High Court: ‘Actual endangerment’ not required for aggravated fleeing conviction

Politics - Government

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Suspects fleeing from police can face a felony for putting people in danger, even if there’s not another actual person present. In a 4-to-1 decision, the State Supreme Court ruled the crime of aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer does not require proof of actual endangerment.

“We interpret the aggravated fleeing statute to require only that a defendant willfully and carelessly drove so dangerously that the defendant created a risk of harm, a risk that could have endangered some in the community. We come to this conclusion after conducting a thorough statutory construction analysis,” the Court’s majority wrote in an opinion by Justice Barbara J. Vigil, according to a news release.

The case stems from the conviction of Sean Vest, who led police on a high-speed chase through Las Cruces in 2014. The officer testified that there was minimal traffic at the time. The state Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, saying aggravated fleeing requires another person to be at risk.

The Supreme Court disagreed, saying a fleeing suspect should not be absolved of criminal liability just because they were lucky enough to drive dangerously with no one around. Justice David Thomson dissented on the basis the legislature should make the decision what constitutes aggravate fleeing not the judiciary.

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