Leaving The Scene of an Accident: Four Things You Should Know
Car accidents are very common – in fact, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported over 400,000 car crashes in the state in 2018 alone. And in many cases of car accidents, drivers who are able will immediately stop to see if the other driver is all right, as well as to call 911, examine any damage and stay to give a statement to police. But, in some cases, a driver may have an automatic instinct to flee the scene.
Often, leaving the scene of an accident is referred to as a “hit-and-run,” in which one driver, typically the at-fault party, flees the accident without providing sufficient information on the crash or providing help. See four things below that you should know about hit-and-runs and leaving the scene.
What Florida law says about hit-and-runs
In the state of Florida, leaving the scene of an accident is regarded as a criminal traffic offense. In order to convict a driver of a hit-and-run, there are two elements that the prosecutor must prove. The first is that an accident or crash occurred, and it must have involved another person’s property which could be another vehicle, structure or building. The second part is that the driver left the scene of the accident without providing their information, including name, address, registration, driver’s license and any applicable insurance to the owner of the damaged property. If the owner of the damaged property is not available at the scene, then the duty to report the crash falls on the nearest law enforcement agency.
Consequences of leaving the scene
In cases where there is only property damage, the charge of a hit-and-run is punishable as a second-degree misdemeanor, for which the maximum penalty is 60 days in jail, a $500 fine, and/or six months of supervised probation. A conviction for this charge also carries six points on the driving record for the defendant. In cases where there is an injury, the crime is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine and/or five years of probation. In the extreme and unfortunate cases where there is a death, the crime is a first-degree felony with a minimum jail sentence of 21 months and a maximum sentence of 30 years, a $10,000 fine, and/or 30 years of probation.
‘Willfully’ is subject to determination
In the statute outlining hit-and-run laws, the term that is most highly scrutinized and subject to defense by an experienced criminal defense attorney is “willfully.” In some cases, there is a lack of knowledge or proof that an accident happened, and unless the driver admitted to knowing they were involved in an accident, this charge can’t necessarily be proven. However, circumstantial evidence and witness statements could also disprove a ‘lack of knowledge’ defense.
Why you need an attorney
If you’ve left the scene of an accident and are facing charges, you’ll need an experienced attorney to represent you in court. An attorney can craft potential strategies to build a solid defense, and in fact, a good criminal defense attorney may even attend court dates on your behalf. At the office of attorney Joseph Knape, we work diligently to resolve these cases and ensure you receive personal attention and guidance specific to your case.