If the police in Fort Walton Beach want to pull you over, they expect you to do so immediately, or as soon as it is safe to do so. If you don’t, you will be charged with the felony offense of Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Law Enforcement. This will be in addition to any other traffic charges you could face. In meeting with clients over the years, common reasons for Fleeing or “running” from the police include:
- They didn’t see the police lights behind them
- They were impaired and didn’t want a DUI
- There were drugs in the vehicle
- They knew they had a warrant for their arrest
If you have been charged with Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Law Enforcement in Fort Walton Beach, you basically have three options:
- Hire the cheapest attorney who says he specializes in “traffic cases”
- Settle on the public defender and keep your fingers crossed, or
- Retain a professional criminal defense attorney with extensive experience in Felony cases.
It is important to distinguish between traffic attorneys and felony attorneys. Traffic attorneys can help you if you received a speeding ticket. Felony attorneys help you stay out of prison. This is not the time to leave your future to chance. This is the time to make smart decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Contact a Fort Walton Beach fleeing and eluding defense lawyer at (850) 243-6097 for a free consultation.
Fleeing or Eluding In Fort Walton Beach Under Florida Law
Florida Statute 316.1935 defines Fleeing or Attempting to Elude as:
“It is unlawful for the operator of any vehicle, having knowledge that he or she has been ordered to stop such vehicle by law enforcement, willfully to refuse or fail to stop the vehicle in compliance with such order.”
There are three levels of felony Fleeing or Eluding:
(1) Fleeing or Eluding
Fleeing or Eluding a law enforcement officer who is in an authorized, clearly marked patrol vehicle, with lights and siren activated. This is the “basic” level of Fleeing or Eluding and is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
(2) Aggravated Fleeing or Eluding
If the driver flees or eludes law enforcement and in the process drives at a high rate of speed, or in a manner that demonstrates a wanton disregard for the safety of other people or property, the Fleeing or Eluding charge in Fort Walton Beach will be enhanced to a second degree felony with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
(3) Aggravated Fleeing or Eluding with Injury or Death
If the person drives at a high rate of speed, or in a manner which demonstrates a wanton disregard for the safety of people or property, and causes serious bodily injury or death to another person, the Fleeing or Eluding charge in Fort Walton Beach will be upgraded to a first degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. This charge also carries a mandatory minimum three year prison sentence.
Penalties for Fleeing or Eluding in Fort Walton Beach
In addition to the possible prison sentence of between 5 and 30 years, Fleeing or Eluding also can result in the suspension of your driver’s license for up to 5 years.
Another key point to keep in mind is that the statute for Fleeing or Eluding specifically states that the court may not “suspend, defer, or withhold adjudication of guilt or imposition of sentence for any violation of this section.”
What does this mean?
It means that if you are convicted of Fleeing or Eluding, the judge is required by law to convict you of a felony. In a lot of first-time offense felony cases, Pretrial Diversion is allowed. This is not the case with Fleeing or Eluding. Also, a lot of first offense felony cases allow the Judge to withhold adjudication. This is something a judge can do to resolve your case to keep you from being formally convicted of a felony. This option is not available with Fleeing or Eluding.
This is particularly important if you are in the military. If you are convicted of this offense, your career in the Air Force or Army is over. They will not keep you with a felony conviction on your record.
Defending Fleeing or Eluding Charges in Fort Walton Beach
Because options such as Pretrial Diversion or Withhold Adjudication are not available, it is critically important to build a defense that is aggressive and smart from the beginning.
The first step to defending any serious felony case is to identify the goals: Avoid a prison sentence and avoid a felony conviction. Every case is different, so there are numerous ways to achieve the desired result.
We will work to get the charge reduced or dismissed. Here is a brief checklist of issues we look at in defending charges of Fleeing or Eluding:
- We will prepare the case for trial from day one.
- We will file a motion to dismiss if the officer cannot articulate a valid reason for the traffic stop.
- We will take the deposition of the officers involved. The purpose of this is to prepare for trial. It is also to offer mitigating evidence that may lead to the officer agreeing to a reduced charge.
- We will raise the issue of whether your failure to stop was truly “willful”.
- If you are charged with Aggravated Fleeing or Eluding, we will force the state to prove whether you acted with a wanton disregard for the safety of others.
- We will negotiate with the prosecutor in an attempt to reduce the charge to something that can be referred to Diversion or pled down to a misdemeanor.
Contact an Okaloosa County Felony Traffic Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one have been charged with a felony traffic offense in Okaloosa County, call Flaherty & Merrifield today at (850) 403-6835 for a free consultation.