Fleeing or Attempting to Elude

If you’ve been charged with fleeing or attempting to elude, you may be facing a range of serious penalties. Don’t risk subpar representation: Call Joseph Williams Law at 912-259-6548 for personalized, top-tier legal advice, or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation.

Even if you’ve never committed a crime, interacting with law enforcement can be a stressful and complicated process. This feeling can be compounded when you’re being asked to suddenly pull over and communicate with police during a traffic stop.

These anxiety-inducing situations, which can be exacerbated by poor road conditions and mechanical failures, could prevent you from seeing flashing lights or hearing sirens. You may end up panicking, causing you to swerve, drive erratically, or maneuver in ways that could be misinterpreted as avoidance; before you know it, you’re being arrested for fleeing or attempting to elude police.

At Joseph Williams Law we understand that at the heart of many traffic violations and criminal charges is another side of the story that isn’t represented in the police report. We’re here to represent your perspective with an aggressive legal defense. This article will explain everything you need to know about fleeing or attempting to elude charges, including penalties for conviction, aggravating factors, possible defenses, and more.

Definition of Fleeing or Attempting to Elude in Georgia – OCGA § 40-6-395

Fleeing or attempting to elude OCGA § 40-6-395 is a lengthy citation with several unique parts. The various sections outline the specific elements of the charge, the penalties, and related crimes that may be cited under the same charge (fleeing or attempting to elude). Code section (a) reads:

“It shall be unlawful for any driver of a vehicle willfully to fail or refuse to bring his or her vehicle to a stop or otherwise to flee or attempt to elude a pursuing police vehicle or police officer when given a visual or an audible signal to bring the vehicle to a stop. The signal given by the police officer may be by hand, voice, emergency light, or siren. The officer giving such signal shall be in uniform prominently displaying his or her badge of office, and his or her vehicle shall be appropriately marked showing it to be an official police vehicle.”

Essentially, Georgia law says that if a law enforcement officer orders a vehicle to stop, they must stop. Additionally, impersonating a law enforcement officer is also included under this statute. Section (c) says:

“It shall be unlawful for a person to impersonate a sheriff, deputy sheriff, state trooper, agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police officer, or any other authorized law enforcement officer by using a motor vehicle or motorcycle designed, equipped, or marked so as to resemble a motor vehicle or motorcycle belonging to any federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, or otherwise to impersonate any such law enforcement officer in order to direct, stop, or otherwise control traffic.”

Factors Needed to Prove a Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Charge

Unlike many parts of the Georgia Traffic Code, OCGA § 40-6-395 is simply worded and easy to understand. However, that doesn’t mean the prosecution won’t attempt to apply the charge to situations that aren’t necessarily appropriate. To be lawfully charged under this statute, several elements of the crime must be present, and the prosecution must prove that:

  • You were aware of the officer. OCGA § 40-6-395 says that the pursuant police officer must signal the driver either by “hand, voice, emergency lights, or siren” if they expect the driver to pull over.
  • You willfully ignored the officer. To be convicted of fleeing or attempting to elude, the prosecution must prove that the driver willfully ignored the pursuant officer.

Communication, especially between two drivers, can be challenging. There are many situations where a police officer may charge a driver with fleeing or eluding because they “didn’t stop fast enough,” when in all actuality, the driver may not have seen the officer right away or it may not have been safe to pull over at that exact moment due to traffic conditions.

Penalties for Fleeing or Attempting to Elude a Pursuing Officer in Georgia

In the best-case scenario, a driver charged with fleeing or attempting to elude may get up to a year in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. In the worst-case scenario, the driver may get up to 10 years in prison or more. During sentencing, the judge will look at the specific circumstances of the case, the criminal record of the defendant, and any aggravating factors that may have been present at the time of the incident.

A charge of fleeing and attempting to elude will either be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony and within these two categorizations, a baseline penalty will be issued based on how many serious traffic offenses the defendant has been convicted of.

Misdemeanor Fleeing or Attempting to Elude

At first glance, misdemeanor fleeing or attempting to elude may sound like an easier charge to overturn than felony fleeing or attempting to elude. However fleeing or attempting to elude is considered an aggravated misdemeanor, which means it has the potential to carry very serious consequences and even get bumped up to a felony if other crimes are committed during the incident. At the very minimum, a person charged with this crime will be facing the following:

  • A first offense carries a $500 to $5,000 fine and/or 10 days to one year jail time.
  • A second offense carries a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and/or a jail sentence of 30 days to one year.
  • A third offense carries a $2,500 to $5,000 fine and/or a jail sentence of 90 days to one year.

Keep in mind that there doesn’t have to be a period of time in between citations to get a second or third offense added to the charge. For example, if a police chase is happening and three police vehicles are all attempting to pull the driver over and the driver refuses to do so, the driver can be charged with three incidents of fleeing and attempting to elude, even though it was an isolated incident. If a fourth police vehicle was involved in the chase, the driver could be charged with a felony.

Aggravating Factors

Having four police vehicles present at the time of the incident isn’t the only way you may be charged with an instant felony. Typically speaking, you will be automatically charged with felony fleeing or attempting to elude if during the incident you:

  • Were driving under the influence
  • Were driving 20 mph faster than the posted speed limit
  • Hit another car or pedestrian (ie, a hit and run)
  • Were driving recklessly or in a way that could cause someone to sustain serious injuries or death
  • Drove over state lines
  • Peeled out of a driveway, alley, or building without stopping
  • Passed a school bus
  • Laid drags, ie, zig-zag, or drove in a circular motion to “lose” the police

The tongue-in-cheek adage of “if you’re going to break the law, only break one law at a time” is in full effect here. Practically any traffic code that you could possibly violate is listed above, meaning that unless you’re driving super carefully and under the speed limit while being pulled over, you will automatically be charged with a felony if charged with fleeing or attempting to elude.

Additionally, many Georgians living on the border of other states (such as residents in Augusta or Savannah) may be at extra risk of being charged with felony fleeing or attempting to elude. What happens when a police officer pulls over a driver at the South Carolina border and they don’t see the flashing lights right away? If a particularly zealous prosecutor wanted to do so, they might attempt to throw the book at them.

Felony Fleeing or Attempting to Elude

If you’re convicted of felony fleeing and attempting to elude, the consequences will not be light. In addition to having a serious crime listed on your criminal record, you’ll also be facing a fine with an amount between $5,000 and $10,000, and/or prison for a one to ten-year period. If multiple counts of felony fleeing or attempting to elude are added to your docket, you may be forced to serve these sentences individually.

If you’ve been charged with felony fleeing or attempting to elude and haven’t secured exceptional legal counsel, you need to do so immediately. While you may think that the judge in your case will be able to tell the difference between someone outrunning the police and a driver who simply didn’t see the flashing lights, this can’t always be counted on. The penalties associated with felony fleeing and attempting to elude are severe and life-changing, which is why it’s important to contact a criminal defense attorney right away.

What Is A Willful Or Wanton Disregard For Safety?

In the context of fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement officers, “willful or wanton disregard for safety” typically refers to a conscious and reckless indifference to the safety of oneself, passengers, pedestrians, other motorists, and law enforcement officers during the attempt to evade capture. Here are some elements of willful or wanton disregard for safety in the context of fleeing or attempting to elude:

  • High-speed pursuit. Engaging in a high-speed chase with law enforcement officers through populated areas, residential neighborhoods, or areas with heavy traffic demonstrates a blatant disregard for the safety of others.
  • Reckless driving. Engaging in reckless driving behaviors such as speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights or stop signs, driving on sidewalks or in pedestrian areas, and other dangerous maneuvers that put lives at risk may be considered reckless driving.
  • Ignoring signals to stop. Failing to obey signals from law enforcement to pull over or stop, despite being aware of the presence of law enforcement and their attempt to initiate a traffic stop, could exacerbate your charges.
  • Endangering lives. This means creating a situation where innocent bystanders, pedestrians, other motorists, passengers, and law enforcement officers are put in immediate danger of serious injury or death due to the reckless actions taken during the attempt to elude capture.
  • Prioritizing escape over safety. Demonstrating a clear intent to escape apprehension by law enforcement officers at any cost, even if it means risking harm to oneself or others, can make your legal situation much worse.

All of these individual charges may be used to aggravate your primary charges, and if the court finds that you acted with a willful or wanton disregard for safety, your sentencing could be aggravated immensely.

What Other Charges Are Often Associated with Fleeing or Attempting to Elude in Georgia?

There are a few associated crimes that an officer might charge a driver with in addition to fleeing or attempting to elude, regardless of whether the crime took place. Should this happen to you, our legal team would be more than capable of building a defense strategy for any of the charges outlined below.

DUI OCGA 40-6-391

If the individual attempting to elude law enforcement is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they may face charges for DUI under OCGA 40-6-391. In Georgia, it is unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicating substances to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive. Additionally, DUI cases often result in a suspended driver’s license.

Drug Possession OCGA 16-13-30

If law enforcement discovers drugs or controlled substances in the possession of an individual who is attempting to elude, they may face charges for drug possession under OCGA 16-13-30. Georgia law prohibits the possession of illegal drugs, prescription drugs without a valid prescription, and certain controlled substances.

Reckless Driving OCGA 40-6-390

Reckless driving is another charge often associated with fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement. OCGA 40-6-390 defines reckless driving as operating a vehicle with reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property. Engaging in high-speed chases or dangerous maneuvers while attempting to evade law enforcement can lead to charges of reckless driving.

Outstanding Warrant

If the individual attempting to elude law enforcement has an outstanding warrant for their arrest, they may face additional charges related to the warrant. An outstanding warrant indicates that the individual is wanted by law enforcement for a previous offense or legal matter. Attempting to flee or elude law enforcement while having an outstanding warrant can result in more severe legal consequences.

How Can I Fight Fleeing or Attempting to Elude OCGA § 40-6-395 Charges?

Remember: Just because a driver is charged with fleeing or eluding under OCGA § 40-6-395, doesn’t mean they are guilty of committing a crime. Several legal strategies can effectively defend drivers accused of this crime, and we’ll explore some of these arguments below.

You Lacked the Intent to Evade

One of the most common defenses in fleeing or attempting to elude cases is proving a lack of willful intent. There are many situations in which a driver is aware they are being pulled over but doesn’t feel safe to comply. Maybe there was another vehicle to your right that impeded you from pulling over, or maybe the space to your right was too icy or on the edge of a steep hill or cliff. In many situations, a driver may not feel safe to pull over due to poor lighting or space issues.

In these situations, the driver cannot be expected to safely pull over, and as a result, cannot lawfully be charged with fleeing or eluding, so long as they do their best to signal to the pursuant officer that they intend to pull over when it’s safe to do so.

The Vehicle Was Unmarked

Although Georgia law does not prohibit a police officer in an unmarked car from pulling someone over and arresting them, there are several practical barriers to doing so. An officer may try and signal the driver by blinking their headlights or using their hands, but at the end of the day, a driver cannot be expected to be on the lookout for undercover police officers giving orders to everyday commuters.

The Officers Failed to Identify Themselves

There are many documented instances of criminals impersonating police officers and harming or even murdering motorists by pulling them over. As a U.S. citizen, it’s your right to ask police officers to identify themselves by name and badge. If an officer refuses to do so, you are within your rights to flee or elude to protect yourself from potential harm.

You Didn’t Know You Were Being Pulled Over

A driver can’t lawfully be charged with fleeing or attempting to elude if they weren’t pulled over in the first place. Let’s say that an officer suspects a driver of committing a crime, but has no evidence for it. They decide to follow the driver several miles, eventually to their home. The driver exits the vehicle to ask them why they were being followed and is immediately arrested for fleeing.

Simply put, exiting the vehicle when you’re being pulled over could be considered a crime, but if a police officer gives you no indication that you’re being pulled over, there are no lawful reasons you could be charged with fleeing or eluding.

Joseph Williams Law: Top Criminal Defense Attorneys in Georgia

While there are many reasons you could have been charged with fleeing or attempting to elude, it is up to the prosecutor to prove that the reason for the charge is justified. In many cases, the charges can be dropped and chalked up to a simple misunderstanding. With poor legal representation, however, the defendant may be looking at life-long consequences and severe penalties.

At Joseph Williams Law we understand that fleeing and eluding charges are rarely as straightforward as they seem. Our team is here to provide you with the aggressive, robust defense you deserve. Ready to fight for your future? Fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation today.

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