Evading the Police to escape a DUI is a Class 5 Felony

by Aaron Black • August 10, 2018
Fleeing from the PoliceHosting a buzz after leaving a bar or a friend’s house, red lights flash from behind. In a moment of panic you decide to lose the Phoenix patrol car to avoid an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) and its consequences. But running only adds another charge, a class 5 felony as opposed to a less serious misdemeanor DUI.

Fleeing in the face of danger is a defense mechanism in all creatures. But running from law enforcement to avoid a drunk driving charge or any other criminal offense in Phoenix presents perils. It’s simply a bad choice. Evading law enforcement can derail your defense because it tells jurors that you had a consciousness of guilt.

Even in an emergency situation, such as driving an injured spouse or child to a hospital, it’s best to stop and explain the situation to the officer, who will be in a position to help you.

Arizona’s Unlawful Flight Statute

Arizona’s unlawful flight law, A.R.S. 28-622.01, states that a driver who “willfully flees” or tries to elude a plainly marked patrol car with its lights flashing, visible for up to 500 feet, or its siren blaring under A.R.S. 28-624 (C) is guilty of a class 5 felony, in addition to a DUI charge and any other related charges such as speeding or reckless driving.

A motorist eluding law enforcement who causes injury or death to someone or endangers anyone including the pursuing officer is racking up more extremely serious criminal charges, and damaging property violates civil law causing financial liability.

We see on news channels drivers racing away from pursuing police. The chase has the inherent potential for causing harm to someone and authorities will abandon the street chase. But they may use helicopters to follow the suspect and alert police on the ground to intercept.

A person doesn’t need to be in a vehicle to be arrested for evading law enforcement. People running through neighborhoods to escape are also breaking the unlawful flight law if they don’t obey a pursuing officer’s commands.

Arizona doesn’t have a law for being drunk in public. But if an incident happens, such as harassing people in front of a restaurant, the person can be arrested for that but not for public intoxication.

Many runners are apprehended. For example, in one case from 2012 the Arizona Court of Appeals refused to overturn a conviction of a driver who was stopped but fled with the traffic officer abandoning the pursuit. Although the motorist later that day reported his vehicle stolen, the traffic stop officer identified the person as the one who had fled.

Punishments for first-time fleeing

The punishment for first-time violators of Arizona’s felony unlawful flight varies under A.R.S. 13-702 depending upon which of the five levels of seriousness is involved - mitigated, minimum, presumptive, maximum and, the most severe, aggravated.
  • First-time class 5 felony offense judged as “mitigated” requires six months in Maricopa County Jail
     
  • Elevated charge of “aggravated”, a state prison term of 2.5 years followed by three years of probation and fines and surcharges reaching $150,000
The penalties for a subsequent willful flight offense are even more serious.

Legal Defenses for fleeing from law enforcement

For the state to win its case it must prove each of the law’s elements beyond a reasonable doubt. For unlawful flight the state must prove that the police officer had a legitimate reason to stop the vehicle, was in fact in pursuit of it, and the driver did willfully flee or did try to evade the officer.

A defense is that the pursued driver was unaware that an actual police vehicle was in pursuit because of loud music or not looking in the rear view mirror and so the “willful” element is not met.

Another defense is “mistake of fact.” This applies when a motorist believes the pursuing officer was after someone else.

A third defense is that the pursued driver was aware of the police car behind with its lights flashing but was looking for a safe place to pull over and stop yet the officer interpreted this as unlawful flight.

Computers in some newer vehicles can show the vehicle was not at a high rate of speed nor was it accelerating. These facts can create a reasonable doubt showing the motorist was not evading an officer.

Other defenses may be available if officers violated constitution rights, such as failing to have probable cause to stop the vehicle in the first place or failing to read Miranda rights that include the right to remain silent.

How to choose a criminal defense attorney

When your freedom is in jeopardy it’s imperative that you’re represented by a seasoned defense lawyer who is well-versed in the nuisances of unlawful flight law and its defenses. Beyond that, the attorney you choose needs to believe in your case, stand by you during this difficult time and be responsive to your concerns.

You can start searching and find out about criminal defense attorneys at reputable websites, such as SuperLawyers.comNOLO.com, and AVVO.com.

These websites can provide insights to an attorney’s experience and capabilities and additional research can determine the fees an attorney charges. Also, research whether or not the attorney is an active member of respected Criminal Defense Organizations such as NACDL, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers ® and AACJ, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

I urge you to consider the Law Office of Aaron Black to defend you. I have decades of criminal defense experience and a strong record of handling cases in Phoenix and Maricopa County.

Even if the state has a tight case against you, I’m experienced at negotiating a compromise with prosecutors to achieve a less serious related charge and a reduced penalty, but I only do that if  your agree.

Free legal consultation

I invite you to meet with me to review the circumstances of your case, assess its strength, possible defenses, and answer any questions absolutely free.

Simply contact Criminal Defense Attorney Aaron Black or call to arrange a free consultation today at 480-729-1683.