Sheriff Bill Watson v. Mayor Kenny Wright and the Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony Evade and Elude

Chris Voltin Criminal Law

Sheriff Bill Watson v. Mayor Kenny Wright: Politics or Enforcing the Law?

As many people already know, Sheriff Bill Watson and Mayor Kenny Wright of Portsmouth, Virginia, squared off on Tuesday night in a very unusual low-speed police chase.  According to local news networks, Sheriff Watson attempted to issue a traffic summons to Mayor Wright for an expired inspection sticker after a city hall meeting. Mayor Wright however did not stick around for his citation and instead drove off in his vehicle.  Shortly thereafter, a low-speed law enforcement chase with multiple stops ensued. At the end of the ordeal, Sheriff Watson issued Mayor Wright a summons for the expired inspection sticker.  Then, to make matters worse, Sheriff Watson went to the Magistrate Judge the next day and took out a warrant for felony evade and elude.  Here are some local news links to the story:

Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright arrested on felony eluding charges

Portsmouth Mayor leads Sheriff on wild car chase

Portsmouth mayor released on bond for felony charge

Photo of Mayor Kenny Wright courtesy of the City of Portsmouth website.

Photo of Mayor Kenny Wright courtesy of the City of Portsmouth website.

Photo of Sheriff Bill Watson courtesy of the Portsmouth Sherriff's Office website.

Photo of Sheriff Bill Watson courtesy of the Portsmouth Sherriff’s Office website.

Felony v. Misdemenor Evade and Elude

While this seems to be quite the scandal, it gives Goff Voltin the perfect opportunity to explain the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony evade and elude charge.  Subsection (a) of § 46.2-817 of the Code of Virginia prohibits a person from willfully and wantonly attempting to escape or elude a law-enforcement officer.  It also specifically prohibits an individual from disregarding a law-enforcement officer’s visible or audible signal to bring a motor vehicle to a stop.  A violation of the subsection is a Class 2 misdemeanor and carries the possibility of up to six (6) months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.  A conviction will also result in the loss of the convicted’s driver’s license for at least thirty days.  Subsection (b) of § 46.2-817 heightens the punishment when a person fails to bring his or her vehicle to a stop after receiving a visible or audible signal from law-enforcement AND he or she continues to drive the vehicle in such a manner “so as to interfere with or endanger the operation of the law-enforcement vehicle or endanger a person.” A person convicted of subsection (b) of § 46.2-817 is guilty of a Class 6 felony which carries a maximum punishment of up to five (5) years in jail.  Lastly, subsection (c) of § 46.2-817 makes it a Class 4 felony when a person is in violation of subsection (b) and an officer is killed in the pursuit. A Class 4 felony carries a maximum punishment of ten (10) years in jail and a maximum fine of $100,000.

As you can see, the distinct difference between the Class 6 felony and the Class 2 misdemeanor lies in the threat posed to the officers or members of the public.  The more reckless the driving behavior, the more likely the individual will be charged with a felony.  As for Mayor Wright, we will have to wait to see whether a judge or jury believes he is guilty of the felony or the lesser included misdemeanor.

Goff Voltin can help!

If you have been charged with evade and elude, whether it be the felony or misdemeanor, the attorneys of Goff Voltin, PLLC are here to help.  Our attorneys have handled numerous evade and elude cases in and around Hampton Roads.  Goff Voltin, PLLC provides representation in Newport News, Williamsburg, Hampton, Portsmouth, York County, Norfolk, and throughout all of Hampton Roads.  We will diligently work with you to obtain the facts of the case, pursue all available discovery from the Commonwealth, and research the case law to put on the most aggressive defense possible.  Call our office today for a free consultation.