Do I Have To Report An Accident Involving Unattended Property?
If you are involved in a minor car crash and no other person is involved, your first instinct might be to count your blessings and get back in your car and drive away. However, if your accident resulted in damage to any “unattended property”–such as another vehicle with no occupants or even a fixture like a fence–then you need to stop and try and locate the owner.
This is not simply a matter of good citizenship. Florida law requires you to stop and either locate the owner to inform them personally about the accident, or in the alternative leave a note on the unattended vehicle or property providing your name, address, and registration information. You also need to contact local law enforcement as soon as possible to report the accident. If you fail to take any of these steps, you can be charged with a crime. And we are not talking about a mere traffic ticket–leaving the scene of a crash involving unattended property is a second-degree misdemeanor.
Florida Appeals Court Tosses “Leaving the Scene” Conviction
As with any criminal charge, the burden is always on the prosecution to prove–beyond a reasonable doubt–that the defendant committed each element of the alleged offense. In the case of leaving the scene of an accident, this means proving the defendant failed to “stop” as required by the statute.
A recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Romo v. State, provides a useful illustration. In this case, the defendant was driving his vehicle on a rain-slicked road. He lost control of the vehicle and slid off the road, ultimately striking a traffic light pole and coming to a stop in a restaurant parking lot. Witnesses called the police to report the accident.
When an officer arrived at the scene, they found the defendant “standing outside” of his vehicle. The defendant remained there as the police conducted their investigation into the accident. Despite this, prosecutors still charged the defendant with leaving the scene of a crash involving unattended property. The case was tried before a judge, sitting without a jury, who found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to probation and community service.
On appeal, the Second District said the defendant was entitled to an acquittal. The prosecution simply failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “failed to immediately stop at the scene of the crash,” which is the first element required by the statute. As described above, the defendant did stop. He was standing next to his vehicle when the police arrived. The prosecution argued at trial that the defendant “did not intend to stay.” But as the Second District pointed out, the statute “does not criminalize an intent to leave the scene; a person must have actually failed to stop.”
Speak with a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Just as drivers need to follow the law when it comes to reporting an accident, prosecutors should also be held to account when they bring criminal cases without sufficient evidence. A qualified Tampa traffic offense lawyer can help you fight an unfair criminal charge. Contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.