There are thousands of investigations and/or charges for leaving the scene of an accident annually in Pinellas County, Florida. Some police departments such as St. Petersburg PD or the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office actually have departments devoted solely to investigating these crimes. The sheer volume of these accidents and the resources poured into the investigations results in many charges, especially for first time offenders. If you have been arrested for or given a citation for leaving the scene of an accident, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Unlike many other charges, leaving the scene of an accident cases can usually be dealt with quickly and reasonably if the proper steps are taken immediately. At St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney Sean McQuaid, I specialize in cases in Pinellas County. Over the course of my career, I have successfully handled countless cases for leaving the scene of an accident and I am confident that I can help you with whatever situation you might find yourself in.
What is Leaving the Scene of an Accident?
Leaving the scene of an accident is also commonly called hit and run. All drivers in Pinellas County are required to remain at the scene of the accident until certain requirements are met. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you could be issued a civil infraction like a traffic ticket, a misdemeanor, or even a felony.
Types of Charges for Leaving the Scene of an Accident:
Civil Infractions for Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Starting with the least serious offense first, under Florida Statute 316.062, you have a duty to give information and render aid if you have been in an accident. A violation of this statute is only a civil traffic infraction. The statute requires anyone involved in a crash to give their name, address, registration and driver’s license to any other party or law enforcement upon request. The statute also requires you to render reasonable assistance to a person injured in the crash, including carrying or making arrangements for the carrying of an injured person to a physician, surgeon or hospital. The purpose of this extra requirement is to prevent people from leaving injured people alone at the crash scene. Finally, the statute mandates that if the other person involved in the crash is not in a physical condition to receive your name, address, registration or license, and no law enforcement officer is present at the scene, to travel to the nearest police station to report the incident.
Misdemeanor Leaving the Scene of an Accident Charges
There are two types of misdemeanor leaving the scene charges; one for unattended vehicles and one for occupied vehicles. Under Florida Statute 316.061, if you have been involved in an accident that has only caused damage to an occupied vehicle, you must remain at the scene until you have provided your name, address, registration and driver’s license. Under Florida Statute 316.063, if you have been involved in an accident with an unattended vehicle or someone’s property, you first have a duty to try and locate the owner. If you cannot locate the owner, you are required to leave a note with your name, address, and registration number, and then report the incident to the nearest law enforcement office.
Both scenarios are second degree misdemeanors, which means you could get up to a $500 fine, up to 60 days in the Pinellas County Jail and six points on your driver’s license.
Felony Leaving the Scene of an Accident Charges
There are levels of felony charges for leaving the scene of an accident in Pinellas County. Under Florida Statute 316.027(2)(a), if you have been involved in an accident, failed to remain at the scene until you have provided your name, address, registration and driver’s license, and there is injury to someone that is not considered to be serious bodily injury, it is classified as a third degree felony and punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years in Florida State prison.
Under Florida Statute 316.027(2)(b), if you have been involved in an accident that results in serious bodily injury to another, and you have failed to remain at the scene until you have provided your name, address, registration number, and driver’s license, it is classified as a felony of the second degree and punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in Florida State prison. The term serious bodily injury is defined as an injury that creates a substantial risk of death, serious personal disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ.
Under Florida Statute 316.027(2)(c), if you have been involved in an accident that results in the death of another and you failed to remain at the scene until until you have provided your name, address, registration number, and driver’s license, it is classified as a felony of the first degree and punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 30 years in Florida State prison. Additionally, there is a 4 year minimum mandatory prison sentence that must be imposed.
Defenses to Leaving the Scene of an Accident
There are three main defenses to these charges. First, and most common, is the inability to prove that you were the driver of the vehicle that failed to stay at the scene. Putting a driver behind the wheel of the vehicle is an essential element to any prosecution for leaving the scene. If no one at the scene can identify you as the driver and you made no admissions, then the prosecutor will likely have to drop the case. The prosecutor may allege that the car is registered to you, etc, but that is not enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the driver.
The second defense that is commonly used is that the driver who left the scene was unaware that he or she had even been involved in an accident. This defense is credible and applicable for accidents that cause minor damage or that occur in parking lots. In these minor and low impact cases, it is difficult for the State to prove the charge based simply on the property damage alone. While they may be able to prove that your car was involved in an accident based on paint transfer or some scratching, it is often unlikely that minor damage that caused no sound or jarring to the vehicle would be known to the driver.
The third defense to these charges is that the driver actually stayed at the scene. There are two circumstances when this defense applies. The first is that the accused stayed at the scene for a reasonable amount of time, but that no law enforcement arrived. The second is that the accident scene was unsafe and thus the driver moved the vehicle to a safer place nearby. Under the right circumstances, both can be successfully used as defenses to the charges.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney
The Office of the State Attorney in Pinellas County is very conservative and prosecutes all charges aggressively. But, if you are proactive by making sure that the incident has been reported to car insurance and that repairs are being handled, the penalties can be mitigated. In every case, regardless of fault for the accident, I make sure that my client provides a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance to either the court or the prosecutor. Additionally, in many cases, there is a suspicion that the reason why a person left the scene was to avoid a DUI. If there is an opportunity to dispel an allegation related to drinking or drug use, I also try to do so.
If you have been charged with or been arrested for leaving the scene of an accident in Pinellas County, Florida, I would be happy to discuss your situation. I have handled both sides of these types of cases and know the steps to take to resolve them in a satisfactory manner.