What if you are involved in a traffic accident that is not your fault? The light was green, and you never saw the other vehicle. You’re late and in a hurry, the damage was trivial, and no one seems to be injured. Don’t leave the scene, or you’ll need help from a Jefferson County defense lawyer.
When a traffic crash happens, under normal conditions, you pull over, call the police, and exchange contact and insurance details with the other driver. However, in some cases, even the most law-abiding drivers may be tempted to flee the scene of an accident.
Maybe you’ve had a drink or two and you don’t want to be charged with driving while intoxicated. Maybe you have no auto insurance, or you’ve been in several recent accidents, and you do not need another one on your record.
Maybe you have no driver’s license, or your license has been suspended or revoked. Or maybe the boss has been “on your case” and you simply do not want to be late for work.
What Happens If You Drive Away From an Accident?
So you drive away. The reason doesn’t matter. Driving off is not only a big mistake, but in Missouri, it’s a crime – leaving the scene of an accident. If you make that choice, you should know that Missouri’s police agencies thoroughly investigate leaving the scene incidents.
The police will gather any available eyewitness and video evidence, and they often find the person they are seeking. If you have left the scene of an accident, or if you are falsely accused of leaving the scene of an accident, you will need to speak with an attorney as quickly as possible.
What Does the Law Require?
The law requires drivers in crashes that involve occupied vehicles to stop, exchange contact and insurance details with the other driver, and assist anyone who has been injured or summon medical assistance. Failing to meet these obligations constitutes leaving the scene of an accident.
If you give in to the temptation to flee, or if you are falsely accused of leaving the scene of an accident, what are the potential consequences? What will a Missouri criminal defense attorney be able to do on your behalf? Keep reading for the answers that every driver in this state needs.
Leaving the scene of an accident is not always a felony in Missouri. If you leave the scene of an accident, and if the police find you and place you under arrest, the charge you face will depend on the details of the accident.
What Are the Criminal Penalties for a Conviction?
Usually, leaving the scene of an accident in Missouri is a class A misdemeanor. A conviction may be penalized with up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
However, if someone was seriously injured, if the damage to the other vehicle exceeded $1,000, or if it’s not your first leaving the scene offense, you may be charged with a class E felony, which is punishable upon conviction with up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In the worst-case scenario, if the accident resulted in a fatality, leaving the scene is a class D felony, which is punishable upon conviction with up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Are There Additional Penalties?
Along with these considerable criminal penalties, twelve to sixteen points may be added to your driver’s license if you are convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, and for many Missouri drivers, that could mean a driver’s license suspension.
Additionally, a conviction for leaving the scene is certain to drive up your auto insurance rates, and if driving is your profession or an essential part of your job, it may be difficult for you to maintain or find employment.
Why is Leaving the Scene of an Accident Prosecuted So Aggressively?
In leaving the scene cases, the prosecution usually presumes that the defendant committed the crime to avoid being charged with a more serious crime like driving while intoxicated. That is one reason why leaving the scene of an accident is so aggressively prosecuted in this state.
If you felt confused at the time of the accident, if you were not aware of the collision when it occurred, or if you have been falsely charged and you’re innocent, you will need an attorney who can make sure that your side of the story is plainly told and completely understood.
For prosecutors in Missouri, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant left the scene of an accident is not always easy. Prosecutors in these cases typically have to rely on circumstantial evidence and eyewitness statements.
But even if the case against you is persuasive, a conviction does not necessarily mean that you will receive the maximum penalty. If it’s your first offense, and the evidence against you is conclusive, your attorney may be able to negotiate for probation rather than jail or prison.
What Questions Must Be Answered in These Cases?
The court will need answers to these questions before determining the final outcome of your case:
1. Was anyone injured in the accident?
2. Were you driving while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs?
3. Do you have a criminal record?
4. Did you turn yourself in voluntarily?
5. What is your driving record?
6. Do you carry a commercial driver’s license?
7. What were the road and weather conditions?
8. Will your auto insurance pay for the damages?
It’s Imperative to Exercise Your Rights
In heavy traffic, it’s easier for a driver to disappear quickly and flee the scene of an accident, but that kind of confusion can also cause the eyewitnesses and the police to make mistakes, and the wrong motorist may be accused of leaving the scene.
If you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident, whether you are innocent or guilty, it is essential to exercise your rights. Admit nothing, but be polite and do not resist the police in any way. Simply say, “I prefer to exercise my right to remain silent until my lawyer can be present.”
Your defense strategy will depend on the details of the case, but it’s important to reach out for legal help as soon as you can if you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident. The right Jefferson County defense lawyer will bring your case to its best possible conclusion.