Can Police Commandeer Your Car In a Chase?

It’s probably one of the most common cliche’s in cop TV shows and movies–in the midst of a prolonged chase, the pursuing officer flashes his badge and commandeers some hapless citizen’s car to continue the chase. Would this actually be legal in real life?

Snopes is on the case, noting that laws vary from state-to-state on this sort of thing but using California as a representative example. Snopes first notes that California’s posse comitatus law requires individuals to assist in arresting suspects. But does that apply to the property–such as automobiles–as well?

That question has no definitive answer, at least in California. As far as we can tell, no one has even been tried (successfully or otherwise) for refusing to surrender his vehicle to a policeman. This isn’t surprising, since the invocation of posse comitatus to commandeer automobiles rarely occurs outside of movies, and even when it does, most citizens instinctively obey the orders of policemen without stopping to ponder whether they have a legal right to issue such orders. And if someone did balk at surrendering his car, the cop involved would likely be too busy trying to continue the pursuit to take the time to jot down the uncooperative driver’s license number for later prosecution. (A driver who didn’t want to yield his vehicle could probably skirt the law by offering to chase the suspect himself and take the officer along for the ride, but “He’s getting away; follow that car!” scenarios seem to be limited exclusively to cinematic taxis.)

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