Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Pinellas County, Florida Hit-and-Run Collision
Why Leaving the Scene of an Accident Laws Were Created
Hit-and-run laws arose in the early days of the automobile. Car accident victims faced difficulties in identifying perpetrators so that they could be properly brought to justice. Apart from the obvious ability of an automobile to quickly flee the scene, roads were quite dusty and drivers often wore driving goggles which obscured their faces. To make matters worse, vehicles at the time did not have license plates and identifying a horseless carriage to a particular owner could be impossible.
Hit and Run / Fleeing the Scene of an Accident in Florida
The modern offense of Leaving the Scene of an Accident has been taken seriously by the Florida Legislature and can result in considerable consequences. Such potential penalties entail fines and driver’s license ramifications. A conviction for a leaving the scene of an accident offense that causes any property damage will automatically add 6 points to your driver’s license, something that could cause a serious insurance premium increase. In addition, such conduct is treated and prosecuted as a criminal offense.
Two Types of Misdemeanor Leaving the Scene of an Accident Charges in Florida
- Damaging an Unattended Vehicle or Property (Florida Statue 316.063)
A driver who hits unattended property has the duty to make an effort to locate the owner of the damaged property. If the owner cannot be found, the driver should visibly leave a note indicating his name, address and registration information. Furthermore, the driver is also required by law to contact law enforcement and notify them of the accident. Failure to comply with this statute results in a misdemeanor of the second degree. This violation can carry up to 60 days imprisonment and up to a $500 fine. Read Florida Stat. 316.063.
- Accidents Involving Occupied Vehicles or Attended Property (Florida Statute 316.061)
A driver who crashes into an occupied vehicle or attended property that results only in property damage is required to remain at the scene of the accident until he completes his statutory duties. These duties include exchanging pertinent information such as name, address and registration, presenting a driver’s license, and notifying law enforcement of the accident. A driver who violates this statute has committed a misdemeanor of the second degree. This violation can result in up to 60 days imprisonment and up to a $500 fine. Read Florida Stat 316.061.
How We Can Help
Are the Police Looking for You?
If you are concerned that a law enforcement officer may be searching for you because of a pending investigation associated with a “leaving the scene of an accident’ charge, we can help. Our office can intervene on your behalf by:
- Determining which law enforcement agency has jurisdiction over the matter;
- Ascertaining which law enforcement officer is assigned to your case;
- Contacting that officer to present mitigating information and to show a spirit of cooperation and respect for the legal system;
- Making arrangements to have the officer issue a “Uniform Traffic Citation/Notice to appear” instead of effectuating your formal arrest.
By taking pre-emptive action, we can often:
- Avoid an embarrassing untimely arrest;
- Be effective in convincing the officer to charge you with a lesser offense;
- Use your voluntary cooperation with law enforcement as a mitigating factor with the Prosecutor or Judge in an effort to secure the most lenient sentence.
Did You Simply Panic?
Our clients typically explain several reasons for why they may have left the scene of an accident:
- They were driving on a suspended license;
- They did not have a current auto insurance policy; or
- They were driving under the influence (“DUI Hit & Run”).
Clients often explain that they feared being caught for the above mentioned violations, so they elected to flee the scene and take their chances with later being apprehended by the police.
However, being involved in a car crash can also be a frightening experience. The heart races and there is an obvious adrenaline rush. The body takes on a natural “fight or flight” biological response. This hyper-arousal or acute stress response may lead a driver to simply exercise poor decision making skills. It is often not until much later, when the motorist calms down, that he may recognize that he over-reacted and that he simply aggravated the situation by “leaving the scene.”
Your lawyer might be able to point out to the judge some extenuating circumstances that may have been going on in your life at the time of your accident. (For example, a death or illness in your family, a personal relationship problem, recent loss of job or other emotional event.) It may have been a combination of the personal problems you were experiencing, along with the sudden stress related to the accident that caused you to make a poor choice in fleeing the accident scene. Humanizing your circumstances with the court can be a highly effective strategy that can often lead to leniency at sentencing or even the avoidance of a formal conviction. Learn about First Time Offender Opportunities that your lawyer can explore.
Avoiding a Formal Conviction
In addition to exploring the possibility of a reduction of the charge to a lesser offense, we can tailor a strategy designed to avoid a formal conviction. For example:
We may be able to negotiating a “plea bargain” for a “withholding of adjudication.” Such a final disposition might necessitate the completion of a driver improvement course or the completion of community service hours. Click for more information on Avoiding Conviction.
We are St. Petersburg / Clearwater criminal defense attorneys experienced in helping persons charged with criminal traffic offenses. We invite you to meet with us so that we can discuss the individual facts and circumstances of your case. Together, we can tailor a strategy that is focused on achieving the best possible outcome.