Saturday, November 19, 2011

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. My first two jobs have been keeping me busy (family and being an actual ADA). Add a trial starting on the 28th and it's the perfect storm to keep me from blogging.

Today's post is an extension from last week's about the Penn State scandal and the duty to act.

I addressed when it is a crime for a citizen not to take action and also individuals who must report a crime due to their occupation. There is one additional area of the law that should be addressed in connection with this.

Car accidents. Wait, you say? Does this deserve a separate post? Isn't it enough to say that a person must stop after an accident?

Maybe, but what constitutes an accident? What if I hit a deer? A dog? A car? A person? What does stopping mean?

In addressing this, it is my duty to tell you all to stop whenever you are involved in any accident. Severe punishments exist for those who do not comply and keep driving. As we see every day, every driver is eventually caught.

There are many things I enjoy about blogging, but one of them is how much I learn when researching these posts. Even in areas I am very knowledgeable in, I always learn something new.

Today, I learned that a driver must stop when they strike a dog, cat, horse, or cattle and attempt to find the owner so that the animal can be helped. It is a violation (lowest level offense) punishable by a fine if the driver doesn't. As for the deer? They are not so lucky.

As you can imagine, if a driver must stop for certain animals, he must stop after a striking a car or a person. Not stopping after an accident that causes property damage? Up to fifteen days in jail.

Not stopping after an accident that injures a person? Up to a 90 days in jail. A person is seriously injured? Up to four years in jail. A person dies? Up to seven years in jail.

These are pretty serious penalties based on the mere fact a person does not stop. There are three reasons: 1) If the driver involved doesn't stop, then the injured person may not receive necessary treatment that could save their life or prevent further injuries. What if it is late at night on a deserted road? 2) There's no way to make an insurance claim for property damage if the other driver leaves, and 3) everyone assumes the driver was drunk and didn't have insurance. Why else would he take off?

So what does stopping mean? I prosecuted a case in New York City where a driver exited a highway and struck a bicyclist who was crossing at a bike path on the exit ramp. The driver stopped her car, looked at the bicyclist, saw someone helping her and took off. She drove to her house. Thankfully, the car behind her followed and gave the police her license plate. She stopped, didn't she?

She stopped. That's not enough. A driver must stop, provide their name and contact information, and their insurance information. This woman panicked and drove away while the bicyclist sustained numerous fractures to her lower half. The police found her an hour later and she hadn't even called to report it. For leaving an accident that wasn't even her fault, the driver received a felony conviction.

What if the driver hits a parked car and the owner of the car isn't present? Report it to the police station to fulfill your duty.

What about a passenger who tells a driver to drive away after hitting a person? Are they culpable? In a novel case in upstate New York, this passenger was found guilty of criminal solicitation for doing just that. The case was sent back to the town court on an unrelated issue. The defendant plead guilty to the misdemeanor. Both the driver and passenger were punished.

Are there any other areas you think the citizens should be bound to act?

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