Most people understand that you cannot legally run from the cops. However, few people understand how serious the resulting criminal charge can be when a driver evades a police officer. Specifically, in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada, if you fail to stop your vehicle when a police officer flashes his lights, you may be charged with the crime of evading. Evading may be a misdemeanor or a serious felony, depending on the specific circumstances of the offense. Read below about the circumstances that can lead to an arrest for evading a police officer, and how a criminal defense attorney can help you if you are facing such a charge.
Evading a police officer is not always a felony offense. NRS 484B.550(1) defines the misdemeanor offense of evading a police officer. According to this statute, a driver of a motor vehicle is guilty of a crime if he fails to stop or otherwise "flees or attempts to elude a peace officer" when that peace officer gives a signal to stop by flashing lights and siren and is in a "readily identifiable" police vehicle. A misdemeanor evading police conviction is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
So what makes a misdemeanor evading charge turn into a much more serious felony evading charge? There are two main factual situations that turn simple evading into a misdemeanor.
The first way evading police becomes a felony, according to NRS 484B.550(3)(a), is when the evading driver damages someone else's property. The property damage can be great or minor—it doesn't matter—either way it's a felony according to Nevada law.
The second and more common factual situation where someone is charged with felony evading, according to NRS 484B.550(3)(b), is when the evading driver drives "in a manner which endangers or is likely to endanger any other person or the property of any other person." Let's break this down. According to this statute, a person is guilty of felony evading not only if any damage to property or injury to a person actually occurs, but even if the evading person's driving "is likely to endanger" either person or property.
But what kind of evasive driving is "likely to endanger" property or person? As it turns out, given the way these cases are actually charged in Las Vegas, just about any evasive driving may qualify for felony treatment. If you think about it, anyone who is driving a vehicle to try to evade police could, at any moment, cause an accident resulting in property damage or personal injury. This is why almost every time a person is arrested for evading police, he will be charged with a felony. However, the longer the evasive driving drags on, and the more populated the area where the evasion occurs, the more likely the person arrested will face a felony charge.
Felony evading causing property damage or endangerment is punishable by 1 to 6 years in a Nevada prison, and up to a $5,000 fine. This is a probationable offense, meaning that if you are convicted of felony evading, the judge has discretion to suspend any prison sentence and place the defendant on a period of probation up to 5 years.
A person can also be charged with felony evading if he evades police while trying to avoid a DUI arrest. Specifically, according to NRS 484B.550(5), if a person evades while attempting to avoid an arrest for DUI, and is later actually convicted of DUI, then the evasion becomes a felony offense. In this case, the felony is a category D felony, punishable by 1 to 4 years in a Nevada prison and a $5,000 fine. This offense is a probationable offense, meaning that the judge may suspend any prison sentence and place the convicted offender on a period of probation for up to 5 years.
The most serious variety of felony evading is felony evading causing bodily harm or death. According to NRS 484B.550(4), if a driver evades police and "is the proximate cause of the death of or bodily harm to any other person," then the driver is guilty of a category B felony, which is punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine. Note that the charge is the same (although the actual sentence will likely vary) regardless of whether a minor injury, major injury, or death results from the attempted evasion. Under Nevada's sentencing laws, a sentencing judge must select two numbers when imposing a sentence: the top number representing the maximum time that may be served, and a bottom number representing the minimum time that must be served before the convicted person becomes eligible for release on parole. The bottom number cannot be greater than 40% of the top number, so the minimum sentence for felony evading causing injury or death is 2 to 5 years in prison, and the maximum is 8 to 20 years in prison. While this is a probationable offense, the more serious the injury, the more likely a person convicted of this crime will be sentenced to prison.
If you have been arrested for evading police, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. A defense attorney can help you weigh your options and determine the best course of action in your case.
As stated above, the most common variety of evading charge in Las Vegas is felony evading causing "endangerment." In many instances, the claim that the evasion was "likely" to endanger people or property may be weak. If so, a defense attorney may be able to get your charges reduced significantly. Even if the evidence against you is strong, many cases can be resolved favorably to avoid incarceration.
I have helped many people charged with failing to stop or otherwise evading police in Las Vegas. If you have been arrested on evading charges, give me a call for a free consultation. We'll talk about the specific facts of your case and determine how to get you the best result possible.
By Michael Pandullo