In New Jersey, a person that purposefully evades the police can be charged with the crime of eluding, even if he or she did not commit any other crime. While generally eluding is a third-degree crime, it can become a second-degree offense under certain circumstances, as discussed in a recent New Jersey case in which the defendant argued that the jury was improperly instructed regarding the elements of the charge. If you are accused of eluding or any other crime, it is advisable to meet with a skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorney to discuss your options for seeking a just result.

History of the Case

It is reported that a police officer spotted the defendant driving a stolen vehicle, after which the officer activated the overhead lights of his police vehicle. The defendant began to slow down and pull over but then suddenly drove away rapidly. A chase through a residential neighborhood ensued, with the defendant driving erratically at high speeds. The defendant was ultimately stopped and arrested. He was cited for multiple traffic offenses, including reckless driving, and charged with the crimes of receiving stolen property and second-degree eluding. He was convicted of the criminal charges, after which he appealed, arguing that he was denied a fair trial because the jury was not properly instructed regarding the elements of a second-degree eluding offense.

Elements of a Second-Degree Eluding Offense

Under New Jersey law, a person operating a vehicle who intentionally flees or attempts to evade a police officer after the officer signals the person to bring the vehicle to a stop commits the crime of eluding, which is a third-degree offense. Eluding becomes a second-degree offense, however, if the evasion or attempted flight from the police creates a risk of injury or death to any person.

The law further provides that a judge or jury is permitted to infer that a person’s attempt to evade the police creates a risk of death or injury if it involves a violation of the motor vehicle laws. In other words, the element of risk necessary to prove a second-degree offense can be established by actual evidence of a risk of harm or by proving the defendant committed a traffic violation.

In the subject case, the court instructed the jury that it could infer a risk of injury or death if the defendant’s conduct involved a violation of the motor vehicle laws. The court further explained that while the jury did not have to determine if the defendant was guilty of reckless driving, evidence that the defendant committed a motor vehicle offense could be considered in determining whether the defendant was guilty of second-degree eluding. As such, the appellate court found that the trial court properly instructed the jury and upheld the defendant’s conviction.

Confer with a Capable Criminal Defense Attorney

In any criminal case, it is critical that the jury is properly advised of the elements of the charged offense to protect the defendant’s right to receive a fair trial. If you are charged with eluding, the capable New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can help you mount a strong defense in hopes of obtaining a favorable outcome. You can contact us through our online form or at 877-450-8301 to schedule a conference to discuss your charges.