Legislators to increase penalties for fleeing

Published 5:46 pm Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Alabama House and Senate agree that the state should increase the penalties for motorists who flee from police officers, but they haven’t settled on the details of how to do that.

The House voted 103-0 Thursday for penalty legislation by Republican Rep. Spencer Collier of Bayou La Batre. A short while later, the Senate voted 26-0 for a different bill by Republican Sen. Rusty Glover of Semmes.

For the penalties to increase, the Senate must pass Collier’s bill or the House must approve Glover’s bill.

Fleeing a police officer is currently a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine. State records show Alabama had 1,400 convictions in 2007 for fleeing from police.

Collier, a former state trooper, said a stiffer penalty is needed because too many innocent motorists are being injured or killed by drivers trying to flee from a traffic stop. Law enforcement groups have been pushing for stronger punishment.

Both bills increase the maximum punishment for a routine misdemeanor case to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine.

Collier’s bill provides that if the driver causes injury or death, the offense increases to a felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison.

Glover’s bill is much broader. It provides for a felony offense, punishable by one to 10 years in prison, when the motorist is fleeing at more than 30 mph over the speed limit, shows reckless disregard for the safety of people or property, flees with an innocent person as a passenger, commits more than three traffic violations while pursued, commits a felony prior to being pursued, injures anyone, or is driving under the influence of liquor or drugs.

“This will save lives,” Glover said.

Both bills provide safeguards for motorists who slow down, turn on their flashers or take other steps to acknowledge the officer, but keep driving until they get to a well-lighted area to stop.

Female lawmakers insisted that such safeguards be contained in the bills because of problems with fake officers trying to pull over women at night. “I don’t plan to stop in some dark or unsafe area because there might be a policeman behind me,” Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, said.