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03 Oct 23

Hit and Run Charges in Florida: Leaving the Scene, Penalties and Criminal Defense

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Last Updated on: 3rd November 2023, 07:11 pm

Hit and Run Charges in Florida: Leaving the Scene, Penalties and Criminal Defense

Getting into a car accident can be a scary experience. In the heat of the moment, some drivers may panic and leave the scene of the accident before exchanging information or waiting for police. This is considered a “hit and run” in Florida, and can lead to serious criminal penalties even if you were not at fault for the initial collision.This article will cover the basics of hit and run laws in Florida, penalties for leaving the scene, and potential defenses if you are charged with this crime.

What Constitutes a Hit and Run in Florida?

Under Florida statute 316.061, a driver has committed a hit and run if they:

  • Are involved in a crash causing property damage, injury or death
  • Know or should know they were involved in a crash
  • Willfully leave the scene without providing their name, address, registration and license information

Even a minor fender bender can trigger the legal duty to exchange driver information in Florida. Leaving the scene because you thought there was no damage is not a defense.

Duties After a Crash in Florida

If you are in a collision in Florida, you have certain duties under the law. These include:

  • Stopping immediately at the scene or as close as possible
  • Providing your name, address, license and registration information to the other driver
  • Showing your license if requested
  • Rendering reasonable assistance to injured persons
  • Reporting the crash to police if nobody else is present or the other party is incapacitated

Failure to fulfill these duties can result in criminal charges.

Penalties for Hit and Run in Florida

The penalties for leaving the scene of an accident vary based on whether injuries or death occurred:

  • Property damage only – 2nd degree misdemeanor, up to 60 days in jail and $500 fine
  • Injury – 3rd degree felony, up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 fine
  • Serious bodily injury – 2nd degree felony, up to 15 years in prison and $10,000 fine
  • Death – 1st degree felony, up to 30 years in prison with a 4 year mandatory minimum

In injury and death cases, the driver’s license will also be revoked for at least 3 years.

Defenses to Leaving the Scene Charges

Some potential defenses to fight a hit and run charge include:

  • You did not realize an accident occurred
  • The other party seemed dangerous, forcing you to leave
  • You returned to the scene shortly after or called police
  • The damage was so minor you did not think it was an “accident”
  • You were the only one injured so had no duty to remain

An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to get charges reduced or dismissed by raising factual and legal defenses.

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer for Hit and Run

If you have been accused of leaving the scene of an accident in Florida, it is critical to speak with a criminal defense lawyer immediately. A conviction can result in years behind bars, massive fines, and a lifelong criminal record.A knowledgeable attorney will evaluate the evidence against you, advise you of possible defenses, and fight to achieve the best resolution to your case. This may mean negotiating with the prosecution for reduced charges or an outright dismissal.Don’t go it alone against the power of the government. The consequences are too severe. Consult with an attorney who regularly handles hit and run cases in your jurisdiction for experienced and aggressive representation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Florida Hit and Run Laws

What if I didn’t know I hit someone?

Lack of knowledge that an accident occurred may be a defense to hit and run charges in some cases. However, you still have a duty under Florida law to stop if you are involved in a collision. Claiming you did not know you hit someone can be difficult to prove.

What if I was scared the other driver would harm me?

If you can show the other driver reasonably appeared threatening or dangerous, leaving the scene out of fear for your safety may be justified. An attorney can argue you fulfilled your duties by calling police once you reached a safe location.

Can I still be charged if I returned to the scene later?

Yes, you can still be charged if you left the scene initially but returned a short time later. However, voluntarily returning to the scene and cooperating with police will be viewed much more favorably than never returning at all.

What if I was the only one injured?

You may assume you can leave an accident if you were the only one hurt. But Florida law requires stopping and reporting to police anytime you are in a crash, regardless of injuries. Violating your duties after a one-vehicle accident can still result in criminal charges.

What if I thought the damage was too minor to be an “accident”?

It is not up to drivers to decide what constitutes an “accident” under the law. Any collision with property damage could trigger the duty to stop and exchange information. Leaving because you did not think damage was significant enough is not a legal defense.

Can I appeal a hit and run conviction?

Yes, with the assistance of an attorney you can file an appeal seeking to overturn a hit and run conviction. Appeals argue the trial court made an error in applying the law or admitting evidence. Appeals must be filed shortly after conviction so contact an appellate lawyer immediately.

Conclusion

Being involved in any vehicle collision can be jarring, but you must stop at the scene and exchange information regardless of the circumstances. If you leave and are tracked down later, a hit and run conviction can carry devastating consequences that impact the rest of your life. Never assume a crash was too minor or try to evade responsibility by fleeing the scene. If you have been charged with this crime, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.