Can I Be Charged with a Crime for Leaving the Scene of a Traffic Accident?

August 13th, 2018 by Tad Nelson in Traffic Offenses

Most traffic violations involve minor infractions such as speeding in excess of the posted limit. But when a traffic infraction results in an accident, the drivers involved must be aware of their duties under Texas law to stop and report what happened to law enforcement. Under Section 550.021 of the Texas Transportation Code–the state’s traffic laws–the operator of a vehicle must “immediately stop” at the scene of an accident “that results or is reasonably likely to result in injury to or death of a person.” And if the driver determines someone else involved in the accident “requires aid,” he or she must remain at the scene until help arrives.

Dallas-area Woman Sentenced to 8 Years Following Fatal Accident

So what happens if you don’t stop at the scene of the accident and simply drive away? The short answer is you can be arrested and charged with a felony. If you fail to stop and render aid to someone who suffered a “serious bodily injury,” that is classified as a third-degree felony, which is punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison. And if the person you left at the scene dies, the charge is bumped to a second-degree felony–which carries a maximum potential prison term of 20 years.

Keep in mind, failing to stop and render aid is a distinct offense from other traffic-related offenses, such as driving while intoxicated. In other words, just by leaving the scene of the accident you can be charged with a felony, even if you were not drunk or did not necessarily cause the accident itself. And if you think Houston-area prosecutors will not take leaving the scene seriously, think again.

Recently, a Texas appeals court upheld an eight-year prison sentence for a woman convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The defendant struck the victim’s car, killing him. Another motorist saw the victim “laying partially on the grass and partially in access to Highway 75 in Allen, Texas.” This good Samaritan called 911, but unfortunately it was already too late for the victim, who died from his injuries.

The police officer who attended the scene spoke to a “hysterical” woman nearby, who was later identified as the defendant. At the time, the defendant did not give the officer her name. When the officer asked for her driver’s license, she got in her car and left the scene.

Police eventually tracked down the defendant to her home. She admitted knowing the victim. They were at a bar just before the accident. The victim had left and apparently decided to walk home. Later, as the defendant drove home, she “suddenly saw someone walking in the road,” who turned out to be the victim. The defendant said she had no time to react before her car collided with the victim.

The defendant entered a no-contest plea to violating Section 550.021. The judge, acting without a jury, sentenced the defendant to 8 years in prison. On appeal, the plaintiff argued there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction, because although she caused the accident she claimed she did “stop and render reasonable assistance.” The appeals court disagreed, noting among other things the defendant admitted “she left the scene before the paramedics arrived.”

Get Help from a Galveston Traffic Violations Attorney Today

A car accident is traumatic for all parties involved. But the worst thing you can do is leave the scene before making sure everyone involved has received proper medical attention. If you have been charged with a traffic violation or other offense arising from a car accident and need advice from a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates or call (281) 280-0100 today.

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