A Spokane police officer woke up, put on his uniform, and went to work. As it turns out, that was enough to convict Michael Connors of a felony.
In State v. Connors, a case decided this past week, the defendant appealed his conviction for attempting to elude a police vehicle, a Class C felony that carries a maximum of five years in prison.
To convict a defendant of this crime, the State must prove three basic things: (1) a uniformed police officer signaled the defendant to stop using hand signals, voice, emergency lights, or siren; (2) the driver refused to stop after being signaled; and (3) the driver drove away recklessly in a willful attempt to get away from the pursuing police officer.
If a case like this went to trial, and you were on the jury, you would probably assume that the main issue would be whether the driver knew a police officer was following him … or whether he was actually trying to get away (maybe he was just trying to find a safe place to pull over?)
You probably wouldn't assume the case would hinge on whether the police officer was in uniform, but that is exactly what the Court of Appeals had to decide.
The facts in Connors were pretty straightforward. Connors was driving a stolen car when a Spokane police officer signaled him to stop. At the time, the officer was wearing a black external vest over his normal clothes. The vest had a “Spokane Police” badge on the front. The vest also had “clear black reflective letters across the back” that said police.
Instead of stopping, Connors sped away to an apartment complex, jumped out of the car, and ran away. Not to spoil the ending, but he didn't get away. After trial, a court found him guilty of attempting to elude a police vehicle.
The sole issue on appeal was whether the officer was wearing a “uniform.” Connors argued that the officer was not actually wearing a “uniform” because he was “predominantly dressed in normal clothes.”
RCW 46.61.204 (the eluding statute) does not define the word “uniform,” but the Court of Appeals had a secret weapon at its disposal—Webster's Dictionary. A uniform is defined as a “dress of a distinctive sign or fashion adopted by or prescribed for members of a particular group … serving as a means of identification.”
By this definition, the Spokane officer chasing Connors was clearly in uniform. The vest clearly notified the public that he was an official member of the Spokane Police Department.
And the fact that was wearing civilian clothes under his vest certainly does notmean he was not in uniform, because some uniforms are not as comprehensive as others.