Elements of Leaving the Scene
To prove the charge of Leaving the Scene of Personal or Property Injury the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant (1) operated a motor vehicle, (2) on a public way within the Commonwealth, (3) that the defendant was involved in an accident involving injury to property or to a person, (4) that he or she knew he was involved in an accident, (5) and that he or she left the scene without stopping to provide name, address, and registration. This charge can be brought in cases ranging from minor fender-benders to true hit-and-runs.
Police, judges, and district attorneys have very little tolerance for people who leave the scene of an accident. The police demonstrate this by making uncharitable assumptions about the knowledge and intentions of anyone they suspect of having left the scene of an accident. The district attorney demonstrates this by asking for bail in cases where the ordinary reasons for doing so are absent, or asking for more bail than usual.
The potential penalty for a conviction on a charge of leaving the scene ranges from two weeks to two yeas in jail, along with a fine, and a 60 day license suspension. Where the accident caused personal injury, the penalty carries a minimum of six months in jail.
Defending the Charge of Leaving the Scene
Fighting a leaving the scene charge is often an uphill battle, but when the police make uncharitable assumptions they also increase the chances of getting the story twisted. Working in your favor is the fact that the events giving rise a charge of leaving the scene usually occur out in the open where there are people watching and video cameras rolling. The sooner you contact an attorney, the more of this evidence can be found and preserved to help present a defense.
Steps You Need to Take Immediately
Ordinarily, when someone is charged with a misdemeanor offense, not constituting a breach of the peace, and for which the person is not placed under arrest, that person is entitled to a hearing before a magistrate. A magistrate's hearing can be a crucial tool because it gives the defendant a chance to ask that the court exercise its discretion, and dismiss the case before it ever shows up on any public records.
There is, however, an exception to that rule in cases where the defendant receives a citation (ticket) for the offense. A ticket can list civil offenses (like speeding), criminal offenses (like negligent operation of a motor vehicle, or leaving the scene of property damage), or both. The back of the ticket explains, in very small print, how to request a hearing on the charges listed on the front.
If an officer has charged you with a criminal offense by handing you a citation, it is crucial that you mail the citation in immediately, as described on the back of the ticket, and request a hearing on all charges. Failure to do so in a timely manner could forever deprive you of very important rights.
If you are charged with leaving the scene, contact me immediately to discuss strategies for defending your case and to avoid losing your license.
See: G.L. c. 90 s. 24(2)(a); G.L. c. 218, s. 35A; License Suspensions; Clerk Magistrate's Hearings.