Noting a concerning trend of an increase in incidents of drivers attempting to elude the police and high-speed chases in Linn County, Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks conducted an audit of all eluding arrests in Linn County since the beginning of the year. The results were alarming, and the data was insightful.
Maybanks found that since the beginning of 2023, there has been one eluding incident resulting in criminal charges every 2.7 days in Linn County. Specifically, he noted that over a recent period of nine days from April 16 through April 24, there were six eluding incidents.
“We are on pace to charge more eluding offenses than we did in 2021 and 2022, despite increases in penalties for repeat offenders and unyielding prosecution of violators,” Maybanks said.
“In 2020, our office prosecuted 97 Eluding charges. In 2021 and 2022, we prosecuted 111 and 112, respectively. In 2023, we are on pace to increase that number to 129. This increase is confounding given the increased penalties passed by the legislature in recent years, including an enhancement for repeat offenders.”
Maybanks is concerned about the continued increase and incidents of eluding being more brazen than in past years.
“Eluding the police is a seriously dangerous driving offense that puts the public at significant risk of personal injury and property damage on the roadways of Linn County. When a driver makes the reckless decision to attempt to elude the police instead of immediately pulling over, there could be dangerous consequences for innocent victims, police officers, and the offenders, as well as substantial criminal consequences. Those consequences always outweigh the consequences of merely pulling over when an officer activates lights and sirens to make a traffic stop,” warned Maybanks.
Maybanks emphasizes there is never a good reason to elude the police but there are some aggravating factors that appear often in eluding cases that may contribute to the “reason” a driver tries to elude police. Maybanks audited all eluding offenses that the County Attorney’s Office has charged in 2023 to see what factors most contribute to a person’s decision to take the highly dangerous step of eluding the police instead of merely stopping for the lights and sirens of a squad car.
He found that the most frequent aggravating factors are:
- Drugs on the person or in the car – 15
- Invalid driver’s license status – 11
- Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs – 10
- Warrants for driver’s arrest – 7
- Firearm in the car – 5
- Stolen car – 3
Reflecting on the data, Maybanks noted, “Most drug offenses are misdemeanors for personal use amounts, and a first or second offense OWI is a misdemeanor. Charges involving driving without a valid driver’s license are also misdemeanors. Even in the case of a firearm charge or a stolen car charge that could be a felony, eluding only adds an extra felony on top of it. Eluding the police not only endangers the public, the offender, and our police when the offender is caught – and they will be caught – it only makes it worse than what would’ve happened if they would’ve just stopped.”
Maybanks noted that Governor Reynolds signed HF358 on April 28, 2023, which makes any eluding offense where the offender exceeds the speed limit by 25 mph or more a felony, instead of an aggravated misdemeanor. Previously, a felony eluding must have involved an offender exceeding the speed limit by 25 mph or more and another aggravating factor such as the person being under the influence of alcohol, having drugs in their car, or causing injury to someone else. This new law signed by Governor Reynolds was a bill that Maybanks brought to the Iowa County Attorney’s Association for consideration last fall and was later sponsored by the Iowa House and Senate where it passed overwhelmingly. Now that Governor Reynolds has signed this bill into law, what had previously been an aggravated misdemeanor under Iowa law, now becomes a felony beginning July 1, 2023. A person who commits a second offense of Eluding will be looking at a class C felony and a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Maybanks, who reviews daily arrests ranging from driving offenses to violent felonies in Linn County, has also seen cases where the reason for not stopping was even more inexplicable:
“One offender explained their reason for not stopping by saying, ‘I was stupid.’ Another offender said, ‘I was late for work,’ while another violator said, ’This is awesome.’ We had one person actually tell law enforcement that they had to get money to their sister so she could go to the mall,” Maybanks said.
Maybanks has heard the theory sometimes raised that a person who eludes the police is doing so because they are afraid of the police. He noted that his audit only revealed one case where the offender said that they did not stop for police because they were “afraid,” and that offender did not specify that fear was of the police themselves. Maybanks noted that in any event, that offender was also suspended from driving.
Maybanks is sounding the alarm and warns potential offenders that:
- Penalties for eluding increase this year;
- The Linn County Attorney’s Office has a zero-tolerance policy for eluding offenses; and
- The penalty for eluding will likely end up being worse than the penalty for any ongoing crime the offender is committing.
He warned the public to be on alert as well. “The public should be on notice that eluding offenses are on the rise and that legislators, law enforcement, and prosecutors are doing their best to stop these offenses, however, the public should always be alert and aware and the best way to avoid being a victim is to immediately pull over and let officers do their job,” Maybanks said.