Hit-And-Run Or Felony DUI—Which Is (Legally) Worse?


In many states, not a day goes by without a news headline about an unsolved hit-and-run accident. But while the proliferation of security and traffic cameras make it easier than ever to track down potential hit-and-run offenders, many of these cases remain unsolved. And in some parts of the country, the penalty for driving while intoxicated (and killing a pedestrian in the process) may be far steeper than the penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Unfortunately, this can prompt many intoxicated drivers to take their chances by fleeing from the police. Read on to learn more about why some states' DUI laws may actually be responsible for the recent uptick in the number of fatal hit-and-run accidents.

Potential Penalties for Hit and Run

The specific classification of the crime of leaving the scene of a fatal accident can vary by state. Some states classify it as a serious felony punishable by several years in prison, while others put it in the category of low-level felony offenses or, like a simple DUI, a misdemeanor.

One of prosecutors' biggest challenges in bringing a charge of leaving-the-scene can be the proof of the driver's knowledge. Most states' laws require the prosecution to prove that the driver knew, or should have known, that they struck something with their vehicle and purposely refused to stop to render aid. But many hit-and-run drivers testify that they never believed they struck a person and instead assumed they hit an animal (like a deer) or a piece of debris in the roadway. Some even claim that they stopped their vehicle and got out to see what they hit, but finding nothing, went on their way.

Because of this, felony hit-and-run convictions are generally limited to circumstances in which witnesses testify (or security footage shows) that the driver was driving erratically, at a high rate of speed, or in an otherwise negligent manner, hit a pedestrian, and then sped away. Further evidence that the driver attempted to conceal the damage or had the damage repaired without the knowledge of an insurance company can also help support a conviction.

But in hit-and-runs where there are no witnesses, no camera footage, and only a defendant's testimony that they were sober and obeying traffic laws at the time of the accident, a conviction can be tough to obtain. Some prosecutors have attempted to establish the knowledge component by showing that local news networks carried heavy coverage of an unsolved hit-and-run or even providing evidence that the defendant did an internet search for "hit and run penalties" or other relevant keywords after the crash. They argue that the defendant's failure to turn themselves in after learning of an accident in the area where they hit an unidentified object should be enough to show that the defendant purposely tried to evade prosecution. But not all states will accept this theory.

Why the Increase in Fatal Hit-and-Runs?

Some lawmakers argue that the nationwide increase in hit-and-run accidents is largely due to the difference between the potential penalties for leaving the scene and for felony DUI. Because alcohol and many illegal drugs are eliminated from one's bloodstream within a few hours to a few days, drivers may feel as though their odds of felony DUI conviction are far higher if they stay at the scene to render aid (and submit to a breathalyzer test when police arrive) than if they head home and turn themselves in later. Others, especially in cities and states with a high number of unsolved hit-and-runs, may plan to never turn themselves in at all.  

This has led some lawmakers to push for stiffer hit-and-run laws. Others have proposed "Good Samaritan" laws designed to lessen the potential penalties for DUI if a driver stops to contact police or help the person who was struck. If you find yourself in this situation, it can be tough to know what to do. Contact an attorney at a law firm like Wolfe  Jones Wolfe Hancock Daniel & South LLC as soon as possible after your accident to determine your best options.


26 July 2018

The Important Role of the General Attorney

Like many other people, I admire the important tasks lawyers take on every day. I’m amazed at how knowledgeable general attorneys are about a variety of subjects. These professionals can accomplish many complicated jobs seamlessly, such as representing a client in a civil lawsuit, assisting a business with a merger, and acting on a client’s behalf in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Besides creating detailed legal briefs, they must argue their clients’ cases in court in front of a judge, jurors, and others. On this blog, I hope you will discover how crucial general attorneys are to this country’s legal system.