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Can You Go to Prison for Failing to Stop and Render Aid Following a Car Accident?

Most of us know to stop and exchange insurance information with another driver following a car accident. This is not just a matter of common sense or making sure you comply with the requirements of your insurance policy. Texas law requires you to “stop and render aid” following any collision where there is property damage to either vehicle. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor offense. And in cases where someone has been injured–or killed–a failure to stop and render aid is a felony that can lead to serious prison time.

Jury, Appeals Court Rejects “Necessity” Defense Following Fatal “Road Rage” Incident

Consider this recent case from right here in Houston, Jack v. State. Here, prosecutors charged a defendant with murder and felony failure to stop and render aid following an incident that led to the death of another person. A Harris County jury acquitted the defendant on the murder charge but convicted him of failure to stop and render aid. As a result, the court sentenced the defendant to three years in prison.

Here is what happened. In January 2020, video surveillance footage taken by cameras at a convenience store captured a car accident involving the defendant and another driver. Both drivers backed their cars into the convenience store’s parking lot and collided. The drivers then stopped to assess the damage. A witness testified that she saw the defendant arguing with the other driver. The other driver appeared to try and stop the defendant from getting back into his car. The defendant later told the police that he thought the other driver verbally threatened him.

As this exchange continued, the defendant was seated in the driver’s seat of his car with the door open. The other driver then retrieved something from his car. He then returned to the defendant’s car. As the other driver started walking in front of the defendant’s car, the defendant started driving forward, pushing his car against the other driver’s legs. This ultimately forced the other driver onto the hood of the defendant’s car.

The surveillance camera footage then showed the defendant driving a short distance until the other driver either fell or was thrown from the hood. The defendant continued driving. The other driver, who struck his head when he hit the ground, sustained a severe brain injury, slipped into a coma, and died four months later.

Instead of stopping to render aid at the scene when the other driver fell, the defendant decided to drive directly to a nearby police station. He reported the other driver for threatening him. However, the defendant never mentioned that the other driver was injured at the scene. So the police did not immediately dispatch any medical personnel to the scene. Rather, other witnesses at the convenience store called 911 to report what appeared to be a hit-and-run.

As previously noted, the state charged the defendant with murder and failure to stop and render aid, and he was convicted of the latter charge. At trial and later on appeal, the defendant offered an affirmative defense of “necessity.” Essentially, the defendant said he had to drive away from the scene because he was escaping a “road rage” incident and he feared the other driver might have had a gun.

The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals, however, said there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reject a necessity defense. Necessity requires proof that a defendant’s actions “were both immediately necessary and conducted with a reasonable belief of that immediate necessity,” the Court noted. Here, eyewitnesses testified the other driver was unconscious after falling off the hood of the defendant’s car. So there was no longer any “immediate” threat to the defendant. The defendant also gave conflicting statements to an officer when he voluntarily drove to the police station to report the incident.

Speak with a Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Today

One takeaway from this case is that you should not just walk into a police station and give a statement regarding an accident where you know someone else has been seriously injured or killed. The law may require you to stop and render aid at the scene of an accident. But you never have to volunteer information that can be used to prosecute you later. Indeed, if you are facing any sort of criminal charges following an accident, your best course of action is to remain silent and seek qualified legal advice.

Our experienced Houston criminal defense attorneys are here to help. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today to speak with a member of our staff today.