Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC - Evading a Peace Officer by Driving in the Opposite Direction of Traffic

California Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to evade, or dodge or avoid, a police officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic.

Examples of illegal acts under this code section include:

  • In a police chase following a hit and run, Joel tries to escape the authorities by driving his car in the opposite lane and avoids cars traveling towards him.
  • While on felony probation, Miguel sees flashing lights in his rearview mirror; and as a result, he gets afraid and steers his vehicle into the opposite direction to escape the police.
  • Jenny, while driving home from a bar and hearing sirens behind here, does a 180 in her vehicle and drives against traffic to avoid a California DUI arrest.

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 2800.4. These include showing that an accused party:

  • did not commit a willful act;
  • was not evading a police officer; and/or,
  • acted out of necessity.

Penalties

A violation of VC 2800.4 is a wobbler offense under California law. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of a case.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for a period of six months to one year; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

police chase california
California Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to evade, or dodge or avoid, a police officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic.

1. The legal definition of evading a police officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic

California Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to evade a police officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic.

A prosecutor must prove two elements to successfully convict a defendant under this statute. These are:

  1. the accused was evading, or attempting to evade, a police officer (in violation of California Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC); and,
  2. while doing so, the accused willfully drove his vehicle in the opposite direction of traffic.1

Under California Penal Code 7 PC, “willfully” means that a person commits an act with purpose or willingness.2 It does not require any intent to:

  • violate the law,
  • injure another, or
  • acquire any advantage.3

2. Legal Defenses

A person accused under Vehicle Code 2800.4 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical for an accused to hire a criminal defense attorney to get the most effective defense.

Three common defenses to VC 2800.4 accusations are:

  1. no willful act;
  2. not evading a police officer; and/or,
  3. necessity.

2.1. No willful act

Recall that a violation of Vehicle Code 2800.4 must be done willfully, or with a specific purpose. Therefore, it is a valid legal defense for a defendant to show that he is not guilty because his actions were not willful. For example, maybe the defendant collided with another car and the collision placed him in the opposite direction of traffic. This is different than the defendant choosing on his own to drive against traffic.

2.2. Not evading a police officer

Please also recall that a prosecutor must prove that an accused was evading police in order to convict a person under VC 2800.4. This means a solid legal defense is for an accused to show that while he may have been driving against traffic, he was not evading police. However, please note that the defendant could still be guilty of driving on the wrong side of the road, per Vehicle Code 21651(b).

2.3. Necessity

Under a necessity defense, a defendant essentially tries to avoid guilt by showing that he had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime. People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of a VC 2800.4 violation, an accused could attempt to show that he committed the crime since he had no other choice (e.g., because of an extreme emergency).

man behind bars
A violation of VC 2800.4 can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

A violation of VC 2800.4 is a wobbler offense under California law. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of a case.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for a period of six months to one year; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.4

Please note that in lieu of jail time a judge may order a defendant to misdemeanor probation. This is also called “summary” or “informal” probation.

If a Vehicle Code 2800.4 violation is charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the California state prison for up to three years; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $10,000.5

Note that in lieu of jail time a judge may order a defendant to felony, or formal, probation.

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to evading a peace officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic. These are:

  1. reckless driving – VC 23103;
  2. felony reckless evading – VC 2800.2; and,
  3. evading an officer causing injury or death – VC 2800.3.

4.1. Reckless driving – VC 23103

It is a crime in California, per Vehicle Code 23103, to engage in reckless driving.

Under VC 23103, reckless driving is driving with a wanton disregard for the safety of people or property.6

If no one other than the reckless driver is injured, VC 23103 is charged as a misdemeanor. It can be punished by:

  • five to 90 days in county jail; and/or,
  • a fine of between $145 and $1,000.7

If someone other than the driver is seriously injured, reckless driving becomes a California wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, in the prosecutor's discretion.

When charged as a felony, reckless driving generally carries a penalty of:

  • up to three years in jail, and
  • a fine of up to $10,000.8

4.2. Felony reckless evading – VC 2800.2

Felony reckless evading is a crime in California under Vehicle Code 2800.2.

A person commits this offense, per VC 2800.2, when:

  1. he evades a police officer in a motor vehicle, as described in Vehicle Code 2800.1; and,
  2. in doing so, he drives with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.9

Despite the name, felony reckless evading in California is actually a wobbler. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

When charged as a misdemeanor, the offense carries the following penalties:

  • at least six months and no more than one year in county jail; and/or
  • a fine of $1,000.10

And if it is charged as a felony, the penalties are:

  • sixteen months, two years, or three years in California state prison; and/or
  • a fine of up to ten thousand dollars $10,000.11

4.3. Evading an officer causing injury or death – VC 2800.3

California Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC describes the crime of “evading a peace officer causing injury or death.”

This offense is charged when:

  1. the defendant evades a law enforcement officer in a motor vehicle, as described in Vehicle Code 2800.1; and,
  2. in doing so, he proximately causes the serious bodily injury or death of another person.12

If evading an officer causes an injury (but not a death), then a VC 2800.3 violation is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by up to one year in county jail.13

If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by a California state prison sentence of three, five, or seven years.14

If evading an officer results in a death, then the crime is always charged as a felony and it is punishable by a state prison sentence of four, six, or ten years.15

Were you accused of evading a peace officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic in California? Call us for help…

california traffic defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

For similar offenses in Nevada, please see our article on Nevada "Evading Police" Laws (NRS 484B.550); and, for similar offenses in Colorado, please see our article on Eluding a Police Officer (Colorado 18-9-116.5 and 42-4-1413 C.R.S.).


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC. This code section states: “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 imprisonment for not less than six months nor more than one year in a county jail or by imprisonment in the state prison, or by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

  2. California Penal Code 7 PC.

  3. See same.

  4. California Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC.

  5. See same.

  6. California Vehicle Code 23103 VC.

  7. California Vehicle Code 23103(c) VC.

  8. California Vehicle Code 23104 (b) VC.

  9. California Vehicle Code 2800.2 VC.

  10. California Vehicle Code 2800.2 VC.

  11. See same.

  12. California Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC.

  13. See same.

  14. See same.

  15. See same.

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