Have you ever heard of the crime known as eluding an officer? The penalty for this crime can be sharply enhanced when the person eluding the officer endangers someone else during the pursuit. But what happens if the person who is put in danger is the eluder? One defendant argued that his charge of eluding an officer should not be upgraded to a second degree offense because the only person he endangered was himself.
In a case known as State v. Bunch, 177 N.J. 577 (2003), two officers attempted to pull the defendant over after they noticed him driving with no headlights and without his seatbelt. The defendant did not pull over, and the police chased him for a period of time during which the defendant proceeded to break a number of traffic laws. Eventually, he crashed into an empty minivan and was arrested.
Generally, eluding an officer is a third degree offense which can result in jail time of up to 5 years, heavy fines, and a license suspension. However, if while eluding an officer, the individual does something that creates a risk of injury or death to another person, the offense will be upgraded to a second degree offense, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
In Bunch, the prosecution charged the defendant with second degree eluding on the grounds that even though the defendant did not endanger anyone else during the pursuit, he endangered himself. The court agreed with the prosecution and found that a third degree charge of eluding an officer can be upgraded to a second degree charge if the eluder puts anyone in danger, including himself.