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Changes to Florida’s Hit-and-Run Laws

This past month, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that will increase the penalties for hit-and-run drivers throughout Florida. As the Miami Herald reported this Thursday, Governor Scott held a ceremonial bill-signing to draw attention to the law, called the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act. The law took effect on July 1, and imposes a four-year mandatory-minimum prison sentence for drivers convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal car accident. It also boosts the sentence from two years to four years for a DUI driver who leaves a fatal crash scene. In addition, persons convicted under the law risk losing their driver’s licenses for up to three years. The law passed the Florida Legislature unanimously.

A Second Look at an Important Case

This news provides good occasion to revisit one of the most important cases decided about Florida’s hit-and-run law in recent years – the 2013 decision in Dorsett v. State. In that case, the defendant was driving his pick-up truck near a crowded beach. As he was driving through a crosswalk, a young man on a skateboard fell and was crushed by the truck’s rear tire, killing him. The driver, however, had the windows up, the air conditioner on, and the radio going at full volume. According to him, at least, he didn’t hear a sound or otherwise have any idea that he’d hit someone, so he drove on. The Florida hit-and-run statute requires that the defendant commit the act “willfully” or “knowingly.” The question, thus, was whether the driver – who claimed not to have understood that there had even been an accident – could have done what he did willfully or knowingly. In more legal terms, the question is whether a conviction under the Florida hit and run law requires actual knowledge of the accident.

The Florida Court of Appeals concluded that the answer to this question is “yes.” It ruled that, implicit in the idea of deciding to flee the scene of an accident willfully is the idea that one knows that an accident has occurred. Although it allowed that, in the specific case at issue, there was some basis on which the jury could conclude that the defendant did, in fact, know of the accident, it nevertheless emphasized that the state bore the burden to prove that fact. As such, the instructions given to the jury at trial, which did not make clear that the defendant had to have specific knowledge of the accident, were inadequate, and the driver would get a new trial.

Good Counsel Keeps Up-to-Date

Attorney Kevin J. Kulik has been handling hit-and-run cases for years, and can help you navigate the impact these legal changes might have in your hit-and-run case. With the penalties for hit-and-run driving in Florida now stiffer than they’ve ever been, it’s even more important to obtain counsel who understands the strict requirements that the government has to prove before it can succeed in obtaining a hit-and-run conviction. So, if you find yourself in the position of facing a hit-and-run prosecution, get in touch with someone like KevinJ. Kulik, P.A. who’s not only abreast of the latest changes in Florida’s laws, but prepared to hold the state to its burden to show that you knew the accident happened.

 

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