In Florida, it is a very serious felony crime to get into a motor vehicle crash that results in a serious injury or death and leave the scene of the crash without stopping to provide insurance and other information to the police. The idea is that a person who causes a crash must provide his/her insurance information so that the victim can be properly compensated and must speak to the responding officer who will investigate the crash. If a person flees from the scene after causing a crash, the assumption on the part of the state is that the person was doing something wrong while driving, whether drunk driving or driving with a suspended license or driving with an outstanding arrest warrant.
Leaving the scene of an accident would seem like a fairly easy charge for the state to prove. However, it can be difficult depending on the circumstances of the crash and when and how the alleged suspect is caught. In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant hit a person late at night who was standing in the middle of the road on a major highway. The victim was dark skinned and wearing dark clothing. The defendant hit the victim and kept driving. Other potential witnesses saw the crash but were not clear as to how it happened and which vehicle hit the victim because the area was so dark and the victim was hard to see. As for the defendant, he testified that he thought something fell off a truck and hit his vehicle. He did not believe he actually hit a person because he did not expect there to be a person in the middle of the road on a major highway and he never saw anyone. The next day, he checked the damage to his vehicle and saw hair and blood. At that point, he called the police and turned himself in.
His conviction for leaving the scene of an accident with a death was ultimately reversed. The state was able to prove that he hit the victim and left the scene, but the state could not prove that the defendant knew he hit a person. It seems obvious and it is in most cases, but the state does have to establish the defendant knew he hit an actual person to convict him of this crime. In this case, because it was dark, the crash occurred in a place where pedestrians are very rare, other witnesses were unclear about the nature of the crash and the state did not have any specific evidence to prove the defendant’s knowledge, the state did not meet its burden of proof on this case. The defendant’s explanation that he did not know he hit a person was plausible so he was not guilty of the hit and run crime.