Driver Accused of Felony Hit-and-Run involving Death of San Leandro Boy (CA Vehicle Code 20001)

On the back of the recent arrest of the individual who caused a 14-year-old San Leandro boy’s death during a police chase is the decision by a San Francisco based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that attempting to escape law enforcement officials with the use of a vehicle could now be considered ‘violent’ and a felony.  This particular decision was the result of a lengthy appeals process begun after a Fresno man (all names have been withheld in order to preserve privacy) who fled police because he was already a felon in possession of a firearm was given a longer sentence because he tried to bolt in a car, resulting in charges of felony hit-and-run (CA Vehicle Code 20001).

Of course, according to the court’s final decision, an individual has to know that they are fleeing from an officer of the law. More than this, trying to evade a police officer is a crime in and of itself in the state of California (CA Vehicle Code 2800.1).  Proving that someone actually violated this law can, however, be a bit tricky.  Prosecutors must be able to show that evasion was the specific intent of the accused, that a clearly uniformed officer was present, that a police siren was being used at the time, that the vehicle being evaded is a clearly marked police vehicle, and that at least one red light was easily visible on the officer’s vehicle.

Normally, a violation of this law is considered a misdemeanor and a conviction would likely result in a $1,000 fine and up to 1 year in county jail.  However, CA Vehicle Code 2800.2 (felony reckless evading an officer) is a wobbler, meaning that it could just as easily be prosecuted as a felony as a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the particular case.  A conviction on felony reckless evasion charges could end with a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to 3 years in state prison.  If the evasion ends in the death of another person, the accused could be looking at up to 10 years in state prison.  Furthermore, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just determined, sentences for evasion are considered ‘violent’ in California law and could result in sentencing enhancements beyond normal penalties.