Few things instill the same level of fear as seeing the flashing red and blue lights of law enforcement in the rearview mirror. Perhaps one thing scarier than the mere sight of police lights is the certain knowledge that you’re going to Montgomery County Jail. You can already feel the cold, tight cuffs on your wrists and hear the slam of the cop car door behind you. This knowledge makes it feel like the sky is falling and your world is ending. So, instead of pulling over, you slam your foot on the gas pedal and take off. You could now be facing a felony evading in a motor vehicle charge. A lot of times people who would have only had a misdemeanor charge, quickly turn that misdemeanor into a felony by doing this. Let’s explore some of the more common instances of when misdemeanors quickly turn to felony arrests while taking a closer look at the law.
I encounter this situation frequently. Misdemeanors can be qualified as Class C, Class B, or Class A offenses. Oftentimes, I will sit down with a client who would have only had a Class B misdemeanor to explain that their Class B misdemeanor is now a third degree felony. People who are driving with a suspended license, driving while intoxicated, or driving dirty know that an arrest is probable. While distressing, an arrest for a misdemeanor pales in comparison to facing punishment for a felony in Texas. A Class B misdemeanor is eligible for probation and/or can be punished with up to 180 days in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.00. Without any enhancements, I see these Class B misdemeanors most commonly:
- Possession of Marijuana
- Driving While License Invalid
- Possession of a Controlled Substance
- Driving While Intoxicated
Now, let’s look at what your punishment range would be for a felony evading arrest with a motor vehicle. Texas Penal Code 38.04 states that a person commits the third degree felony offense of evading if they intentionally flee a person they know to be law enforcement, who are trying to detain them, in a motor vehicle. A third degree felony can be probation eligible or be punished by confinement in prison for 2 to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000.00. Some significant differences are clear between the two classes of charges. With a Class B misdemeanor, prison is not an option. Additionally, your confinement is less than a year. Whereas with the third degree felony offense of evading arrest with a motor vehicle, one could be facing a minimum of two years in prison. Prison and county jails vary greatly in severity and conditions.
Some who have been convicted of evading arrest with motor vehicle have gotten creative with challenging those convictions and/or assessed punishment. Criminal history can affect the range of punishment. In some cases, potentially enhancing the range from a third degree felony to a second degree felony or even 25 to life. One way defendants have attacked their sentence is by arguing that the felony evading arrest with the motor vehicle should be a state jail felony instead of a third degree felony. In 2011 HB 3423 created, what some call, ambiguity in the law. To which if you review the Texas Penal Code it will read that felony evading arrest with a motor vehicle regardless of previous conviction can be both a third degree felony and a state jail felony. In the same year, Senate Bill 1416 relied on legislative intent and set the precedent that the offense should be punished only as a third degree felony. Thereby making the law, the law. This issue has been litigated many times. Below are some of the more interesting opinions on the subject:
- Daryl Lynder Fuller, Appellant vs. The State of Texas, Appellee
- The State of Texas, Appellant vs. Kevin Deshawn Sneed, Appellee
- Draden Heath Copeland, Appellant vs. The State of Texas, Appellee
Fear can be a great motivator when you’re faced with arrest. Don’t make your situation worse by evading in a motor vehicle. You could turn what could have just been a ticket or a low level misdemeanor into a felony. The punishment between a misdemeanor and a felony differs significantly. Don’t turn a low level arrest into a prison sentence. You could potentially ruin your life over a matter that could have been easily resolved. If you find yourself in this situation, contact my office to consult with an expert to know your options.