Legal Lessons from Fatal Police Chase Crash: Part 1
Man Charged in Fatal Police Chase Crash to Undergo Mental Evaluation
A Virginia man facing a variety of charges (including murder) for a police chase that ended in a fatal crash has been ordered to undergo a mental evaluation before he stands trial. Rakim Kilpatrick of Richmond, who has a history of mental issues for which he has been previously hospitalized, is accused of driving his SUV through a red light while fleeing police, resulting in a collision that killed a woman. Prior to this collision he also sideswiped another vehicle. He is charged with murder, fleeing the scene of an accident, possession of a handgun as a convicted felon, and eluding police. He is also charged with driving on a suspended license and reckless driving.
Although the initial stop leading to the chase was on the basis of a reckless driving allegation, the case presents a whole host of complex issues of criminal law as a result of what happened next. Part one of this post explains the issues presented by the original reckless driving stop, the decision to elude police, attempting to flee the scene of a collision, and the specific implications for traffic-related offenses. Part two of this post discusses the issues presented by the murder charge, the mental competence evaluation, the gun charge, and the broader implications related to criminal law.
As noted above, the initial attempted traffic stop was related to allegations of reckless driving. In Virginia, reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense. This means that unlike in most jurisdictions where it is a mere traffic infraction, it has criminal consequences. Nevertheless, these consequences are in most cases far less severe than the potential consequences and risks involved in fleeing an officer. In this case, the suspect had a criminal history and was illegally possessing a gun. In his case, the gun would likely have been discovered because he was likely subject to search as a parolee. In any event, he likely faced more severe consequences than the typical reckless driving suspect. However, as explained below and in the second installment, his decision to flee ultimately resulted in far worse potential legal consequences than a parole violation or conviction for unlawful weapons possession. He would likely have gone back to prison had he not fled, but he would be facing far less time than he now does, and he would not have to live with having killed someone.
Eluding the Police
The incident here escalated from a misdemeanor to a felony when Mr. Kilpatrick decided to flee. Granted, it arguably was already a felony due to his possession of a firearm, but we have no way of knowing whether the police would have exercised the discretion to search him on a simple reckless driving charge—even though they could have searched him based on his parolee status.
Leaving the Scene of an Accident
The charge of leaving the scene of an accident presumably arises from the sideswipe prior to the fatal crash. The reports are not clear as to whether Mr. Kilpatrick continued his attempt to flee the police after the fatal crash, but collisions of that nature very often bring the chase to an end by disabling the fleeing vehicle, injuring the suspect, or both. Regardless of whether we assume that he continued his attempts to flee after the fatal collision, continuing his flight after the first collision is enough to establish this charge.
Don’t Flee. Contact an Attorney.
If you are pulled over or get into an accident, the worst possible decision you can make is to attempt to flee. Doing this not only increases the severity of the charges against you, but also puts you and others in danger. On top of these risks, your chances of escaping are extremely slim. Even if you know you are in violation of the law, the best thing you can do when you are pulled over is to stop and request an attorney. You may have defenses you are unaware of, and the skilled Leesburg, Fairfax and Prince William County attorneys at Simms Showers will be able to identify and effectively argue these defenses for you. You can’t talk your way out of an arrest, and you can’t outrun the police. Attempting to do either of these things is likely to only get you into more trouble. Instead of acting or speaking rashly in the moment, remain calm and get the help of a legal professional.