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The Proper Use of Police Officers’ Emergency Lights When Pursuing Traffic Offenders in California – California Vehicle Code 2800.1

In California, “an officer must activate a red light when in pursuit of a traffic offender who attempts to flee.” (People v. Copass (Dec. 14, 2009, No. B211281) 2009 WL 4757252 (hereafter Copass).) But what if a police officer loses a traffic offender during a pursuit and deactivates the light, only to moments later spot the traffic offender and reactive the light to resume the pursuit? The California Court of Appeal recently determined a police officer can deactivate the red light during the period the officer momentarily loses sight of the offender.

In Copass, a police officer observed a motorcyclist traveling at 90 miles per hour. The officer activated his red light, and a chase ensued. At some point the police officer lost sight of the motorcyclist, and the police officer turned off his emergency lights while continuing to search for the suspect. Within 5 minutes, a CHP surveillance airplane located the suspect and notified the officer of the suspect’s location. The officer did not immediately turn on his red light because he wanted to wait until he got close enough to the suspect. The officer turned his emergency lights and siren back on when he saw the suspect commit a traffic violation. The officer eventually forced the suspect to stop, and the suspect was arrested.

On appeal, the court in Copass held that there was only one pursuit. The officer activated his lights when the pursuit initially began, turning them off when he lost sight of the motorcyclist. Within minutes, the officer reactivated his lights and siren when the officer spotted the suspect a second time. The officer further testified that he was in “fresh pursuit” although the suspect had evaded him on side roads. It was also reasonable to infer from the facts that the suspect was aware of the pursuit. The court thus upheld the conviction.

Evading a Police Officer is a serious offense. If you have been charged with Evading a Police Officer, you should immediately contact an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney who can look at the unique facts of your case and determine what the best course of action is to attack the charges. The lawyers at Wallin & Klarich have been defending serious criminal charges in Southern California for over 30 years. Call Wallin & Klarich today at (888) 280-6839 for a free evaluation of your case.

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