When a police officer flashes his lights, activates his siren, or otherwise directs a person to pull over, it’s a good idea to do so. As a recent case out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal shows, declining an officer’s direction to pull over is a felony, even if you don’t understand why the officer wants you to stop your car.
A defendant was charged with fleeing a law enforcement officer at a high speed or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, a second-degree felony, after a run in with the police in 2016. On the day in question, a Martin County police officer was driving in a marked police cruiser when he noticed a truck matching the description of a vehicle for which he was looking. He also noticed some sort of undisclosed “equipment infraction” on the truck. The officer said he turned on the car’s police lights – but did not use the siren – after the car cut from one lane into a turn lane. The defendant pulled the truck into a nearby bank parking lot. When the police cruiser followed, he accelerated, according to the officer.
That’s when the officer activated his sirens. In response, according to the officer, the defendant began weaving through traffic. Another officer who witnessed the incident said neither car reached speeds faster than 40 miles per hour. The speed limit for the area was 35 miles an hour. What the officer following the defendant didn’t know is that the defendant called 911 during this time. He said during the call that he was being followed by a police officer and wanted to pull over in a safe, well-lit area. The officer eventually ended the pursuit by nudging the defendant car in a way that forced it to lose control, spin around, and stop.
The defendant later appealed the decision, arguing that the trial judge should have acquitted him of the fleeing charge because it was a misunderstanding. The Fourth District disagreed, but it did say that the defendant should have been charged with a lesser offense.
The second-degree felony applies to situations in which the person who fails to stop for a police officer “drives at high speed, or in any manner which demonstrates a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” the court explained. In this case, however, there was no evidence that the defendant was driving at a high speed. There was also no reason to believe that any other person on the road – or property – was affected by his refusal to pull over. As a result, the court sent the case back to the trial judge with instructions that the defendant be convicted for fleeing to elude a law enforcement officer, a third-degree felony.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater criminal defense attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
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