Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury
Leaving the scene of personal injury is a serious offense that carries a license suspension and the possibility of jail time.Elements of Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury
In order to convict a defendant of leaving the scene of personal injury, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:
- Operated a motor vehicle;
- On a public way;
- Knowingly collided with another person causing injury; and
- Failed to stop and provide his or her name, residence, and motor vehicle registration.
The second element is ordinarily easy to prove – the Commonwealth must establish that a driver was operating (or otherwise in control of) the car and that the operation occurred on a public way (any road maintained by the local, state, or federal government). The fourth element is also usually not in dispute, because if the defendant had stopped and provided his or her information, leaving the scene of personal injury charges would not have issued. Therefore, most leaving the scene of personal injury defendants dispute the first and third elements – that he or she was the driver and knowingly collided with another person, causing injury to that person. There are two general avenues of defense for these types of cases.
Identification – Because the driver of the car failed to stop after the accident, identity of the driver will almost always be an issue. It is not sufficient for the Commonwealth to prove only that the defendant owned the car. The Commonwealth must also prove that the defendant was driving the car at the time of the accident. Any eyewitnesses who claimed to identify the defendant would be subject to an aggressive cross-examination regarding issues such as:
- the speed of the car;
- whether the driver of the car was wearing a hat or anything that might have shielded his or her face;
- the lighting conditions;
- the manner in which the car drove away; and
- whether there were passengers that might have blocked the driver’s face from being seen.
When the investigating police officers believe they have identified the driver, they will often seek to have the independent witnesses confirm the identity in one of two ways:
- Show-Up Identification – In some cases, the police will bring the witnesses to a location where the alleged driver is waiting so the witnesses can either confirm or deny the driver’s identification. These identification procedures are typically very suggestive (particularly if the suspect is in handcuffs, as is often the case), and may be challenged by motions to suppress. Attorney Spring has won motions to suppress on this issue.
- Photograph Lineup – Sometimes the police will compile a number of photographs (usually 8), including the defendant’s photograph, to show to the witnesses with the hope that the witnesses will be able to pick out the defendant and identify him or her as the driver. There are strict rules the police must follow in order to properly execute a photographic lineup and admit the results in court. Attorney Spring has successfully argued motions to suppress the results of photographic lineups in court.
Knowing Collision with Another Person – In many of these cases, the defendant is unaware that he or she has collided with another person. Particularly if it is dark outside and the defendant backs into the victim, there becomes a serious issue regarding the defendant’s state of mind. If the defendant did not know that a person was struck, he or she cannot be found guilty of leaving the scene of personal injury.