Can police commandeer your car? Suppose you are driving when suddenly a police officer stands in front of your car, saying, “Get out! I am commandeering this vehicle.” Perhaps, this is one of those Hollywood duties you do as a citizen, or maybe not.
Do you comply, or more pertinently, should you comply with the police officer?
Can police commandeer your car?
In many states, for example, California, you are obligated to comply with a law enforcement officer who properly identifies themselves and requests your help to:
- Prevent a crime
- Arrest a suspect
- Recapture an escaping arrestee or prisoner
If you decline to help, you may be fined according to your state laws if your ground for defense is not reasonable.
It is not common for the police to commandeer vehicles but when they do not have the proper resources to enforce the law, they are forced to do so.
The state actor or police officer will call upon you to go after fugitives or catch a fleeing suspect. This will require them to use your vehicle to further their efforts.
Courts may as well uphold the cause of the police having to commandeer your car. In extraordinary occasions of immediate and impending public danger, your car is needed.
However, the public danger needs to be “immediate”, “imminent”, and “impending”. The emergency needs to be extreme and imperative, such that will not admit delay or that mandates extreme power.
A cop chasing a suspect on foot technically has the right to request your car. Nonetheless, it could be considered theft under criminal statutes.
There is, however, a defense of necessity under criminal statutes. When there is a necessity, there has to be an imminent and substantial danger.
The police will also use the defense of exigent circumstances to commandeer your car in hot pursuit of someone who committed or is committing a crime.
Therefore, if the police can commandeer your car will depend on the circumstances.
What if your commandeered car is destroyed?
The main problem is what to do if your car is damaged or destroyed in the process it was commandeered.
You may be able to find a remedy in trespass under civil law – chattels or conversion.
A chattel refers to any movable personal property, and being commandeered out of your car for a substantial amount of time is considered a trespass.
Conversion refers to the taking of a person’s property and damaging or destroying it.
Generally, the police have immunity from being sued, except they act in negligence. Suppose a cop commandeers your vehicle and blows it up during a high-speed chase, it may be considered gross negligence.
If all measures, including reporting to your local police, fail, your insurance may cover any vehicle damage.
Should you stop and let the cop take your car?
Whether or not you should stop to let a police officer take your car is up to you.
However, it is not common for police officers to commandeer cars. And if your car is damaged in this unlikely situation, ensure to contact a reputable insurance coverage attorney to get compensated.