Unmarked Police Car? You may not be required to pull over.

Written by Gregory Monte.

NOTE: The purpose of this post is to show how technicalities in the law can be used to win a traffic court case. In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that you should try to elude the police.

Eluding the Police

As you might imagine, eluding/evading a police office is a crime in all 50 states.  Below are two examples of how the law generally reads:

 Pennsylvania – Title 75, Section 3733(a):

  • “Any driver of a motor vehicle who willfully fails or refuses to bring his vehicle to a stop, or who otherwise flees or attempts to elude a pursuing police officer, when given a visual and audible signal to bring the vehicle to a stop, commits an offense …

California – Section 2800.1:

  • “Any person who, while operating a motor vehicle and with the intent to evade, willfully flees or otherwise attempts to elude a pursuing peace officer’s motor vehicle, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail …”

But the situation gets a bit trickier if the officer pursuing you is in an unmarked car – especially when he isn’t in uniform.

Some states actually provide an exception in this type of situation.  For example, in Subsection (c) of the Pennsylvania statute mentioned above …

  • It is a defense to a prosecution under this section that the pursuing police officer’s vehicle was not clearly identifiable by its markings or, if unmarked, was not occupied by a police officer who was in uniform and displaying a badge or other sign of authority.”

California’s Section 2800 provides defenses similar to Pennsylvania’s.


When is a Marking Not a Marking?

So, it appears that the issue comes down to whether the lights and sirens of an unmarked car are sufficient to identify that vehicle as operated by the police or whether some other markings are necessary.

A 2018 Superior Court case from Pennsylvania, Commonwealth v. King, 2018 PA Super 239, specifically addressed this ambiguity:

  • “On the one hand, it is conceivable to conclude … that the term ‘markings’ encompasses a vehicle’s ‘lights and siren,’ as cars equipped with lights and sirens tend to identify the vehicles as police vehicles to the general public. On the other hand, it is also conceivable to conclude … that the term ‘markings’ only encompasses a car’s decals and graphics that identify it as a police vehicle.”

Without getting too bogged down quoting complicated laws, there is another section of the PA code which actually defines the important terms involved in this case – Title 37, Section 42.3:

  • Marked police vehicle—A police vehicle that is equipped with at least one light-bar assembly and displays graphics, markings or decals identifying the agency or department on a minimum of three sides (front, rear, left or right).”
  • Unmarked police vehicle—A police vehicle not equipped with a roof mounted light-bar assembly. The vehicle may display graphics, markings or decals, identifying the agency or department.”

Technicalities: The Only Sure-Fire Way to Beat a Traffic Ticket

According to the decision in Commonwealth v. King cited earlier, lights and sirens are not sufficient to identify a police vehicle, only graphics and decals are. 

  • “The testimony at trial of the detectives who arrested Appellant unequivocally indicates that they were driving an unmarked police vehicle that only had lights and a siren … the detectives were not in uniform, but were in plain clothes. Id. Accordingly, we hold that because the police vehicle that pursued Appellant was unmarked and that the officers inside that unmarked vehicle were not in uniform, Appellant’s claim regarding the defense of Section 3733(c)(1) has merit.”

There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. King knew he was being pursued by police officers – but he still won the case.  Crazy as it sounds, facts are irrelevant when a defendant can use a technicality in the law which a judge (like the one in this case) has to accept whether he wants to or not.

Which leads to my own Traffic Ticket Defense Strategy.  I firmly believe that technicalities are the only sure-fire way to win in the courtroom.  If you think that your testimony is  going to convince a judge to side with you when the cop says the opposite, you are naïve.  The judge will believe the cop’s version of events over a defendant almost all of the time. 

If you want to find out how I use technicalities in my traffic ticket defense strategy, check out my three free PDFs:

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