The idea of fleeing from a traffic officer once you are stopped might seem like a dramatic television scene. In reality, this action is quite offensive and might carry steep fines, a felony mark on your records, and lengthy prison terms. Luckily enough, one can avoid such repercussions with the help of a professional criminal attorney. We at Phoenix Criminal Attorney are in a position of offering the best legal services to our clients within Arizona who might be in such a situation.
Understanding Unlawful Flight in Arizona
Under Arizona Statute 28-622.01, a driver is considered to have committed an unlawful flight when one willfully flees or attempts to avoid a pursuing an official vehicle, that has proper marks as a law enforcement vehicle and has its signaling lights on. In that case, the driver must have reasonably understood that the vehicle was a police car and had an active signaling sign prompting you to stop, but choose not to stop.
Under Arizona law, such a crime is considered a class 5 felony and carries serious charges. There are a couple of elements that the prosecutor should prove to the court to charge someone with this kind of charge. They include:
- The belief that the vehicle pursuing the alleged perpetrator was an official vehicle, and must meet all the requirements that satisfy its official capacity such as clear marks
- Evidence that the driver knew that a law enforcement officer is pursuing him or her and reasonably decided to stop
- A reasonable belief that the official was trying to stop or stopped the alleged perpetrator's vehicle while pursuing an official duty such as complying with a formal arrest warrant and registration violation. The defendant must know the official duty but decided to evade or flee from the officer
- The police officer used all means to stop the defendant, such as turning on the red or blue signaling lights or using an audible siren.
Please note, it is not a guarantee that the police officer's vehicle is always marked, has a signaling light and an audible siren in Arizona. However, the police officer must adequately introduce himself or herself to the defendant to make this case valid. If the vehicle was unmarked, the driver must admit having known that the vehicle was an official law enforcement vehicle to make the charges valid enough.
Also, as the driver is pursuing an alleged evading vehicle, the driver should reach a place that is reasonable enough to stop, especially on the highway. Therefore, if there is no shoulder on the highway to stop, and the driver feels unsafe to stop, then one has the freedom to continue driving until he or she reaches a safe stopping location. If the alleged criminal offense was considered on this basis, then the crime does not count as an unlawful flight.
Besides that, under several circumstances, loud music could have led to the failure to stop after being signaled to stop, and the driver might pursue you if you continue driving. In such a circumstance, you would not have eluded the police officer, but it is still considered a misdemeanor offense.
Penalties for Unlawful Flight
As stated earlier, an unlawful flight is a class 5 felony in Arizona. Different penalties apply depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. For a first time offense, possible fines include probation with zero jail-time or with year imprisonment and six – two years of imprisonment.
For a second-time offender, the possible penalties include a prison-only sentence, which consists of a minimum of one to three years of imprisonment.
For a third or subsequent offense, the perpetrator faces imprisonment for a maximum of seven years and a maximum of $150,000 in fines.
If there are aggravating consequences such as causing an accident while fleeing from the police officer, there are possible harsher penalties that might apply. In a situation where the driver led to the death of a victim, the state considers such a case as a capital-first degree murder. It is usually penalized with a death sentence.
In misdemeanor unlawful flight, the court might order some additional punishments such as increasing your insurance policy, dropping the insurance policy and have a permanent criminal record on your reputation. The record is accessible by everyone conducting a background check on the convicted person.
Legal Defense for Unlawful Flight
Any criminal attorney should provide the best legal services once a client contacts him or her. The only way that the attorney can help is by using relevant legal defense strategies. The objective of excellent legal defense strategies should be disproving the elements of the crime. In this case, the elements that you need to consider would be the deliberate choice to flee or fail to stop and factors related to your arrest. Here are a couple of considerations that your attorney can use in your defense.
Lack of Knowledge or Ignorance
The use of ignorance as a defense is common in different court cases. This falls on the element of willfully fleeing from a police officer when you were stopped. You can argue that you were not unaware of the officer's attempt to stop you due to a distraction such as a loud stereo. Although it is an offense to put up loud music in your vehicle, such a defense can help in reducing your charges to a misdemeanor.
Mistake of Fact
This kind of legal defense can work in two ways. In the first instance, you can claim that you were not aware that the officer was chasing after you, especially in a densely trafficked highway. Therefore, you assumed that the officer was chasing another vehicle since there was no reasonable attempt from the officer showing that he or she was trying to stop you.
The other consideration would be the thought of finding somewhere safe to pull-up your vehicle while driving on a busy highway. Ideally, the police officer should allow you to find a safe stop once he or she tries to pursue you, which can take quite some time on an interstate highway.
Show that There Was no True Intent to Free
A driver can try fleeing from a traffic enforcement officer vehicle when there is no reasonable evidence showing its official capacity. In that case, there must be additional evidence showing that you had no intention to flee from the officer. The evidence can be obtained from the vehicle's diagnostic module, such as the black box, which is available on new vehicle models. The evidence should show that you did not have any rapid acceleration or drive at a high rate of speed at the time of the stoppage.
Non-compliance to Your Constitutional Rights
Under the 4th Amendment of the United States laws, everyone has the constitutional right to know the reason behind their arrest under any circumstances. Therefore, if the arresting officer fails to observe these considerations, then the court might do away with any case presented to it.
One of the aspects that the officer should consider is reading the Miranda Rights to the alleged perpetrator. Miranda's right is a piece of verbal information provided by the arresting officer. It explains that you have the right to remain silent, right to refuse to answer any question, freedom to give any information to the police officer and guarantee the provision of an attorney if one cannot afford one. Ideally, using the Miranda Rights as your legal defense does not help you escape from punishment, but helps in disproving the evidence provided against the suspect.
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion For Pursuit or Stoppage
The 4th Amendment also provides that a police officer should have a reasonable suspicion to stop and search for a driver. Failure to do so, the driver can use this as a legal defense and can make the state to lose the case. A reasonable suspicion explains a standard of proof that justifies the need of a police officer to make an investigative stop. It requires more than a guess, hunch, or feeling but should include an honest belief that the person in pursuit of stopping has violated a law.
There are a few exceptions to that, such as having a designated DUI safety check where drivers must stop and comply with the chemical test. If your unlawful flight happened in a DUI safety check, then this kind of legal defense loses its credit.
Denial of the Right of Counsel
As highlighted in the Miranda rights, any arrestee has the right or an attorney even if he or she is not in a position of affording one. In that case, if the law enforcement officer takes too long to provide counsel or fail to comply with your request for one, then they will be violating your legal rights. In such a case, you can use this as a strong legal defense against your allegations.
Exposing Sloppy and Misleading Police Report
The fact that the police officer in charge of your arrest has presented evidence against you does not mean that the evidence is accurate. Your attorney can identify some flaws in the police report and build a strong legal defense from that. For instance, the attorney can look into the report and check flawed photo lineups, inaccurate reconstruction of the crime scene, false statement, and misstatement.
Lack of Clear Marks on the Law Enforcement Vehicle
Although the law enforcement officer can use a different enforcement vehicle while on duty, there are high chances of ignoring their unofficial vehicle and try to avoid it. If you intend to use such a legal defense, you must prove that you did not take note of the law enforcement vehicle despite the level of attempts that the officer made to establish his or her official duty.
This is a common legal defense that can be used in any case. It involves coercion or compulsion against your will. In this case, a police officer might coerce you into doing something out of intimidation, leading to your unlawful flight. For instance, if the law enforcement officer threatens to arrest or shoot you during a stoppage without any valid reason, then this might stand as possible coercion. This requires a high level of evidence to prove your defense, or end up with an additional charge against you.
Crimes Related to Unlawful Flight in Arizona
There are a couple of crimes that are related to unlawful flight in Arizona. Most of these crimes are under the same circumstances or have close penalties for unlawful flight. These crimes include:
Driving under the influence is considered a severe offense in Arizona. In Arizona, the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0.08%. The BAC limit for commercial drivers is 0.04%, and if you are under 21, any alcohol content in your system is enough to have you charged with DUI.
The kind of penalties that follow in DUI include:
- For a first DUI, the alleged perpetrator faces imprisonment for 24 hours to ten days, a basic fine of $ 250, and license suspension for ninety days to a year.
- For a second DUI, the alleged perpetrator risks imprisonment for thirty to ninety days, a $ 500 basic fine and license suspension for a year
- A third DUI offender faces minimum imprisonment of four months, a $ 750 base fine and a license suspension for a year.
If you were arrested with an extreme DUI of about 0.015% BAC, you will risk imprisonment for a minimum of thirty days and have to pay a fine of at least $ 2,500.
The state might also require you to install an Ignition Interlock Device as a way to prevent you from drinking while driving.
Hit and Run
Every driver has a legal responsibility to stop at a scene of an accident. Failing to stop at the scene is considered a hit and run and can attract severe penalties. There are a couple of statutes involved in this kind of case that include ARS 28-663 Duty to give information and assistance after an accident, ARS 2888-662 Accidents involving damage to a vehicle, and ARS 28-661 Accidents involving death or personal injury.
The penalties that follow when one fails to comply with the above-stated statute include:
- Classification of your offense as a Class 3 misdemeanor for failing to give information or assistance once you are involved in an accident. Such crime is punishable with imprisonment for up to thirty days and fines of up to $ 500
- If your vehicle is involved in an accident and caused damages to the other, the possible penalties that follow include incarnation for a maximum of thirty days and a fine that amounts to $ 500. The court might also suspend your license for a given timeline
- Failing to stop and causing severe physical injuries may lead to license revocation for five years and imprisonment for four to ten years
- Failing to stop and causing death might lead to revocation of your license for ten years and imprisonment for four to ten years
Other penalties include in this kind of crime include mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device and community restitution.
Failure to Stop
Failing to stop is quite close to unlawful flight. It is a class 2 misdemeanor offense under ARS 28-1595. Under this statute, a person is considered guilty if he or she fails to stop when a police officer tries to signal them and fail to stop promptly and bring the vehicle to a stop. The statute also considers a situation where a police officer asks for identity documentation, and the person declines to comply with the request.
Under Arizona criminal guidelines, failing to stop is a class 2 misdemeanor. It exposes the offender to a maximum of four months in prison, a fine of up to $ 750, a criminal record, and any other penalty ordered by the court.
According to ARS 28-701.02. It is a criminal offense to speed more than the required speed limit. There are three ways that one can get a criminal speeding ticket. This include:
- Exceeding 85 miles per hour despite the speed limit in place
- Exceeding the required speed limit by 20 mph
- Exceeding 35 mph when approaching a school zone
Arizona laws classify such an offense as a class 3 misdemeanor. The possible penalties that might follow are:
- 30 days of imprisonment and a fine amounting to $ 500
- Pay for any towing expenses
- Inclusion of three points on your criminal speeding traffic ticket, which might lead to license suspension if they amount to thirteen points.
Find a Phoenix Criminal Attorney Near Me
It is quite frustrating to deal with an unlawful flight case. Therefore, it is advisable to seek a professional criminal attorney who can help in solving your case. Unfortunately, not all attorneys are good enough. However, we at Phoenix Criminal Attorney are different from others since we devote all our energy and resources in our cases and have the experience needed to guarantee excellent services. Call us today at 602-551-8092 and have our attorney assess your situation and help you solve it.