Leaving the Scene of a Crash
You can be charged with Leaving the Scene of an Accident even if you are NOT at fault for the crash
A car accident is a terrifying experience for everyone involved – especially those behind the wheel. In an instant, the driver can feel shock, pain, disorientation, and fear. In the heat of the moment, some drivers panic and leave the scene of the accident. This is true even for those who were clearly not at fault: Crash victims with undocumented status, for example, may leave the scene out of fear of deportation; those who have alcohol in their system may leave because they worry about a DUI investigation.
Regardless of the person at fault or the reason for leaving, Florida Statute section 316.061 penalizes drivers who leave the scene of an accident involving damage to property or injury to a person.
Required Exchange of Information
Florida law requires each driver in an accident involving property damage to stop at the scene of the crash and stay there until he or she has given his or her name, address, vehicle registration number, and driver license information. If law enforcement is investigating the crash, each driver must also provide the required information to the investigating officer. Furthermore, if the accident resulted in injury to a person, drivers have a duty to render aid to the injured.
Leaving the Scene of an Accident, also known as “Hit and Run,” is a crime that ranges from a second degree misdemeanor to a first degree felony, depending on the level of injury and the defendant’s prior record. The lowest level of Hit and Run (second degree misdemeanor) presupposes only damage to property and no injury to person; this type of leaving the scene is punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
When someone is injured in a Leaving the Scene case, the accused faces a third degree felony, punishable by 5 years in prison and a $5000 fine. The potential penalties continue to escalate as the injury increases. In serious bodily injury hit and run cases, the driver accused of leaving the scene can be charged with a second degree felony. Finally, in cases involving death in combination with a prior conviction for leaving the scene or driving while license suspended, the defendant commits a first degree felony. In addition to serious maximum penalties, felony leaving the scene charges expose a defendant to mandatory minimum sentences as determined by the Florida Criminal Punishment Code Scoresheet.
Failure to Fulfill Duty Upon Damaging Unattended Property – A similar charge
What if you leave the scene of a crash, but there were no other people involved? If you are accused of hitting an object – e.g. a parked car, a tree, a fence – and leaving, technically the charge is not Leaving the Scene of an Accident; rather, you could be charged with Failure to Fulfill Duty Upon Damaging Unattended Property pursuant to Florida Statute section 316.063.
The “duty” that one must fulfill when damaging unattended property is stopping and either: (1) locating the property owner to provide a name, address, and vehicle registration number; or (2) providing the same information to the owner by attaching a written notice on the damaged property AND contacting the police.
A violation of the duty described in 316.063 is a second degree misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The Criminal Court Process
Unfortunately, with any level of Leaving the Scene, court appearance is mandatory; the accused cannot simply pay a fine and move on. Upon the arresting or citing officer submitting the charge paperwork to the clerk of courts, the clerk’s office creates a case number with your information and case specifics. The defendant then receives a Notice of Hearing to appear for arraignment, which is the formal reading of the charges. From there, the accused normally engages in a series of pre-trial hearings to request evidence, challenge the legality of police action, negotiate with prosecutors, and weigh the options. Ultimately, the defendant must decide whether to accept a plea offer or exercise his or her right to a trial.
The State Attorney’s Office also receives a copy of the charging document and all relevant evidence. In felony cases, a filing assistant state attorney reviews the evidence and determines whether to up-file (file more serious charges), down-file (file lesser charges), no-file (refuse to file any charges), or file the same charges suggested by the police officer. Once the prosecution makes a filing decision, the case moves to a trial assistant state attorney who is in charge of litigating the case.
Casanova Law Can Help
If you are currently accused of Leaving the Scene of an Accident or Failure to Fulfill Duty Upon Damaging Unattended Property, our law firm can help. Our founding Attorney, Lourdes Casanova, is a former prosecutor who has successfully litigated hundreds of Hit and Run cases. Our firm will provide the support, guidance, and protection that you need during the course of your criminal case. This includes an intensive review of the evidence, communications with the prosecution, attending court on your behalf, and knowledgeable advice. Our goal is to get your case dismissed or reduced.
Contact us to schedule a consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hit and Run
What happens if you leave the scene of a fender bender?
Any accident involving even the slightest damage requires the parties involved to remain at the scene until they have exchanged information with each other or with an investigating officer. If you are caught leaving the scene of a fender bender in Florida, you face a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by sixty days in the county jail and a fine of five hundred dollars.
What if I leave the scene of a crash with no damage?
In Florida, hit and run is only a crime if the crash resulted in property damage or injury to a person. If you were involved in an accident with no damage or injury, technically you are not required to stay and exchange information. However, keep in mind that even a small scratch can trigger the legal duty of driver information exchange. Leaving the scene of an accident because you thought there were no damages is not a defense to the crime; for this reason, the best practice is to stay and exchange information even if you believe no damages resulted from the accident.
What if I left the scene of an accident and I am the victim?
Florida law requires all parties involved in an accident to stay and exchange information. This includes the victim of the crash. Surprisingly, even crash victims can face a criminal charge of leaving the scene if they fail to exchange information with the others involved.
How long does leaving the scene stay on your record in Florida?
A conviction for leaving the scene of an accident (also known as hit and run) stays on your record for life. However, in cases where the charge of leaving the scene was dropped or a defendant received an adjudication withheld, the accused may be eligible to seal or expunge his or her case in Florida. Whether or not someone can seal or expunge a case will depend on several factors, such as prior record.
What is the penalty for leaving the scene in Florida?
The penalty for leaving the scene in Florida varies depending on the facts and the accused’s criminal record. Most often, leaving the scene is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. For cases involving injury to a person, leaving the scene is normally charged as a third degree felony carrying the potential for 5 years prison and a fine of $5K. The charge and penalties can go even higher in cases involving serious bodily injury or death.
What happens if you leave the scene of an accident in Florida?
If police investigation points to you as a suspect of hit and run, you will likely be charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Law enforcement can effectuate a physical arrest or issue a Notice to Appear in court. The severity of your charge will depend on whether you are charged with misdemeanor or felony leaving the scene. If police are unable to link you to an alleged hit and run, it is possible you may not be charged. Regardless of whether you believe you can be identified or not, it is critical to seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney who will maintain your conversation confidential and will advise you on your next move.
Can a hit and run be dropped in Florida?
Some jurisdictions in Florida allow prosecutors to offer a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for misdemeanor Leaving the Scene. Deferred Prosecution can result in dismissal of a case if the accused completes the terms of the agreement. The decision to offer deferred prosecution is at the discretion of the prosecutor. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist a defendant in negotiating and securing this type of agreement by discovering weaknesses in the State’s case and presenting mitigating factors.
Is it a felony to flee the scene of an accident?
Hit and run can be classified as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the facts of the case. If the accident only involved property damage, leaving the scene is a misdemeanor. If a person was injured, fleeing the scene can rise to the felony level.
What is the difference between hit and run and leaving the scene?
There is no real difference between “hit and run” and “leaving the scene.” Hit and run is the colloquial term for the formal crime of Leaving the Scene of an Accident. However, “hit and run” normally refers to the person who caused the accident rather than the victim (although even a victim can be charged with leaving the scene of a crash).
How do you prove leaving the scene of an accident?
In order to prove Leaving the Scene of an Accident, the government must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the driver of a vehicle involved in a crash, the crash resulted in damage to property or a person, and the defendant failed to stop at the scene of the crash to exchange identifying information. In injury cases, the State may also need to prove that the defendant knew about the crash and that he or she failed to render aid to the injured.