New Proof Required in Hit-and-Run Cases

As our Palm Beach and Broward County hit-and-run attorneys know, such cases aren’t always as straightforward as they might seem.
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Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that in order for someone to be convicted of leaving the scene of a crash involving an injury, the prosecution must prove that the person had “actual knowledge” they were in a crash in the first place.

This important ruling by the Court will certainly influence how individuals accused of leaving the scene of an accident will fight the charges against them and how people previously convicted of the crime might be able to appeal their convictions.

The Florida Supreme Court issued its ruling in connection with a case stemming from a June 2007 hit-and-run incident. In that accident, the defendant struck and injured a skateboarder. However, the defendant told police shortly after the crash that his radio had been playing very loudly at the time of the apparent collision, and thus he was unaware that he had hit anyone until police tracked him down 3 miles away. As it turns out, the skateboarder — who was a student at Boca Raton High — had been dragged 40+ feet near the intersection of North Ocean Boulevard and Palmetto Park Road. The defendant in that case, who had previously been sentenced to 2 years in prison, will be given a new trial.

According to the Sun Sentinel, the victim’s injuries included a traumatic brain injury, cuts, facial fractures, and a dislocated and fractured hip.

Our Palm Beach and Broward County hit-and-run lawyers know that the legal principle put forward by the Court — that a driver can’t be convicted of a hit-and-run if he didn’t know he had hit anyone and thus didn’t know that he was running from anything — does not directly speak to the issue of a victim’s injuries. Whether or not the damage caused by the accident was a broken finger or something as serious as brain trauma, if the driver was unaware that he had hit someone, the hit-and-run charge(s) cannot lead to convictions on such charges (although a host of other charges might and probably would be relevant).

That said, as our experienced hit-and-run attorney Douglas Leifert noted in the previously mentioned Sun Sentinel article, property damage can be used to prove knowledge of an accident. As he points out, “if you hit someone and they wind up on your windshield, how do you not know you were in an accident?” In other words, there will be some accidents with such property damage that it will be clear (to a jury) that the driver definitely knew he had hit someone or something.

Despite the qualifications, it’s evident that the Court’s ruling has placed a new and sensible burden of proof upon the prosecution. After all, why should someone have to pay for a crime they never even knew they committed?

While obviously beneficial for individuals accused of being involved in a hit-and-run incident in the future, the ruling also might prove helpful for people who have been convicted of the crime in the past. Our Palm Beach and Broward County hit-and-run lawyers know that if a defendant’s lawyer had made an objection related to the lack of proof that their client actually knew he had hit someone during the trial, and the defendant was later convicted, they can now appeal the case on the basis of the new Supreme Court ruling.

It’s important to note that this crucial legal development has taken place just as state legislators are working on a new law that would require 4 years in prison for someone convicted of leaving the scene of an accident causing death or serious harm.

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal defense issue, please contact our Palm Beach and Broward County hit-and-run lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to assisting you.

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