Imagine driving on a busy road with the sound of the outside world drowned out by the rain, windshield wipers, and the radio. When all of a sudden in the rearview mirror there are police lights and you are pulled over and informed that you are being charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injuries. What would you do next? As unbelievable as this seems, this exact scenario was addressed by the Florida Supreme Court in the case, State v. Dorsett, 158 So. 3d 557 (Fla. 2015).
In Dorsett, the defendant was driving his pickup truck on a stretch of A1A in Palm Beach County with his windows rolled up, windshield wipers and air conditioning on, as it started to rain. What the defendant was unaware of was that a teenager lost control of his skateboard and fell as he crossed the road, hitting the passenger side undercarriage of the defendant’s truck. The defendant continued traveling at a normal rate of speed and did not stop until police pulled him over three miles from the accident.
When the police asked the defendant why he did not stop, he responded that if he had known he hit someone he definitely would have stopped. The defendant was charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injuries in violation of Florida’s hit-and-run statute, a third degree felony.
In Florida, the driver of a vehicle involved in a crash resulting in injury or death must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as near as possible to the scene, remain there, and provide identifying information including name, address, and vehicle registration. The driver also has a duty to provide reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured. See Fla. Stat. §§ 316.027; 316.062.
In Dorsett, several witnesses testified at trial that they saw and heard the defendant’s truck ride over the teenager and drag him down the street. Another witness testified that he saw the skateboard “spit out from under the truck’s right rear tire and heard the skateboard crack in two.”
Dorsett’s attorney argued that the hit-and-run statute required proof that the driver had “actual knowledge” of the crash and proposed a special jury instruction that required the jury to find as an essential element that the defendant “knew that he was involved in an accident.” The trial judge denied the attorney’s request and instead read the standard jury instruction that the State must prove that the defendant “knew or should have known” that he was involved in a crash. The jury found Dorsett guilty and sentenced him to twenty-four months in prison.
Dorsett’s attorney appealed the ruling to the Fourth District Court of Appeal and argued that the standard jury instruction misstated the law because the statute requires actual knowledge of the accident, citing the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Mancuso, 652 So. 2d 370 (Fla.1995) (defendant’s actual knowledge of the accident is required and the jury should be so instructed). The 4th DCA agreed with Dorsett’s attorney and reversed and remanded the case for a new trial and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court. On review, the Florida Supreme Court reasoned that even though the statute does not expressly state that actual knowledge is required for a violation, willful violation of the statute only occurs if the driver had actual knowledge that a crash occurred.
If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injuries in Florida, or other violation of law, we suggest that you immediately consult with an experienced attorney in order to preserve your rights and give the defense attorney as much time as possible to investigate the charges against you.
Heidi Hillyer is available during and after business hours and on weekends.
Call the Law Office of Heidi A. Hillyer, P.A. today at 407-636-8300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.