Fleeing Police by Car is a Violent Felony

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on June 10, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court has ruled that fleeing police is a violent felony.

In a 6-3 decision in Sykes v. United States, Marcus Sykes was appealing his enhanced federal sentence under the Armed Criminal, Career Criminal Act. The Act meant that Sykes got a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence that was enhanced due to his prior felonies - one of them being fleeing from police, reports CNN.

Sykes had been seen by officers driving at night without headlights. When police flashed their emergency sirens, he took off, starting a chase that included Sykes ramming through a fence and crashing into a house, reports CNN.

Sykes' appeal focused on whether or not the flight was a "violent felony." He admitted that he did flee from police, but that it wasn't exactly "violent."

Unfortunately for Sykes, the majority of the justices agreed with the original decision that fleeing from the police by car was in fact a "violent felony." Under federal law, violent felonies are felonies that can present a "serious potential risk of physical injury to another," reports CNN.

Looking at a police chase - the criminal is in fact putting the lives and safety of others in jeopardy, because fleeing from the police seems to invite potential danger to innocent bystanders, according to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion.

Justice Antonin Scalia probably had the sharpest dissenting opinion. Sykes' appeal is the fourth time the Court has considered the definition of a "violent felony" under the career criminal law, and he believes that fourth time was enough - and that the law should be void due to its vague nature.

Why is there even a federal law to enhance sentences for so-called "career criminals?" It's likely to prevent recidivism, or repeat offenses.

So, the Supreme Court decision in Sykes v. United States does mean that fleeing police is a violent felony under federal law. And, maybe rightfully so - in Kennedy's ruling he cited to a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police showing that 7,737 police pursuits resulted in 313 injuries to police and bystanders from 2001-2007, reports CNN.

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