In Florida, when a person is involved in an auto accident that involves property damage or injury, that person must stop and remain at the scene to exchange identification and insurance information with the other party and the police officer. If a person is involved in an auto accident that causes property damage and does not remain at the scene of the crash, he/she can be arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident which is a misdemeanor crime. If the crash results in a serious injury to someone, leaving the scene of the accident is a felony crime. If there is a death involved, the case becomes much more serious.
In a recent hit and run case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was in a large truck, hit a pedestrian and kept driving. Witnesses who saw the accident called the police, and the defendant was stopped a few miles down the road. The defendant claimed that he did not know he hit the pedestrian. This case raises the question of whether the state has to prove the defendant driver actually knew he/she was involved in a crash before he/she can be convicted of the crime of leaving the scene of an accident. In most crashes, it is obvious to everyone involved in the crash.
However, there are cases where the impact may be minor yet the damages are severe where the driver may not know he/she was involved in a crash for some reason. In those cases, the state must prove the defendant knew he/she was involved in a crash. The criminal statute requires a willful violation on the part of the defendant. A willful violation requires some level of knowledge of improper activity on the part of the defendant. The state can prove knowledge of the crash by showing evidence of the nature of the crash, the defendant’s behavior after the crash, any statements the defendant made and testimony of witnesses who saw the crash.
However, if the state is not able to present sufficient evidence that the defendant knew he/she was in an auto accident, the state cannot convict a defendant driver of leaving the scene of an accident in Florida. In other words, if the state cannot show the driver knew he/she was in an auto accident, the state cannot prove the defendant willfully left the scene of an accident.