When involved in a vehicle accident, a person has the legal and moral duty to remain at the scene, provide contact and insurance information and to call for medical assistance if necessary. For one reason or another, many people simply drive away without doing any of these things, which is known as a hit and run. There are severe consequences for taking such action, but there are a few defenses you can use that may result in the charges being dropped.
Two Types of Charges
If you leave the scene of an accident, you may be hit with one of two charges: Fail to Remain or Fail to Stop. The Fail to Remain statue falls under the Highway Traffic Act and is primarily used when the accident only causes property damage. For instance, an officer will charge you with this crime if you drove away after hitting an empty parked car.
You will be issued a traffic ticket, and you may be subjected to the following punishment depending on the circumstances of the accident and any previous infractions you've had:
- A fine ranging from $400 to $2,000
- Up to 6 months in jail
- Up to 2 years suspended license
- Seven demerit points
- Increased insurance rates
Fail to Stop, on the other hand, is a federal offense regulated by the Criminal Code of Canada. This charge is levied against people who leave the scene of an accident where physical injury or death occurred. For example, if you drive away after hitting a pedestrian who is later diagnosed with injuries or dies, you could be charge with a felony. The punishment for a Fail to Stop is up to 10 years for injuries and up to life imprisonment if someone was killed in the accident.
To successfully convict you of a hit and run crime, the Crown prosecutor must prove:
- You were operating the vehicle at the time of the accident
- Identify the make and model of the vehicle you were driving
- The accident involved another vehicle, person or cattle
- That you caused damage to the person or object you struck
- You were aware you had been involved in an accident
- You didn't stop or stay at the scene, offer assistance or provided your contact information to the affected party
- You fled the scene for the express purpose of avoiding criminal prosecution or civil liability for the accident
If you can prove any of these allegations false or provide a valid reason for your actions, then you may escape a conviction. For example, sometimes the registered owner of the vehicle is charged when the individual was not actually driving the car at the time of the accident. Either the owner loaned the car to someone else or the vehicle was stolen. If you can prove you weren't driving, then you can get the charges dismissed.
A superseding emergency may also be a valid defense against leaving the scene of an accident. For instance, a person hits a parked car but left the scene to take a passenger who was in labor to a hospital. Though the person is still liable for the damages, he or she will likely escape any criminal charges that may have been levied because of the extenuating circumstances.
Effectively defending against charges of a hit and run can be challenging, but it is possible to avoid being convicted of this crime if you have a valid defense. It is best to discuss your case with a knowledgeable attorney who has experience in this area. The lawyer can help you explore your legal options and develop a strategy that may help you prevail in court.