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Leaving the Scene of an Accident

If you were involved in a traffic crash, the law requires that you remain at the scene until you have exchanged information. If anyone was hurt, you must 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 decided 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, under Florida Statute Section 316.062 you are required 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, under the same Statute you are required 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.

This law does give an exception to “fully autonomous vehicle[s].” The exception states that if a car is being fully operated without human input, the vehicle owner, or the fully autonomous vehicle, need only promptly contact a law enforcement agency to report the crash.

However, if anyone leaves the scene before these requirements are met, they could face criminal 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

Under Florida Statute Section 316.061 you could be charged with a misdemeanor of the second degree when you are involved in an accident that damages a vehicle or other property and you leave the scene. This is punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation, and a fine of up to $500.

The penalties are much more serious if anyone was injured in the accident. Florida Statute Section 316.027(2)(a) 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 year’s probation, and up to a $5,000 fine.

Under the same Statute’s subsection (2)(b) a person accused of willfully leaving the scene of an accident involving serious injury of any person can be charged with a second-degree felony, with penalties ranging up to fifteen years in prison, fifteen years’ probation, and up to a $10,000 fine.

The same Statute’s subsection (2)(c) increases the charges for an accident involving death to a first-degree felony. The punishments for this charge include a minimum of 4 years in prison with a maximum of fifteen years, up to fifteen year’s probation, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Under the same Statute’s subsection (2)(d) & (e), for charges involving a violation of injury, serious injury, or death, the court orders that the person convicted make restitution, monetary or otherwise, and for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to revokes their license for at least 3 years.

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.

Under this statute, a driver who was previously convicted of leaving the scene of a car accident involving death or injury, whether or not it was a DUI, will automatically 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 other people 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.” Beyond a reasonable doubt means that the prosecutor must prove that every element of their case was present and, other than some far-fetched and improbable possibility, it happened the way they said it did. Even though this is a tough standard to prove, prosecutors do it all the time.

The defendant normally doesn’t have to prove anything unless they are making an “affirmative defense.” An affirmative defense is a defense that comes into play when the defendant admits the charge but avoids either all or some of the liability by introducing an excuse that justified their actions at the time.

A good criminal defense lawyer in Tallahassee will look for holes in the Prosecutor’s argument and will exploit those holes. The standard of proof applies to every element of the charge:

  1. That the accused was involved in the accident,
  2. That the person left the scene without meeting the obligations set in Florida law and,
  3. In cases involving injury or death, that the person willfully left the scene of the accident.

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 the person left willfully, the judge or jury must acquit them. This is only one hypothetical to show how a criminal defense attorney might look for holes in the prosecutor’s case.

A claim of lack of mental capacity could be a valid affirmative defense to the crime of leaving the scene.

Florida Statute Section 775.027 defines the insanity defense as the defendant being declared to have been insane at the time of the crime or attempted crime. Insanity is defined as a mental infirmity, disease, or defect. In the case of a “Hit and Run,” the Defendant can attempt to prove that they lacked the mental capacity to commit the crime due to a mental defect from the crash.

In cases where the person can show that they lacked the guilty mind element, they are able to instead ask the court to help them be rehabilitated instead of being punished.

The following must be established for an insanity defense:

  • The defendant had a mental disease, infirmity, or defect; and
  • Due to the mental condition, the defendant:
    1. Did not have an understanding of what they were doing or the consequences of their actions; or
    2. Even if the defendant was aware of their actions and their consequences, the defendant did not have an understanding that their actions were wrong.

Case Examples

The Court in Booker v. State, found that due to the defendant’s car spinning around and their rear-end colliding with a stopped patrol car, the specific facts pointed that there was insufficient evidence showing that the driver knew or should have known that the crash caused injuries to a third vehicle hit by the patrol car.

In Booker, the defendant was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries. The defendant lost control of his vehicle around the early evening hours and struck the back of a patrol car that was aiding a stopped motorist on the side of the road. The defendant, whose car was still facing away from the crash, attempted to leave the scene of the accident but due to the damage to his car was only able to drive a few feet away.

The Court in Booker explained that the Prosecution can’t establish the willfulness requirement by a simple showing that an accident occurred. Evidence must be presented that establishes that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that injuries to a person could have occurred. The Court emphasized that this is especially true when there are multiple vehicles that are struck due to the defendant’s actions. The Court in Booker went on to differentiate Martin v. State, 323 So.2d 666, 667 (Fla. 3d DCA 1975), where the Prosecutor was able to present evidence that Martin t-boned the other car and that the damage was extensive. Because of the “the nature of the impact and the extent of damage to the vehicles,” the court in Martin found that the defendant should have known that an injury could have occurred to the other driver.

In Martin v. State, the Court found that a defendant claiming he sustained a concussion before leaving the accident is an affirmative defense that should be left to a jury. The court found that a defendant‘s “claim of head injury which might result in an incapacity to form a criminal intent” is similar to “a defense of insanity at the time of the act in that it claimed a lack of mental capacity.” This case is a great example of how the courts allow defendants the opportunity to bring up defenses based on the specific facts of their case.

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 of 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 conducting 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 Tallahassee 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.

Nolle Prosequi in Florida – What does it mean? The common term for Nolle Prosequi is known as the dismissal of the case. In Florida, the Prosecution has the discretion of dismissing the case without prejudice. Dismissing without prejudice means that the prosecutor may later be able to re-file charges against the defendant, though they are still subject to certain rules and restrictions such as double jeopardy, the speedy trial rule, and even if neither of those applies, the Prosecutor may still be barred by a statute of limitations.

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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 as a 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 or leave an online message to discuss your charges or possible charges. Schedule a free consultation with an attorney today!

Page updated May 24th, 2022

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