Determining Liability After a Car Wreck in Georgia: Fleeing or Impersonating a Police Officer – OCGA 40-6-395
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Eluding or Impersonating a Police Officer
Welcome back to our ongoing discussion of Georgia’s rules of the road, and how they can be used to establish civil liability through a concept called negligence per se.
If you’re just joining us, negligence per se is the idea that everyone always has a responsibility to follow safety rules. This is important in civil liability, because for one person to be held liable for another person’s injuries, the first person must be proven not only to have caused the injuries, but also to have done so as a result of acting in a way a reasonable person wouldn’t.
When applicable, negligence per se removes the subjective element of reasonableness. If the person who caused the injuries broke a safety rule, that’s automatically considered unreasonable behavior.
Luckily for traffic accident survivors, all of the rules of the road count as safety rules.
Last week, we talked about how negligence per se applies in OCGA 40-6-394, which deals with the offense of “serious injury by vehicle.” This week, we’ll talk about OCGA 40-6-395, which has to do with running from, or impersonating, police officers.
Fleeing a Police Officer
“Fleeing” is defined as failing to stop your vehicle when a police officer directs you to do so. Officers can legally signal people to stop using sirens, lights, verbal cues, hand signals, or any combination of the above.
Drivers are not expected to be able to recognize plainclothes officers, however. In order to perform a traffic stop, an officer must be in uniform, and their vehicle must be marked.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any driver of a vehicle willfully to fail or refuse to bring his or her vehicle to a stop or otherwise to flee or attempt to elude a pursuing police vehicle or police officer when given a visual or an audible signal to bring the vehicle to a stop. The signal given by the police officer may be by hand, voice, emergency light, or siren. The officer giving such signal shall be in uniform prominently displaying his or her badge of office, and his or her vehicle shall be appropriately marked showing it to be an official police vehicle.
Failing to stop for a uniformed officer can lead to a pursuit, which places bystanders in danger. That’s part of why fleeing police officers carries such hefty penalties.
Consequences of Fleeing a Police Officer
As a first offence, fleeing a police officer is a high and aggravated misdemeanor, carrying a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000, along with a prison sentence ranging from 10 days to a year.
(1) Any person violating the provisions of subsection (a) of this Code section shall be guilty of a high and aggravated misdemeanor and:
(A) Upon conviction shall be fined not less than $500.00 nor more than $5,000.00, and the fine shall not be subject to suspension, stay, or probation, and imprisoned for not less than ten days nor more than 12 months. Any period of such imprisonment in excess of ten days may, in the sole discretion of the judge, be suspended, stayed, or probated;
Unlike many misdemeanors, the minimum jail sentences listed in 40-6-395 are actually the minimum amount of time a convicted offender can legally serve. That time can’t be changed to probation by a judge.
On a second offense, the minimum fine rises to $1,000 and the minimum jail time to 30 days.
(B) Upon the second conviction within a ten-year period of time, as measured from the dates of previous arrests for which convictions were obtained to the date of the current arrest for which a conviction is obtained, shall be fined not less than $1,000.00 nor more than $5,000.00, and the fine shall not be subject to suspension, stay, or probation, and imprisoned for not less than 30 days nor more than 12 months. Any period of such imprisonment in excess of 30 days may, in the sole discretion of the judge, be suspended, stayed, or probated; and for purposes of this paragraph, previous pleas of nolo contendere accepted within such ten-year period shall constitute convictions; and
On the third, the minimums rise to $2,500 and 90 days.
(C) Upon the third or subsequent conviction within a ten-year period of time, as measured from the dates of previous arrests for which convictions were obtained to the date of the current arrest for which a conviction is obtained, shall be fined not less than $2,500.00 nor more than $5,000.00, and the fine shall not be subject to suspension, stay, or probation, and imprisoned for not less than 90 days nor more than 12 months. Any period of such imprisonment in excess of 90 days may, in the sole discretion of the judge, be suspended, stayed, or probated; and for purposes of this paragraph, previous pleas of nolo contendere accepted within such ten-year period shall constitute convictions.
For the purpose of determining whether someone’s offense is a first, second, third, or more, the court takes into account arrest records dating back ten years.
Enforcement of Fleeing Rules
Local courts at any level have the authority to enforce OCGA 40-6-395.
(4) Notwithstanding the limits set forth in any municipal charter, any municipal court of any municipality shall be authorized to impose the punishments provided for in this subsection upon a conviction of violating this subsection or upon conviction of violating any ordinance adopting the provisions of this subsection.
But they do not have the authority to reduce minimum fines or jail time, or downgrade the conviction to something less serious in any way.
(B) Following adjudication of guilt or imposition of sentence for a violation of subparagraph (A) of this paragraph, the sentence shall not be suspended, probated, deferred, or withheld, and the charge shall not be reduced to a lesser offense, merged with any other offense, or served concurrently with any other offense.
The only exception is that the court may allow an offender to pay a fine in installments to avoid financial hardship, but this is done through contempt of court proceedings.
(3) If the payment of the fine required under paragraph (1) of this subsection will impose an economic hardship on the defendant, the judge, at his or her sole discretion, may order the defendant to pay such fine in installments and such order may be enforced through a contempt proceeding or a revocation of any probation otherwise authorized by this subsection.
In some cases, a person accused of fleeing a police officer may enter a plea of nolo contendere, which means that they accept the conviction, as if they were pleading guilty, but without admitting fault.
(2) For the purpose of imposing a sentence under this subsection, a plea of nolo contendere shall constitute a conviction.
This still counts as a conviction for the purpose of sentencing and determining a person’s number of offenses.
Related Offenses Can Make the Penalty for Fleeing Worse
Fleeing a police officer is always dangerous for everyone involved, but OCGA 40-6-395 recognizes the even greater seriousness of certain types of police chases.
If someone fleeing the police is also intoxicated, or driving more than 20mph over the limit, or if they cross state lines, cause an accident, or ignore traffic conditions that make them likely to hurt someone, the charge increases to a felony.
(A) Any person violating the provisions of subsection (a) of this Code section who, while fleeing or attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle or police officer:
(i) Operates his or her vehicle in excess of 20 miles an hour above the posted speed limit;
(ii) Strikes or collides with another vehicle or a pedestrian;
(iii) Flees in traffic conditions which place the general public at risk of receiving serious injuries;
(iv) Commits a violation of paragraph (5) of subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-391; or
(v) Leaves the state
shall be guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of $5,000.00 or imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five years or both.
At that point, the fine rises to $5,000, and the jail time to 1-5 years. This does not account for the offender’s civil liability toward anyone who was hurt.
Impersonating a Police Officer
OCGA 40-6-395 also covers the offense of impersonating a police officer, or any other form of law enforcement authority figure.
(c) It shall be unlawful for a person:
(1) To impersonate a sheriff, deputy sheriff, state trooper, agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police officer, or any other authorized law enforcement officer by using a motor vehicle or motorcycle designed, equipped, or marked so as to resemble a motor vehicle or motorcycle belonging to any federal, state, or local law enforcement agency; or
Impersonating law enforcement in any way is always illegal, whether or not the issue of traffic safety is involved. However, statute 40-6-395 specifically notes the illegality of controlling traffic under false pretenses.
(2) Otherwise to impersonate any such law enforcement officer in order to direct, stop, or otherwise control traffic.
If someone performs a traffic stop or tries to direct traffic while impersonating a police officer, and an accident occurs as a result, the imposter officer is liable for the damages under negligence per se, as well as guilty of a crime.
What Damages Can You Recover from Someone Who Fled or Impersonated a Police Officer?
If you were injured in an accident with someone who was fleeing the police, or as the result of someone claiming false authority in order to interfere with traffic, negligence per se is on your side. You have the right to compensation for all of your losses, which will be categorized as either special damages or general damages.
Special Damages Are Concrete Financial Losses
Things like medical bills, lost income, vehicle replacement, and the cost of any damaged valuables in your car all count as special damages. Assuming you did not share fault in the accident, you’re entitled to full reimbursement for all of these quantifiable losses, but you’ll need to keep a careful tally of each expense. You and your lawyer will also need to calculate your likely future losses, especially if your medical needs or career options will be permanently affected, and prove that all of your losses were directly or proximately caused by the fleeing driver’s actions. To learn about how the Wetherington Law Firm can help with this, click here.
General Damages Are Losses with No Clear Dollar Value
The hardest losses to cope with are those that can’t simply be bought back with any amount of money. After a car accident, your priceless losses might include things like mobility, freedom from pain, your favorite hobbies, time with your family, and career opportunities that meant more to you than the income they represented. The general damages portion of your settlement is an additional amount on top of the reimbursement for your special damages, intended to honor your pain and give you the chance to rebuild your life comfortably. Because general damages have no defined monetary values to refer to when calculating a settlement, it’s especially important to have a good lawyer on your side to make sure your losses are taken duly seriously.
What If the Police Chase or Impostor Police Officer Has Caused a Death?
If you’re looking for justice for a lost loved one, rather than for your own pain and expense, your case is one of wrongful death rather than personal injury. These cases have their own rules, which you can learn more about here. If you’re ready to talk to a lawyer, the Wetherington Law Firm has experts standing by to advise you on your situation in a free consultation.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
When you’re pursuing civil compensation after a traffic accident, it’s important to remember that your real opponent won’t be the negligent driver so much as their insurance company. Insurance companies stay in business by maximizing premiums and minimizing payouts, and they maintain full in-house legal departments for this purpose. You’re going up against experts who specialize in trick questions and other techniques designed to disassemble legitimate cases. To have a chance at a fair settlement, you need an expert on your side as well. A good lawyer can also help streamline the process, shield you from the daily stresses of pursuing your case, help you take a more complete accounting of your own losses, and advocate for you with a passion most people feel uncomfortable showing on their own behalf.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
The Wetherington Law Firm works on contingency, which means the only payment we accept is a percentage of the settlements we win for our clients.
We do this because it allows us to advocate for the people who most need and deserve it, rather than those who can throw the most money at their cases. We believe a person’s financial situation should never determine their power to be heard in court, and we know that most accident survivors who turn to litigation do so because their finances have already been decimated by medical expenses and time away from work. Once we take your case, we’ll fight as long and hard as it takes, with no hourly or upfront fees, to make sure you don’t end up literally paying for someone else’s mistake.
To get started discussing the details of your case, just get in touch with us by phone at 404-888-4444 or through the contact form on the right.
The Wetherington Law Firm Believes in the Power of Litigation to Drive Positive Change
If you’re looking for more than a monetary settlement, you’ve come to the right place. The Wetherington Law Firm has experience leveraging our clients’ cases, with their permission, to solve underlying problems and protect potential future victims. We’re always glad for the opportunity to help as many people as possible, so if you have ideas about the kind of change you’d like to see as a result of your case, let us know. For example, if your accident was caused by an impostor police officer, we’ll look not only at the individual’s actions, but at how that individual acquired a false uniform or police car in the first place, and push for changes that prevent others from doing the same. To learn about how we’ve helped our clients change the world so far, just ask!