High speed chases - What are the passengers guilty of?

Everytime on 'Wildest Police Videos" or the like when the police finally catch someone after a high speed chase they always seem to arrest everybody in the car. Strictly speaking isn’t the driver the only one they should be able to arrest?

I mean, I understand that there’s a good chance someone other than the driver might have something to hide (drugs, warrants etc.) so the police would want to check everybody out. But it is only the driver that’s broken the law by running from the police, right?

Police can arrest anyone for a while without pressing charges (for 72 hours where I live.) It makes sense that they would arrest everyone and then see what they can charge them with.

Beyond that, charges of aiding and abetting and resisting arrest seem likely candidates…

I know that SWAT teams often cuff everyone on the scene when they move into a dangerous situation, whether they are bystanders or hostages or what-not. It’s a safety thing, you can sort them out later after the threat is eliminated.

The thing is, you just don’t know. Maybe they changed drivers in the middle of the thing. Maybe they had just robbed a bank and thus were all in on it. Maybe they could be charged with not taking action to stop the car (like removing the keys) or something. Better to be safe and haul them all away and sort it out later.

(Man, I don’t like the sound of that last sentence. Sounds like I’m suggesting violation of rights, arresting people for no good reason, that sort of thing. Slippery slope.)

Aiding and abetting. You can be charged with the same thing if you are in a car with a drunk driver.

Notice can does not always equate with will.

I’m perfectly willing to cut the cops some slack on this matter. The same shows that carry car chases also occasionally have footage of the passengers fighting and/or shooting it out with the cops. It is not unreasonable to assume that a person who bolts from a traffic stop is guilty of other crimes, and not unreasonable to assume that their companions may be accessories.

It’s a moderately slippery slope, but the existance of video evidence should cut down on abuse complaints.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that a person who bolts from a traffic stop is guilty of other crimes,”

Whoa. Are you sure you meant to say this? I would say that at least in the USA, that’s very unreasonable.

Maybe Bryan is saying that if you’re running from the cops, chances are you’ve got something else to hide? Why else would you run? Maybe you just remembered that you’d left the oven on at home?

Bolting from a traffic stop is itself an arrestable offense, and I find it hard to imagine someone being pulled over thinking “Hmm, darn, maybe I was speeding. Oh look! A bird!” and taking off to chase it, unless that driver is mentally ill, in which case they should be taken off the road for their own protection and everyone else’s.

And note I said not unreasonable to assume, though as Cecil said, ‘lawyers have made millions arguing about what exactly constitutes “within reason.”’ So long as it remains a grey area and so long as we give police officers some degree of discretion, it’s necessary to let them act for their own protection. The same videos that shock and entertain us civilians are dire warnings to the cops, especially the tapes that involve a passenger attacking an officer, and I’ve seen several.

“But I left my oven on!” should get you some laughs in open court, but not an acquittal. Reminds me of a story about a woman pulled over for speeding who claimed she’d forgotten her birth control pills at home and wanted to get them before it was too late.

Okay, I understand what you’re saying. I’m claiming that it may be reasonable for you to assume that a person who bolts from the cops is guilty of something, but an officer of the law is under the obligation to assume that they are innocent of any crimes, until proven otherwise. At least, that’s the impression I’ve always gotten from watching TV and stuff. I know that on at least some of those police video shows they make an initial disclaimer along these lines. Because the officer witnessed them, I would say that they have proof that the suspect did indeed make a traffic violation, and bolt from a traffic stop. But without some sort of proof, assuming that the suspect is guilty of something or anything aside from these two crimes strikes me as unreasonable.

Flight from an officer even on foot, when there was previously no reasonable suspicion to stop, creates a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

Since fleeing the scene by evading police attempts to stop you is an arrestable offense, the police are able to not only arrest the driver, but search, incident to his arrest, the area in his immediate vicinity - the rest of the car. They may temporarily detain others in the car while investigating, and may even search them, although states are divided on how extensive a serach may be made.

Ultimately, it’s certainly possible that you have one drug lord driving three church deacons to a picnic; in such a case, absent any evidence inculpating the deacons, they’d be released.

  • Rick

I suspect there’s a semantic confusion here… in the UK and US judicial systems, a person is certainly innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The police, however, are not concerned with guilt or innocence in this legal sense; their job is to enforce the law, which includes arresting people who may have performed an illegal act. The police, by definition, only arrest innocent people. If they’re effective, they arrest innocent people who are later found to be guilty… which means, to be effective, they need to take suspicious behaviour into account. No police officer is obliged to consider anyone’s guilt or innocence in a legal sense - all they’re interested in is whether a) a crime has been committed and b) you did it.

Steve Wright is right on the money.

The courts assume you are legally innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The police can approach you and start a conversation, in an effort to investigate you, without so much as a scintilla of evidence against you.

If they have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that you are connected to a crime, they may briefly detain you; if concerned for their safety at that time, they may briefly pat you down. This isn’t even “probable cause” - it’s just something more than a hunch. It’s a common-sense concept where the officer can point to specific facts which, taken together, reasonably indicate suspicion.

If the police have probable cause to believe you have committed a crime, you may be arrested. Probable cause is not anywhere near “beyond a reasonable doubt” – it is merely evidence to indicate that a crime was probably committed, and the accused probably a guilty party.

In short, the police have no obligation whatsoever to “assume you’re innocent until proven guilty.” That obligation rests upon the finder of fact at a criminal trial.

  • Rick

Any thoughts on what goes through the driver’s head? Is anyone aware of any studies in this area?

Do the drivers actually think “maybe I can get away”? Once a chase begins, is it all adrenalin? Or the thought that “I’ll be going to jail for a long time, might as well make this chase memorable”?

Sometimes they do get away, Prince.

Rick and Steve have articulated the legal side of things, and on the street side it is reasonable to assume that if one party in an automobile is going to be arrested for a flagrant violation, anybody else in the car will be arrested for something (public intoxication is a handy one-size-fits-all) just to, in the officers’ eyes, stabilize the situation in the near term.

Am I correct in believing that most of the car chases shown on US TV involve a stolen vehicle?

In Ireland, it is a criminal offence to be carried as a passenger in a stolen vehicle. When a stolen car is stopped, all occupants will be arrested and charged.

Most of our high speed chases involve teenagers in stolen vehicles. These drivers are likely to be highly reckless and dangerous. Last weekend two Dublin policemen died when their car was rammed by teenagers in a stolen car. The policemen were trying to warn other drivers of the oncoming vehicle when it rammed them from the side at high speed. Air bags saved the lives of the thieves, who will now be charged with murder.

Even without this law, passengers in a stolen car like this are likely to be guilty of aiding and abetting a crime.

Our police do not normally arrest someone for speeding, unless it is linked to another crime lik drink driving or hitting someone. So, arresting a passenger in a speeding car will not usually arise for us unless the car is stolen.

That’s not quite what I meant. What I meant is that if the police pull over a car after a high-speed chase, it is reasonable of them to arrest the driver and detain the passengers. This detention can involve removing the passengers from the car, patting them down for weapons, identifying them and doing a check for outstanding warrants, possibly handcuffing them and then searching the car. I don’t know of a lot of cases in the U.S. where a passenger was arrested just for being in the car, but charges of accessory to grand theft auto, drug possession, weapons charges etc occur often. I’d frankly be surprised if an officer didn’t check out the passengers, at least to get their names. They’re witnesses to the driver’s flight, after all. I think its safe to say that if a passenger has no warrants and had nothing to do with whatever reason the driver bolted, a reasonable police officer will let them go on their way. The brief detention while the matter is sorted out is a pretty minor intrusion on one’s rights. If a passenger gets rougher treatment than he/she thinks is warranted, there are legal remedies. It sucks to have to prove your innocence, but you can blame your idiot driver friend for getting you into this in the first place.

If you’re a passenger under these conditions, your best best is probably to act all shocked. “I dunno, Officer, I told him to stop…” The driver’s going to jail no matter what. You can help him by not also getting arrested (by being combative or evasive with the cops) so you can arrange his bail. At the very least, you should rethink your choice of friends.

Or to get out and start screaming and crying about how you thought he (the driver) would kill you, and please help you, and thank heaven the police were there to help you, and how he wouldn’t let you out, you were just on your way to some innocuous place, and then look at the driver and start in on him: “Oh my god, Sam, you’re such an idiot! You could’ve killed me! What’s wrong with you!?!?! Have you lost your damned mind?”

Anything to create plausible deniability of any claims by the driver that you encouraged his flight.

Based on experience, I’d say generally if the driver is going downtown, so are any passengers. If you’re a passenger just be quiet and do what the cops tell you to do. I stress the be quiet part. I wouldn’t bother with acting shocked ar acting otherwise.

If they’re going to (as I would guess they would) take you in (they’ll think of something), nothing you say or do at the scene is likely to make your situation any better, but you can most certainly make it worse.

Let me go through this one more time: The policeman is not your friend.

You may be arrested/restrained/detained for just about any reason a police officer thinks suitable. The officer may not have the authority to arrest but he has the power to do so. There is no point in arguing about it. The police officer is carrying a gun and a night stick. Do not aggravate him.

Do what you are told and as much as you can do not volunteer any information. If asked a question you don’t want to answer say that you don’t want to answer. If asked if you consent to a search of your person or effects say, as distinctly as possible, that you do not consent to a search. Do not demand to see a warrant or an enunciation of the officers rational. As Mrs. Reagan told us: just say no. If the cop has authority to search he will with or without your permission. Do not run away. Do not make any gesture that could be regarded as threatening. Do not resist being cuffed or put in the patrol car.

Be polite. Be respectful. Above all, be quiet.