Leaving the Scene of an Accident Can Lead to Serious Criminal Charges

December 11th, 2018 by Tad Nelson in Traffic Offenses

Most of us try to drive carefully at all times. But auto accidents are inevitable, especially when driving on the congested roads in and around Houston. What is important to remember is that you have certain legal responsibilities as a driver to “stop and render aid” following an accident.

Under the Texas Transportation Code, if you are involved in an accident, you are required to “immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to the scene as possible.” If you have already left the scene, you must “immediately return.” Once stopped, you must remain there until you have exchanged information with the other driver and rendered assistance to anyone who may have been injured in the accident (e.g., by calling 911).

Leaving the scene of an accident without stopping to render aid is itself a traffic violation under Texas law. The severity of the crime depends on the damage caused by the accident. If you leave the scene of an accident that only resulted in minor property damage to the other person’s car–less than $200 worth–it is a Class C misdemeanor. But if someone was injured (or killed) in the accident, leaving the scene is a felony.

Long-Simmering Dispute Leads to Felony Conviction Following SUV-Tricycle Collision

Here is a recent Texas case on point. In Higgins v. State, the defendant was driving his SUV down the road when he “bumped into” an adult tricycle operated by an elderly man. The tricycle operator later testified the defendant “gave me the finger and said something.” The defendant then “sped away” from the scene.

The tricycle operator then said he “momentarily blacked out,” and when he came to a few moments later, he was “sitting on the gravel a few feet from his tricycle.” At this point, the operator also observed there was minor damage to his tricycle.

Prosecutors eventually charged the defendant with “failure to stop and render aid following a traffic collision.” At trial, the defendant made several attempts to introduce evidence of a civil lawsuit he brought against the tricycle operator–there was apparently a long history of animosity between the two men–but the trial judge refused to let the jury hear about this. The jury found the defendant guilty, and the court gave the defendant a one-year jail sentence, which was suspended in favor of two years of community supervision (probation).

On appeal, the defendant argued the trial court erred in refusing to let him present evidence of the civil suit, which he maintained showed the tricycle operator was a “biased witness.” The Court of Appeals saw no merit in this argument. For one thing, the jury did hear plenty of evidence regarding the “history of bitterness” between the two men, including testimony from witnesses who had observed the ongoing feud. The jury was therefore “well aware of [the defendant’s] position that [the tricycle operator] was not an innocent stranger, but an aggressor who was the subject of an ongoing civil dispute,” and could evaluate each party’s credibility as it saw fit.

Speak with a Houston Traffic Violations Defense Lawyer Today

Even when an accident involves two perfect strangers, a failure to stop and render appropriate aid can quickly escalate a minor fender-bender into a potential felony criminal case. If you need advice or assistance from a qualified Houston traffic ticket lawyer in avoiding such an outcome, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston and League City today.

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