A split federal appeals court has ruled that fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle does not qualify as a violent crime in Minnesota.
The ruling comes in the case of Gregory Tyler, who pleaded guilty to robbing a TCF bank, but appealed his 10-year prison sentence.
A federal judge in St. Paul ruled Tyler's previous conviction for fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle was a crime of violence, which qualified him as a career offender and meant more prison time.
Tyler appealed, and by a vote of 2-1, a panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him.
Writing for the majority, Judge Bobby Shepherd said Minnesota's statute requires "only that a perpetrator increase speed, extinguish motor vehicle headlights or taillights, refuse to stop...with intent to attempt to elude a peace officer."
"While such actions are admittedly disobedient, they do not necessarily translate into a serious potential risk of physical injury," he wrote.
He added that the majority didn't believe that turning off headlights or taillights to avoid being pulled over means "to act violently toward others." As a result, Tyler will be resentenced.
Writing in dissent, Judge Stephen Limbaugh, Jr. disagreed and called the majority's view a "recipe for disaster." Limbaugh said when a motorist flees a police officer, a chase ensues followed by a confrontation.
"By his actions, the fleeing offender has converted his vehicle to a dangerous instrumentality. And the pedestrians, bystanders, and other drivers who happen on the scene, not to mention the police themselves, are faced with a serious risk of physical injury," Limbaugh wrote.
There are differences among various regions of the country as to whether fleeing law enforcement in a motor vehicle qualifies as a violent crime.
For example, in Florida the offense is not classified as a violent crime. In Michigan, which has a law similar to Minnesota, it is considered a violent crime.