This morning, Local 10 reported on an LSA (leaving the scene of an accident) whereby the victim was killed. In Florida, this is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in state prison.
In Palmetto Bay, a father was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
The father was reportedly rollerblading to work early Monday morning when he was killed.
The driver of the car that hit him allegedly drove off without calling 911 or rendering aid.
For those of us who live in the Miami-Dade/Broward area, we understand what a commuter culture this is. Public transportation is not great, and with the widespread sprawl of our respective counties, we rely on our cars to get us from Point A to Point B.
Add that to the already stressful lives we live, and the fact that many drivers in South Florida either have no driver's license, no insurance, or both - and we can surely see why South Florida often leads the nation in hit-and-run accidents.
Leaving the scene of an accident, or LSA, is a second-degree misdemeanor by itself. That means, that if you get into an accident with another car that results in no injuries (a fender bender, for example), but you leave the scene without calling the police or exchanging information with the other driver, you have committed a crime.
The maximum penalty for misdemeanor LSA is 60 days in jail, 6 months probation, or a $500 fine.
However, if somebody is injured as a result of the LSA, the crime is elevated to a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
If somebody is killed as a result of a hit-and-run accident, the crime becomes a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Accidents happen everyday. Sometimes they are fatal. Provided the driver at fault was not impaired by drugs or alcohol, was not driving recklessly, or was not in the commission of a felony or high-speed pursuit, there really should be no criminal charges. Of course there will be civil liability (the driver at fault will be sued), but you will not be facing prison time and a criminal conviction as a result of the accident, even if it resulted in a death. This is called a "fatality" and it may result in the suspension of your driver's license if you committed a traffic infraction that resulted in the death. But you will not face criminal charges provided that no crime was committed.
If you get into an accident (and they are called "accidents" because we don't intend to cause them), remain at the scene. Check to make sure both you and the other driver(s) are okay. If they are injured DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE THEM. Call 911. Unless you are a doctor or otherwise trained in medicine, you should never move an injured person. Moving them can make their injuries worse.
If you are injured, wait in your car until help arrives.
However, many people panic when they cause car accidents. You may be texting, talking on your phone, or simply not paying attention. You may be speeding to catch that yellow light before it turns red. And as we know here in South Florida, people run red lights like it's going out of style.
So say you run a red light doing 50 miles per hour and you T-Bone another car. The other car spins out and the driver looks to be in bad shape.
Do not panic.
Running a red light is not a crime. Speeding, by itself, is not a crime. Leaving the scene of an accident where somebody has been killed? That's a very serious crime.
99% of the time people flee the scene of an accident because they are scared. This is a natural human response. But you must consider the alternative. If you leave, the police may later find you. If they do, you will be arrested, and you will face 30 years in prison. If more than one person was killed, you will face 30 years per victim (per count of LSA with death).
Okay, so what if you did flee the scene...
Police departments have traffic homicide divisions that handle LSA with death investigations. Traffic homicide detectives will investigate the scene and take statements from eyewitnesses. One of the first things they will do is try to get a description of the the vehicle that fled the scene. They will get the make, model, and hopefully a plate number.
If there was a red-light camera (like they have in parts of Broward), they make check the footage to see if they can make out the vehicle.
Usually, LSAs will make the news (such as the story on www.local10.com). The news will broadcast the suspect vehicle's information along with a tip line that viewers can call. If your car is sitting in your driveway, your neighbor may be on the phone with the cops telling them who you are.
However, if the cops are able to get a license plate number, they will not even have to take the information to the media in order to find the suspect.
They will run the plate information in the DHSMV (Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) database. Since the DHSMV has your current address and personal information on file, the police will instantly know who you are. They will then come to your house. They may have in their possession a search warrant to inspect your car for traces of physical evidence. They may come and place you under arrest.
If the police have not come to your house, they may try to contact you by phone. Remember that you have the right to have an attorney present when you speak to law enforcement. Remember that you also have no obligation to speak to law enforcement.
If the police call you and want to discuss an LSA case with you, you may refuse to speak with them. However, if you choose to speak with them, it is crucial that you contact a South Florida criminal defense attorney first. The police will try to get a confession out of you. In my experience, confessions are very powerful pieces of evidence. Do not give the police and prosecutors what they need in order to convict you. You should contact a criminal lawyer if you are under investigation for an LSA.
If you are arrested, you should know that LSA with death is a bondable offense. You can post your bond and remain out of custody while your case is pending. The judge may order you not to drive, or may subject you to house arrest.
LSA with death can result in a variety of penalties. From community control or probation, all the way up to prison.
In these types of cases, typically the next of kin (family of the deceased) will have a lot of input as to what plea offers are made. Both the Miami-Dade and Broward State Attorneys' Offices rely heavily on the recommendations of victims and their families.
LSA with death is a serious crime. If you have been charged or are under investigation, call me today to discuss your options.