Fleeing/eluding an officer is a felony in Wisconsin.  For help from a criminal defense attorney, contact Van Severen Law Office at (414) 270-0202.

Fleeing/eluding an officer is a Class H felony in Wisconsin.  Usually this criminal charge is the result of a police pursuit that ended in either the arrest or identification and subsequent arrest of a driver of a fleeing vehicle.  The charge requires that the defendant fail to pull over after receiving an audio (sirens) or visual (lights) signal from a police officer.  Then the driver either hides or flees from law enforcement while still operating the vehicle.  When this charge ends up on Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (CCAP), it’s usually listed as “Vehicle Operator Flee/Elude Officer.”  Finally, aggravating circumstances, such as putting other individuals at risk during the chase, could lead to additional criminal charges for things like recklessly endangering safety.

Class H felonies are punishable by up to 6 years in prison.  Prior to March 2024, fleeing or eluding an officer was a Class I felony, only punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison.  Although the new and old penalties are on the lower end of the felony spectrum, prosecutors in certain communities frequently request prison sentences during plea negotiations.  Milwaukee County is an example of this, where police chases have resulted in serious car accidents and deaths.  As maximum penalties increase due to changes in the law, average sentences will likely also increase.

At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., our Milwaukee criminal defense lawyers regularly defend individuals facing various traffic and fleeing/eluding charges.  Typically situations like this involve felony charges, but we also defend individuals facing lesser misdemeanor-level offenses.  No matter the kind of charges you’re facing, we think that having a top criminal defense attorney on your side makes the whole process easier.  Contact us at (414) 270-0202.  Let’s schedule a free consultation to figure out how we can help.

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What is fleeing/eluding an officer?

Although lawmakers increased the penalties associated with this offense in 2024, they didn’t change the substance of the law itself.

Section 364.04(3) of the Wisconsin Statutes is the specific law prohibiting fleeing or eluding an officer.  The law says:

(3) No operator of a vehicle, after having received a visual or audible signal from a traffic officer, federal law enforcement officer, or marked or unmarked police vehicle that the operator knows or reasonably should know is being operated by a law enforcement officer, shall knowingly flee or attempt to elude any officer by willful or wanton disregard of such signal so as to interfere with or endanger the operation of the police vehicle, the traffic officer, the law enforcement officer, other vehicles, or pedestrians, nor shall the operator increase the speed of the operator’s vehicle or extinguish the lights of the vehicle in an attempt to elude or flee.

While a fleeing/eluding charge is what’s used to punish a high speed police chase, you’ll notice that speed isn’t a requirement for all fleeing/eluding an officer charges. Instead, the driver must simply either “flee,” “attempt to elude,” “increase the speed of the operator’s vehicle,” or “extinguish the lights of the vehicle.”  Simply breaking contact with a police officer and then pulling over in an obscured area, with your lights off, could be enough for prosecutors to allege a violation of this law.

What are the elements of this offense?

Elements are the parts of a crime the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.  Each crime has elements.  And if the government cannot prove all the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant cannot be found guilty.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 2630 describes fleeing/eluding an officer:

  • Firstly, the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a highway after receiving a (visual/audible) signal from a (traffic officer/federal law enforcement officer/marked police vehicle/unmarked police vehicle) that the person knows or reasonably should know is being operated by a law enforcement officer.
  • Secondly, the defendant knowingly (fled/attempted to elude) an officer:
    • by willful disregard of the visual or audible signal so as to interfere with or endanger the operation of (the police vehicle/the traffic officer/other vehicles/pedestrians).
    • increasing the speed of the vehicle in an attempt to elude or to flee.
    • extinguishing the lights of the vehicle in an attempt to elude or to flee.

Traffic officer means every officer authorized by law to direct or regulate traffic or to make arrests for violation of traffic regulations.

What penalties do I face for fleeing/eluding in Wisconsin?

Fleeing and eluding is a Class H felony in Wisconsin.  That means that upon conviction the defendant faces up to 6 years prison.  That 6 year penalty breaks down into 3 years initial confinement (actual time in prison) and 3 years extended supervision (similar to probation or parole).

As previously mentioned, urban counties, such as Milwaukee County, take a much harder stance on charges like this one.  Frequently prosecutors will recommend prison as a part of the plea deal.  They’ll also try to increase the penalties by adding other counts, typically including charges like recklessly endangering safety.

In more-rural counties, prosecutors may approach these charges less seriously, agreeing to a reduction from felony-level offenses.  Probation is certainly a possibility no matter where you’re located, but depends on the facts in the case.  Other mitigating factors, such as fleeing based on turning ones lights off, rather than endangering others with speed, could help to achieve a reduction in the charges.

What about fleeing/eluding an officer cases involving death or bodily harm?

Higher level felonies and the associated penalties apply when someone gets hurt in a fleeing/eluding incident.  In 2024, lawmakers increased these penalties and added two mandatory minimum sentences.

Section 346.17 of the Wisconsin Statutes provides all of the penalties for this crime:

  • Bodily harm.  If bodily harm occurs as a result of the fleeing/eluding, the defendant is guilty of a Class G felony.  A Class G felony carries a maximum penalty of 10 years prison (5 in, 5 out) and $25,000.00 in fines.
    • Bodily harm means physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.  This is a low bar.  Pain is enough.  The victim need not suffer any sort of bruising, broken bones, or other impairment, although all of those things similarly satisfy this definition.

Mandatory minimum penalties apply to fleeing/eluding cases resulting in the following:

  • Great bodily harm.  If great bodily harm occurs as a result of the crime, the defendant is guilty of a Class E felony.  A Class E felony carries a maximum penalty of 15 years prison (10 in, 5 out) and $50,000.00 in fines.  This offense requires a mandatory minimum sentence.  A sentence for fleeing/eluding causing great bodily harm must include at least 1.5 years initial confinement in prison.
    • Great bodily harm requires more than bodily harm.  It means bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily injury.
  • Death.  Fleeing/eluding causing death is a Class D felony.  A Class D felony carries a maximum penalty of 25 years prison (15 in, 10 out).  A sentence for fleeing/eluding causing death must include at least 2.5 years initial confinement in prison.  This is a mandatory minimum.

What about trial, and identifying the defendant when he gets away?

Every criminal defense attorney at Van Severen Law Office has trial experience.  All of us are prepared to defend our clients all the way through this important, high-stakes battle.  And for fleeing or eluding cases, sometimes it’s a good idea to prepare for this possibility.  These cases don’t always involve a physical arrest of the defendant.  Sometimes, in the case where the defendant escapes police arrest, the case revolves around a police identification.  If that police identification is questionable, that could lead to dismissal of the case as early as the preliminary hearing.  If not, it could lead to a good trial argument and hopefully a jury finding of reasonable doubt regarding your guilt.

What about motorcycles?  It feels like we’re constantly seeing videos on social media and the news of motorcyclists taking off from police.  One of the problems for cops (and if used properly, a blessing for a criminal defense attorney) is that individuals operating motorcycles typically wear helmets.  These helmets are for safety but also obscure the identity of the individual wearing it.  Police rely on circumstantial evidence in these cases.  Who owns the vehicle?  Who are the plates registered to?  Is there a general physical description of the rider?  In situations where police recover the vehicle separate from the owner, DNA and fingerprint analysis could also lead to a suspect.

A police offering pursuing a suspect.
Fleeing/eluding is a felony charge in Wisconsin. Contact our criminal defense attorneys immediately for help. (414) 270-0202

Finally, contact a top Wisconsin criminal defense attorney for help.

Our criminal defense attorneys have helped thousands of individuals in situations similar to yours.  Although we recognize that you might feel embarrassed, ashamed, or angry about your situation, we think that adding a professional to your team is usually a good idea.  At Van Severen Law Office you’ll meet several of those professionals who can help you navigate the road forward.  Clients, peers, and independent evaluators consistently recognize our attorneys as among the best in Wisconsin.

Fleeing and eluding is certainly a charge that could send you to prison.  Relying on a part-time criminal defense attorney or general practitioners unfamiliar with the issues regularly present in criminal law could lead to disaster.  At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., you don’t need to worry about this issue.  You’ll meet attorneys who focus 100% of their time helping those accused of committing Wisconsin laws.

Finally, know that you can reach our criminal defense attorneys 24/7.  We certainly recognize that things happens on the weekends and after 5pm, and that’s why we make sure you’ll reach a human.  Let’s start fighting your case – call us at (414) 270-0202.

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