Leaving Scene of Fatal NJ Accident – NJSA 2C:11-5.1
Defense Attorney for Hit and Run Charges
If you are the driver in an accident which results in someone’s death, and you flee the scene, you have committed a second-degree crime. A crime of the second degree in New Jersey is a serious matter. It is a felony and the second-most serious offense and carries up to a $150,000 fine and 5-10 years in prison.
Knowingly leaving the scene of an accident under New Jersey Law can also carry an additional charge of aggravated manslaughter or vehicular homicide. Those charges cannot be combined. Any sentence resulting from conviction in multiple charges will run consecutively, rather than concurrently. In other words, a defendant sentenced to 5 years for leaving the scene of an accident and 10 years for aggravated manslaughter must serve a total of 15 years.
What You Always Must Do in Case of an Accident
Identify Yourself and Offer assistance.
New Jersey Revised Statutes 39:4-129 requires a driver of a vehicle “knowingly involved in an accident resulting in injury of death to any person” to:
- immediately stop the vehicle at the accident scene (or as close as possible) and remain on scene
- produce a driver’s license and registration certificate to the person who was injured or whose property was damaged and provide the same information to any police on scene
- offer aid to anyone injured, including transporting the injured person to medical treatment
If You Cause Damage to an Unattended Vehicle
If you damage an unattended vehicle and cannot locate the owner, the law says that you must:
- attach a note in a “conspicuous place” in or on the vehicle giving your name and address
- report the damage to the nearest police department office as soon as the owner is identified and located
Note: The law assumes that anyone involved in an accident where another person dies or results in property damage of $250 or more “has knowledge that he was involved in such an accident.” A driver cannot claim lack of awareness of the injury or property damage caused in an accident “as long as the operator was aware” that the accident occurred.
Penalties for Leaving the Scene Involving Injury
Leaving the scene of an accident where an injury is involved is punishable by up to six months in prison. Average fines under this fourth-degree offense can be from $500 to $1000 and license suspension for one year for the first offense.
Also, offenders lose their driver’s license for up to one year. A second offense can result in a lifetime driving suspension. Also, leaving the scene of an accident where an injury has occurred can also carry an additional charge of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle.
If the accident only involves property damage, fines can also be extensive, but with lesser jail time. Violators can expect as much as a $500 fine and six-month suspension of driving privileges. The statute of limitations on leaving the scene of an accident is five years; that is, charges must be filed within five years of the offense.
Two Cases Involving Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Leaving the Scene of a Fatal Accident
In April 2020, A 38-year-old Absecon man left the scene of a fatal accident. Driving a 2016 Toyota, he struck another driver from behind. The impact propelled the struck vehicle into an oncoming lane and was struck head-on by another vehicle traveling north. The driver of the struck vehicle died at the hospital, the vehicle in the oncoming lane suffered serious bodily injuries.
The man who caused the accident faced the following charges:
- Leaving the Scene of a Fatal Motor Vehicle Crash
- Aggravated Manslaughter
- 4th degree Assault by Auto (for the injured driver involved in the head-on collision)
- Being Involved in a Fatal Motor Vehicle Crash while having a Suspended License.
Leaving the Scene of a Fatal Pedestrian Crash
In January 2020 a 64-year-old Patterson man was convicted in the death of a 48-year-old pedestrian. The driver hit the pedestrian who was crossing Main Street in Paterson. Rather than stopping, the driver left the scene. He was forced to return after a civilian witness chased him down.
The jury convicted the man of second-degree leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and third-degree endangering an injured victim. Since New Jersey State law requires that the sentences for each conviction must be served consecutively, the defendant faced up to 15 years in prison.
Possible Defenses for Leaving the Scene of an Accident
It is very difficult to defend against leaving the scene of an accident. The defenses that exist rarely provide complete release from liability resulting in the poor decision to flee the scene. Three main defenses are:
1. Involuntary intoxication/diminished capacity
Involuntary intoxication would be when a person was unknowingly drugged and became involved in a hit and run accident. Diminished capacity applies to a lowered mental state where a person cannot be held responsible for committing a crime.
2. Responding to an emergency
This might apply if the driver was speeding to the hospital while a passenger was in the final stages of labor. It is up to the local authorities to determine whether the circumstances justified an actual emergency as the excuse for failing to remain at the scene of an accident.
3. Lack of knowledge
This could apply if a person leaves an accident believing there was no damage to the property or any injuries to anyone. However, a person could face the charge of negligence or reckless driving even while claiming lack of knowledge. Nevertheless, as previously mentioned, the fact that the accident occurred and the driver left the scene, is proof that the driver broke the law.
You Deserve the Best Defense
Anthony J. Vecchio is a former prosecutor. He has been on both sides and knows how to get the best possible outcomes for anyone accused of a crime. Contact this New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer for a confidential and free consultation, or call 732-334-7468 to make an appointment.