Leaving the Scene of Death
A defendant who is convicted of leaving the scene of an accident in which the victim dies faces a minimum mandatory one-year jail term in addition to a license suspension.Elements of Leaving the Scene of Death
The Commonwealth must prove four things to convict a defendant of leaving the scene of death. The elements are that the defendant:
- Operated (drove or otherwise controlled) a motor vehicle;
- On a public way (any roadway maintained by the government or open to the public);
- Knowingly struck another person, which caused that person’s death; and
- Did not stop and provide his or her name and other identifying information, in an effort to avoid prosecution or evade apprehension.
In most cases, the second element is not disputed, because the majority of these accidents happen on public streets or places where the public has access (such as restaurant parking lots). The prosecutor also does not typically have a problem proving the fourth element because if the defendant had pulled over and either given his or her name and identifying information to people at the scene of the accident (or waited for the police to arrive), he or she would not have been charged with leaving the scene of death in the first place. Therefore, it is the first and third elements (that the defendant was driving the motor vehicle in question and knowingly hit someone else) that are ordinarily disputed by the defendant. Attorney Spring usually defends these cases in one of two ways.Identification – The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving the car that struck and killed another person. Because the motorist drove away from the scene, it will often be hard for the Commonwealth to prove the identity of the driver. Even proof hat the defendant owns the car that was involved in the accident is not enough for the defendant to be convicted - it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she was driving at the time of the deadly accident. Attorney Spring will aggressively cross-examine any eyewitnesses who testify that the defendant was the driver by exploring the following issues:
- how fast the car was driving;
- whether the person driving the car was wearing sunglasses or a hat or anything else that might have shielded his or her face;
- whether the area was well-lit;
- whether there was any erratic operation as the car drove away; and
- whether passengers, windshield decals, or ornaments hanging from the rear view mirror could have hidden the driver's face.
Independent eyewitnesses are often asked by the police to identify the driver in the following ways:
- Show-Up Identification – A police officer will bring the eyewitness directly to the person who the police believe was driving the car. The officer will ask the eyewitness to confirm that the person being detained was driving the car involved in the accident. Show-up identifications are often unnecessarily suggestive and are vulnerable to motions to suppress once the case is in court. Attorney Spring has convinced judges to suppress the results of show-up identifications in cases alleging leaving the scene of an accident.
- Photograph Lineup – The police sometimes present eyewitnesses with a series of photographs that include the defendant and others who bear some resemblance to the defendant. The police will ask eyewitnesses to look at all of the photos and see if they can pick out the defendant as the driver. The police are required to follow a series of procedural rules in order to give the results of the photo lineup to the jury. Attorney Spring has convinced judges to suppress the results of photo lineups in these types of cases when the police have failed to follow the rules.
Knowing Collision with Another Person – If the Commonwealth can prove the defendant was the driver at the time of the accident, the second avenue of defense is the knowledge element. The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew he or she hit someone else and decided not to stop and make his or her identity known. Defendants can often argue that they were not aware they struck another person, particularly if the accident occurred when it was dark outside and the weather conditions were not ideal. If the Commonwealth cannot prove the knowledge element, the defendant must be found not guilty.