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Leaving the Scene of an Accident

If you were involved in a traffic crash, you should remain at the scene until you have exchanged information. If anyone was hurt, stay at the scene until help arrives.

Despite the law, the seconds after an auto accident are confusing. When you are in a state of complete panic, one of the oldest and deepest human instincts might kick in: the urge to take flight and flee the scene. Leaving the scene of an accident doesn't necessarily mean someone is cowardly, callous or avoiding responsibility. Very often, it's just the result of sheer terror. Looking back, you may not even remember how you made the decision to leave the scene.

Florida law makes leaving the scene of an accident without giving information or rendering aid (commonly called a "hit and run") a crime. This includes wrecks involving mere damage to another vehicle or property (with no injury to any person) and crashes involving injuries (such as serious bodily injury or even death). It does not matter whether the person leaving the scene was at fault for the crash - that person can still be charged with a crime.

Crimes for leaving the scene can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the harm caused in the crash. If you've been in an accident and left the scene, or you've been charged with leaving the scene of an accident, a Tallahassee criminal lawyer will be able to help you at every stage of the investigation.

The attorneys at Pumphrey Law are familiar with tactics used by the hit-and-run investigators with the Leon County Sheriff's Office, the Tallahassee Police Department and the Florida Highway Patrol. We can help you invoke your right to remain silent and your right to have an attorney represent you.

Attorney for "Leaving the Scene" in Tallahassee, FL

The attorneys at Pumphrey Law are experienced Leon County criminal defense lawyers who will fight for you against the misdemeanor or felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Our lawyers can help you understand the charges and what possible penalties you might face. We can fight for your rights to avoid an unjust prosecution. If you are charged, we can seek to have your charges reduced or dismissed.

After leaving the scene, a criminal investigation has begun. Never make a statement to law enforcement until after you have retained an attorney. If you are facing hit-and-run charges in Tallahassee, FL, Leon County or the surrounding areas, then call our lawyers today at (850) 681-7777. We can help you fight the prosecution and hold on to your driving privileges.

The attorneys at Pumphrey Law represent clients throughout the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida, including Leon County, Wakulla County, Gadsden County, Liberty County or Jefferson County, or the cities of Tallahassee, Crawfordville, Quincy, Bristol and Monticello.


Information About Leaving the Scene


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Defining Charges for Leaving the Scene

Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious traffic offense. If you get in any kind of auto accident in Florida, state law requires you to give any other party involved your name, address, and your car's registration number. If asked, you also are required to show your driver's license or permit.

If the other person is injured, Florida law requires you to offer "reasonable assistance," including taking the person to receive medical care or calling an ambulance or other medical services for that person. You are required to stay at the scene of the accident until you have fulfilled all of these duties. The law makes no distinction between those who are responsible for the accident or not. All parties must exchange information and render aid to anyone injured.

If anyone leaves the scene before these requirements are met, he or she could face charges for leaving the scene of an accident. The penalties for these charges depend on whether there was property damage, injury or death involved.


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Penalties and Consequences for Leaving the Scene of an Accident

If you are involved in any accident with damage to the vehicle or other property and you left the scene, you could be charged with a misdemeanor of the second degree, under Florida Statute 316.061. This is punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation and a fine up to $500.

The penalties are much more serious if anyone was injured in the accident. Florida Statute 316.027 states that any person accused of willfully leaving the scene of an accident involving injury of any person can be charged with a third-degree felony, with penalties ranging up to five years in prison, five years probation and up to a $5,000 fine.

If the accident involved death, the charges increase to a first-degree felony. The punishments for this charge include a minimum 21 months in prison with a maximum of 15 years, up to 15 years probation and a fine up to $10,000. For any charges involving injury or death, the court orders the person convicted to make restitution, monetary or otherwise, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles revokes that person's license.

If a driver was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a controlled substance and fled the scene after an automobile accident, the mandatory minimum sentence is two years. A driver who previously was convicted of leaving the scene of a car accident involving death or injury, whether or not it was a DUI, will be held in custody until bail is determined.

On top of the penalties listed, you may face other consequences. A conviction could stay on your criminal record and make it difficult to get a job or housing. If you lose your license, it could also deeply affect your job prospects. The stakes are too high to go at it alone.

In addition, if you were in an accident that caused damage to another person's property or injury to another person, you could be the victim of a civil suit. The others involved may enlist the help of a personal injury attorney and seek damages. If the accident resulted in death, the victim's family could seek damages.


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Possible Defenses to Leaving the Scene

To convict, the prosecution must prove their case "beyond a reasonable doubt." The defendant must prove nothing, unless making an "affirmative defense." Beyond a reasonable doubt means, basically, that the prosecutor must prove every element of his or her case was present and, other than some far-fetched and improbable possibility, it happened the way they said it did. That's a tough standard to prove. But prosecutors are able to prove it all the time.

A good criminal defense lawyer in Tallahassee will look for holes in the argument and will exploit those holes. The standard of proof applies for every element of the charge — that the accused was involved in the accident, that the person left the scene without meeting the obligations set in Florida law and, for cases involving injury or death, that the person did it willfully.

For example, a person may get in an accident in Tallahassee, receive a head injury and wander away in shock. The prosecution may be able to prove that person was involved in the accident, there was an injury and the person left without fulfilling her obligations.

But if the driver walked off while in shock, the prosecution may have a hard time proving that person did it willfully. If the prosecution cannot prove he or she left willfully, the judge or jury must acquit. This is only one hypothetical to show how a criminal defense attorney might look for holes in the prosecutor's case.

The claim of lack of mental capacity could be a valid defense to the crime of leaving the scene. See § 316.027(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2012); Martin v. State, 323 So.2d 666, 667 (Fla. 3d DCA 1975).


Additional Resources

Hit-and-Run Investigations by the Leon County Sheriff's Office - Visit the website of the Leon County Sheriff's Office to learn more about "hit and run" investigations by the traffic enforcement unit. As part fo the Special Operations Section, the traffic enforcement unit is comprised of several deputies that perform follow-up investigations on "hit and run" crashes involving only property damage with unattended property damage, attended property damage with no injury, a crash with personal injury, serious bodily injury or death. Officers that investigate allegations of leaving the scene or failing to remain after the crash also have training in conducted accident reconstruction. Find breaking news about hit-and-run crashes that occurred yesterday or last week and remain unsolved.

Leaving the Scene Investigations by the Tampa Police Department - The Tallahassee Police Special Operations Division includes highly trained officers that respond to traffic complaint locations identified by citizens. The Tallahassee Police Department has two Hit and Run Investigators assigned to conduct follow-up investigations of all felony and misdemeanor hit and run traffic crashes involving a report that someone left the scene or failed to remain after a traffic crash. These officers will often talk to witnesses and track down the vehicles involved in the crash and their owners. The officers will then attempt to interrogate the owner of the vehicle to find out who was driving at the time of the offense.


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Finding an Attorney for Leaving the Scene Crimes in Leon County

If you've been charged with leaving the scene of an accident, whether misdemeanor or felony, or think you might be charged, a good defense could make the difference between a clean record and severe consequences.

The law is often unforgiving when it comes to an allegation that you failed to stop and remain at the scene of a traffic crash or accident. After the criminal investigation begins, any statements you make can be used against you to prove each and every element of the crime. Never make a statement to any law enforcement officer about how the crash occurred or whether you left the scene until after you have spoken to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

An attorney can help you protect your rights and explain your side of the story. An attorney can also help you with any insurance claim arising out of the hit and run crash. The Tallahassee lawyers for hit and run cases at Pumphrey Law are ready to represent you and fight for your rights.

Call us at (850) 681-7777 to discuss your charges or possible charges.


This article was last updated on Thursday, March 16, 2017.