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Evading Police by Driving in the Opposite Direction of Traffic - Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 06, 2023

In the State of California, it's a criminal offense in itself to attempt to evade a police officer's motor vehicle, defined under Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC.  Driving on the wrong side of the road is also a violation. However, when you do both at the same time, it's much more dangerous.

Evading Police by Driving in the Opposite Direction of Traffic - Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC
It's a crime under VC 2800.4 to evade police by driving in the opposite direction of traffic.

Driving in the opposite direction of traffic in an attempt to evade law enforcement endangers not only you but also other innocent road users. For this reason, Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC makes it a specific crime to drive a vehicle against traffic on any highway, street, or road in California when fleeing from a pursuing peace officer.

Simply put, this statute makes it a crime to evade, dodge or avoid a police officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic, which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.

The prosecutor must prove two specific elements of the crime to convict you of violating this law. First, they must show that you evaded, or attempted to evade, a police officer, which violated Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC; while doing so, you willfully drove your vehicle in the opposite direction of traffic. “Willfully” means it was on purpose.

VC 2800.4 says, “Whenever a person willfully flees or attempts to elude a pursuing peace officer in violation of Section 2800.1, and the person operating the pursued vehicle willfully drives that vehicle on a highway in a direction opposite to that in which the traffic lawfully moves upon that highway, the person upon conviction is punishable by….”

If you are convicted of this crime, depending on your case's circumstances, you could face up to 3 years in prison. Let's review this law further below.

VC 2800.4 - Explained

California Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC is effectively a crime in two parts:

  1. Driving on the wrong side of the road (i.e., against the normal flow of traffic); and
  2. Fleeing a police officer in the process.

To prove a defendant guilty under this section, the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You willfully fled or attempted to evade a pursuing peace officer's motor vehicle;
  • During the flight or attempted evasion, you willfully drove a car in a direction opposite to that in which the traffic was lawfully moving upon a highway or roadway;
  • The peace officer's motor vehicle exhibited at least one lighted red lamp visible from the front, and you either saw or reasonably should have seen the lamp;
  • The peace officer's motor vehicle sounded a siren as was reasonably necessary;
  • The peace officer's motor vehicle was distinctively marked, and,
  • The peace officer was wearing a distinctive uniform.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Erin sees a police car behind her with its lights on, attempting to pull her over. She has been drinking and has an open bottle in the car, and she knows she'll be arrested for her second DUI if she pulls over—so she tries to “lose” the police car by making a series of quick turns on the city streets.

In the process, she turns the wrong way on a one-way street and drives against the traffic. As a result, Erin can be charged under VC 2800.4.

EXAMPLE 2: Don's car matches the description of someone the police are looking for in a drug investigation. An undercover cop follows Don in his car. Don notices he's being followed but is unaware it's a police officer.

Scared, he tries to flee and elude the following car by speeding up, getting on a freeway, then quickly braking and turning back the wrong way to go up the on-ramp against traffic. While Don may be cited for driving the wrong way, he can't be charged under VC 2800.4 because he wasn't willfully eluding police.

What Are the Related Crimes?

Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC evading a peace officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic, including the following:

What Are the Penalties for VC 2800.4?

Violating Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC is a wobbler offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the defendant's prior criminal history and the specific circumstances of the offense.

Penalties for Evading Police by Driving in the Opposite Direction of Traffic
A VC 2800.4 conviction carries a fine and jail time.

If you're convicted of a misdemeanor, the penalties are:

  • A fine of up to $1000; and
  • Six months to one year in county jail.

If you're convicted of a felony, the penalties are:

  • A fine of up to $10,000; and
  • Sixteen months, two years, or three years in prison.

In either case, the judge can impose probation instead of jail time, summary probation for a misdemeanor, and formal probation for a felony.

What Are the Defenses for VC 2800.4?

Despite the uncompromising approach to enforcing Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC, legal defenses are available to those charged under this statute. Employing an experienced California criminal defense attorney can enhance the chances of a favorable outcome, as discussed below.

Defenses for Evading Police by Driving Opposite of Traffic
Contact our law firm for legal guidance.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of willful intent. A vital aspect of the charge is that the evasion and driving against traffic were done willfully.

If your attorney can demonstrate that you did not intentionally evade law enforcement, accidentally drove against traffic, or were simply unaware of the pursuit, this could constitute a valid defense, resulting in the dismissal of the charge or reduced charges.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a necessity. Also known as “guilty with an explanation,” this defense asserts that the accused had to violate the law to prevent greater harm.

However, this requires the defense to prove that there was an imminent threat and that no other reasonable alternatives were available.

Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor through prefiling intervention to persuade them not to file formal criminal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.”

If you or a family member was accused of violating Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC, you could contact our law firm to review the case details by phone or the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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