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How a Hit-and-Run Accident Can Lead to Felony Charges in Texas

Many traffic violations do not involve anyone besides the driver. For instance, if you run a red light through an otherwise empty intersection, you broke the law but did not hurt anyone. Of course, if a police officer saw you, she will still issue you a ticket.

But when you are involved in an accident that causes serious injury, or even death, to another person, then you need to be mindful of what Texas traffic laws require of you in these situations. By law, if you are in an accident that is “reasonably likely” to result in injury or death to a third party, you must “immediately” stop at, or return to, the accident scene. In addition, you are responsible for determining if anyone at the scene “requires aid.” And you must remain at the scene until you provide certain information, including your driver’s license and insurance information. If you fail to “stop and render aid,” prosecutors can charge you with a felony.

Court of Criminal Appeals: Defendant Entitled to “Mistake of Fact” Instruction in Failure to Stop and Render Aid Case

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently addressed a case where a man was convicted of failing to stop and render aid. A jury sentenced the defendant to six years in prison. The Court of Criminal Appeals opened the door to reversing this conviction, however, due to a potential flaw in the instructions given to the jury.

Here is what happened. The defendant was driving a motor vehicle and collided with a bicycle. The bicyclist died as the result of his injuries. Prosecutors charged the defendant with failing to stop and render aid.

At trial, the defendant conceded that he did not stop or render aid. But he insisted that “he did not know at the time of the collision that he had struck a person who required his assistance.” But the jury also heard evidence from Harris County accident reconstruction specialists, who concluded that a driver in the defendant’s position “could have seen” the bicyclist just before the accident and was likely “aware that the collision had occurred because the debris path showed that the driver [i.e., the defendant] had swerved.”

As the Court of Criminal Appeals explained, Texas law does not require a driver to stop and render aid after “any kind of accident.” Instead, prosecutors must prove that the accident in question was “reasonably likely” to result in death or serious injury to trigger the duty to stop and render aid. Here, the evidence was sufficient to prove this.

The problem, the appeals court said, was that the defendant requested a jury instruction on his defense that he made an honest “mistake in fact” when he assumed he did not hit anyone. The trial court declined to give this instruction, which the Court of Criminal Appeals said was a legal error. The Court therefore returned the case to an intermediate appellate court to determine if this failure to give the instruction justified granting the defendant a new trial.

Speak with a Houston Traffic Violations Defense Lawyer Today

Most traffic violations do not result in felony charges. But when they do, it is important to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who will aggressively represent your interests in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today if you need assistance today. Call (281) 280-0100.