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Can I Be Charged with a Misdemeanor for Failing to Report a Single-Car Accident?

If you are involved in a single-car accident that results in property damage, you need to contact the police and inform the property owner. This isn’t simply a matter of courtesy or good citizenship. Texas law requires a driver “take reasonable steps” to provide such notice, and failure to do so is a misdemeanor crime that can land you in jail, or at a minimum on probation.

Police Officer Receives Probation After Hitting Utility Pole

For example, in a September 13, 2018, decision, a Texas appeals court affirmed the misdemeanor conviction of a police lieutenant who failed to let anyone know she hit a utility pole. The defendant was driving her personal truck late one evening when she “drove off the road” and hit the pole, according to court records. The defendant later told people she must have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Unfortunately, the defendant’s actions proved more than a minor inconvenience. The pole broke as a result of the impact, which caused a power outage for the surrounding area. The defendant’s own vehicle also sustained significant damage. But rather than contact local authorities or inform the owner of the utility pole, as the law required, the defendant left the scene. She managed to contact a friend–another police officer–who picked her up. The two returned to the friend’s house, where the defendant spent the night. Meanwhile, a witness came upon the defendant’s damaged truck and called 911. Local police then conducted a search for the defendant, whom they assumed was seriously injured in the accident.

The next morning, the defendant left a voicemail message for the local police accident investigator. But when the investigator returned the call, the defendant never answered or called back. The investigator then contacted the utility company that owned the downed pole and learned the damage to the pole was approximately $2,700.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with a Class B misdemeanor. Specifically, they alleged she failed to “take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of the property” of an accident that resulted in “damage to all fixtures” of at least $200. The jury found the defendant guilty. The judge gave the defendant a six-month jail sentence, which he probated to nine months of community supervision and a $100 fine.

On appeal, the defendant argued there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction. The appeals court disagreed. The court noted it was “undisputed” the defendant “did not personally take any steps to locate the owner of the utility pole,” as the law required. Instead, she left it to the police investigator to make the required notice. The jury was entitled to conclude that did not qualify as taking “reasonable steps” to notify a property owner.

Speak with a Galveston or League City Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Attorney Today

Even when you act without criminal intent, you can still face a misdemeanor charge for neglecting your legal obligations as a citizen. If you find yourself in such a situation, you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at  (281) 280-0100 or contact us online today if you need immediate assistance or advice.