Florida Supreme Court Decision On Hit-And-Runs

On behalf of David Scott Rieth

The Florida Supreme Court has issued a decision that will greatly affect the rights of those accused of hit-and-run.

Hit-And-Runs Now Harder To Prove

The Florida Supreme Court recently issued a decision that will likely have a significant effect on those charged with hit-and-run. In the decision, the court ruled that the driver's awareness of committing the offense is an important piece of evidence that the prosecution must establish in order to successfully convict accused offenders. Legal experts expect that the decision could make it more difficult for prosecutors to prove their cases in hit-and-run matters, as it would require a higher standard of proof to do so.

Facts Of The Case

The events that led to the case occurred in Boca Raton in 2007. A 15-year-old was struck by a Ford F-250 while out riding his skateboard. During the accident, the skateboarder was dragged more the 40 feet, suffering a fractured hip, cuts and bruises, and traumatic brain injury in the process.

Police later caught up with the driver of the truck 3 miles from the scene of the accident. The driver told police that he had been driving while listening to his radio at a loud volume and, as a result, did not know that he had been involved in an accident. Police then charged the driver with the serious traffic violation of hit-and-run.

The Court's Decision

At trial, the truck's driver was found guilty of hit-and-run and was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison. During the trial, the driver's attorney had argued for a special jury instruction directing the jury to acquit the driver if they found that there was insufficient evidence that he was aware of the accident. However, the court refused this instruction.

When the case was appealed in 2013, the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed with the driver's argument, reversed his conviction and ordered a new trial. The court then asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the state must prove that the driver had knowledge of the collision in order to be convicted of hit-and-run.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court. In its opinion, it found that the hit-and-run law as written does not expressly state that the driver's knowledge of the accident is necessary for the violation. Nevertheless, the court found that other sections of the law state that driver's must 'willfully' violate the statute in order to be convicted of a felony (such as a hit-and-run involving injuries). As a result, the court found that it is necessary to prove that the accused driver had 'actual knowledge' of the collision before a conviction may be obtained.

Consult An Attorney

Because of the court's recent ruling, prosecutors may no longer ask for convictions from juries based on the argument that the driver reasonably should have known about the accident, a significantly lower standard of proof. Instead, prosecutors in future hit-and-run cases must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver knew about the collision.

Although the standard of proof is now higher in hit-and-run accidents, this does not mean that it is impossible to convict someone of the offense. Often there is property damage and other evidence at the scene of the accident that can be used to prove knowledge of the accident. As a result, if you are facing the serious charge of hit-and-run, it is important to have the counsel of an attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can review the facts surrounding your case and work on your behalf to obtain the best possible outcome.