One Austin woman witnessed a hit-and-run accident on October 8, 2017, and instead of ignoring it, she acted – she followed the car for miles on her moped, eventually getting close enough to write down a plate number. The driver was arrested and charged with intoxication assault with a vehicle, and is awaiting trial as of this writing. While it is rare to see Good Samaritans like this woman, it is sadly less uncommon to see hit-and-run accidents, especially if substances like drugs or alcohol are involved.
Criminal Charges in Texas
In Texas, hit-and-run is referred to in law as the charge of leaving the scene of an accident, and it is either a second or third degree felony if injury or death has occurred, depending on the specific nature of events. It can be a difficult cause of action to bring, if only because many times, witnesses or surveillance footage does not exist – many hit and runs occur at night – or because hit-and-run victims are commonly painted as being complicit in their own injuries. However, the same rules apply as would apply for any felony, meaning that evidence proving the requisite intent (or failure to comply) is still what matters.
Unlike many other causes of action where being caught red-handed may be what counts, a charge of leaving the scene of an accident can be initiated against you simply by police contacting you or visiting you at home. Despite this, it is imperative that you not be scared into simply leaving the scene of an accident, because (1) if you leave the scene, it will be held against you; and (2) if you fear giving information to the police, Texas law prohibits anything you provide at the scene of an accident from being used against you in civil suits. Criminal charges, obviously, are a different matter.
Defenses and Penalties
There are possible affirmative defenses to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Affirmative defenses are mitigating factors offered by the defense to try and cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s case. For example, in a criminal rape case, an affirmative defense to the charge is proof of the victim’s consent. In a hit-and-run case, an affirmative defense is often simply lack of knowledge – some accidents are so slight as to be plausibly not noticed, or the accident may occur in inclement weather, which might preclude visibility. You have the right to present information that may lessen your culpability if true.
If all else fails, it is important to keep in mind that with many hit-and-run accidents, it is possible to be found guilty but serve no jail time, especially if no one is injured due to your actions. While hit-and-run accident cases where death or significant injury occurs are rarely reduced to misdemeanors, less destructive cases have a better chance. Class C and Class D misdemeanors may also be eligible for expungement in some cases, especially if you receive deferred adjudication instead of a straightforward conviction.
Call Our Hit-and-Run Accident Attorneys
Hit-and-run accidents are difficult and scary from both sides of the law, but for every accident where a Good Samaritan is necessary, there is another where the defendant is scared and willing to make things right. If you need help in your hit-and-run case, the passionate New Braunfels auto accident lawyers at the Bettersworth Law Firm are happy to try and help.