes enhanced penalties for fleeing or eluding a police officer. Aggravated fleeing or eluding occurs when a police officer or other law enforcement officer attempts to pull over a motorist and the law enforcement agent is operating a motor vehicle bearing the insignia and jurisdictional markings of a police car prominently displayed and the fleeing motorist drives in a reckless manner, or at high speeds. Driving recklessly, or at such speeds that indicates a blatant disregard for the safety of people or property is the second-degree felony. A second-degree felony exposes the offender to potentially serving a fifteen-year state prison sentence and paying a $15,000 fine, as well as being placed on probation for a lengthy period. The offender will also suffer the collateral consequence of losing his or her drivers' license for a specified time frame that ranges from one to five years.
However, §316.1935(3)(b) indicates that the judge must sentence the convicted offender to a minimum mandatory three-year prison sentence and could impose up to 30 years in prison for a first-degree felony if the offender drives off at high speeds or drives recklessly and kills another person or causes serious bodily injury to another person. The statute especially includes any injury or death to the pursuing police officer as qualifying for a first-degree felony conviction.
Aggravated fleeing or eluding could also be charged by the police if a person ignores the signal of a duly-appointed law enforcement officer to stop and another person is injured, killed or property is damaged that belongs to another person while the driver is fleeing from the scene of an accident. The severity of the injury to another human being will dictate the potential penalties the fleeing offender faces.
A person who willfully flees or eludes capture, and in the process, injures another person or damages property owned by another person while fleeing from an accident scene faces a second-degree felony conviction. The penalty for a second-degree conviction, as indicated above, is fifteen years to the state prison, along with fines, and probation. The driver's license of the convicted offender will be revoked as well. The law does not provide for a minimum mandatory prison sentence for this offense.
Section 316.1935(4)(b) establishes a three-year minimum mandatory sentence for any person convicted of aggravated fleeing when a person sustains serious bodily injury, or the fleeing motorist kills another while the motorist is in flight from a previous accident after a law enforcement officer orders the driver to stop. Additionally, this section indicates that aggravated fleeing, which results in serious bodily injury or death to another, is a felony in the first degree. A felony in the first-degree carries with it the possibility of a 30-year prison sentence.
A person convicted of fleeing from the police faces collateral consequences as well. The judge must revoke the convicted offender's drivers' license for no less than one year but no more than five years. Additionally, the law does not allow the offender to defer adjudication of guilt, suspend a prison sentence, or withhold guilty finding if the person causes the death or serious injury of another. Furthermore, the convicted offender who faces a minimum mandatory sentence is ineligible for gain dash time or any other discretionary release unless pardoned or given executive clemency. Notwithstanding, the convicted offender could receive a medical release if serving a minimum mandatory sentence.
Any car or other motor vehicles used to flee from police in violation of §316.1935 is determined to be an implement of the crime. Accordingly, the law enforcement agents have the authority to seize the vehicle and commence forfeiture proceedings because the vehicle used to elude police is contraband under §316.1935(7).
Defenses to charges of eluding or fleeing from police will depend on the seriousness of the allegations and the underlying facts. In some instances, the police officer might have failed to signal the operators to stop adequately. Additionally, there is a question of whether the officer had the authority to stop the car. Not having the appropriate legal authority to stop the car could be a valid defense. Additionally, it is incumbent upon the state to prove that the law enforcement agent engaged the vehicle's lights and siren. If the officer did not engage either of those signaling devices, the accused might have a defense that reduces his or her exposure to a longer prison sentence.