Leaving the scene of an accident, even if you didn't cause it, is illegal in Texas if there was property damage and/or injuries. The law requires that a person give certain information and, if injuries (or death), render aid. Failing to stop and render aid is more serious than failing to render information for obvious reasons. If you have been charged in Texas with the act of hit and run, leaving the scene of an accident (failing to stop and give information), or failing to stop and render aid (FSRA), then you need an experienced Board-certified criminal defense lawyer Doug Murphy.
While the law is tough in these situations, there are defenses. An experienced criminal defense lawyer who exercises thoughtful analysis of each individual case is qualified to help you win your case. Doug Murphy is that lawyer. He is a Board-certified criminal defense lawyer committed to winning. He's proven his capabilities and now, when not defending fellow Texans, he is training other lawyers how to defend their clients to maximize successful outcomes. Hit and run cases are difficult charges and require a comprehensive approach to each different circumstance. Doug Murphy addresses his strategy from multiple angles, putting forth the best case scenario for his clients.
Hit & Run: Failure to Stop & Render Aid, the Offense
Texas Transportation Code Ann. § 550.021 instructs all drivers directly after an accident involving injury or death to:
- Stop driving and park the vehicle at the scene of the accident;
- Stop and park the vehicle without obstructing traffic more than what is necessary;
- Return to the accident if the driver failed to stop the vehicle initially; and
- Remain with the vehicle at the scene of the accident until necessary requirements have been fulfilled.
What aid am I required to render after an accident?
According to Texas Transportation Code § 550.023, the driver of a vehicle who is involved in -- but not necessarily caused -- an accident that results in the injury or death of another person must provide reasonable assistance, including transporting or calling 911 to make arrangements for transporting the injured person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is evident that treatment is necessary or, alternatively, the injured party requests to be taken to a physician or hospital. Thus, if in an accident and someone may have been injured in the slightest, you need to stop and assist that person, make sure he or she receives appropriate care.
According to the same law, the driver of a vehicle who is involved in an accident, but damages another vehicle must also stop and give the following information to any person injured in the accident and/or to the operator(s) of any other vehicle(s) involved in the accident:
- Registration number of the vehicle he or she was driving; and
- Name and contact information of the insurance company; and, if requested,
- Driver's license number.
These actions combined are known as a motorist's duty to give information and render aid. In Texas, if you fail to stop and render, it is a criminal offense in Texas, which has the potential to result in felony charges.
Common Questions: the Police & Hit-and-Runs
If you have been in a hit-and-run, you likely have many questions. Studies have shown that those persons in hit-and-runs leave the scene because they are -- above all else -- scared of the consequences, and they make the rash decision thinking they can get away with it if they quickly leave the scene without fulfilling their duties as a motorist. Unfortunately, it only puts you at risk of more consequences if caught. The police in Texas take hit-and-runs seriously and will pursue any leads they have. You may have heard a story or two, or you just may be worried, confused, scared. Likewise, you probably have many questions about the police and your alleged hit-and-run.
What is the process for the police when they investigate a hit-and-run?
The police will collect eyewitness accounts, survey the accident area, review any available surveillance cameras, interview any parties to the accident, including injured parties, among other investigative tools. Sometimes the evidence isn't there to find a lead, but the case remains open. Other times, they obtain a lead, a name, and an address. When that happens, they may come for you.
If they see the car in the parking lot, they can identify or assess any damage to your vehicle that may prove consistent with the accident. This fact may scare you even more, but do not let it. Finding you and/or your vehicle is the easier part of the process. They must prove who was actually driving the car at the time of the accident. Ownership of the vehicle does not imply guilt: you could have permitted a friend or family member to use the vehicle. The prosecutor must establish you or someone else was driving the vehicle. The easiest means to that end is to “persuade” you to admit it.
Admission of driving the vehicle will result in an arrest and a citation. The prosecution will still need to prove that you actually were in an accident and left the scene. If they can do that, then you will likely be convicted. Your best option to prevent arrest and subsequent conviction is simple: do not speak to the police. If you feel as though you have to say something, then tell them you need to speak with your attorney first before responding to their questions.
The police have been trying to contact me. What should I do?
If the police are at your door knocking, do not answer it. If they call you, politely advise them that you need to speak to a lawyer first and then hang up. If they left a message, do not call back. Even if the police send you a formal letter requesting you come to the station for questioning, do not respond to letter either in kind or by going to the station at the requested time. You are not obligated to open the door, speak to them on the phone or respond to them by letter. Only if they have a search warrant are you required to let them in. If they have an arrest warrant, they may arrest you, but you do not have to talk to them. Demand to speak with a lawyer first.
Won't it make it worse for me if I don't respond to the police's attempt to speak with me?
No, but you could make it worse for yourself if you speak to them, especially if you are not represented by another legal advocate who has your interests in mind. The police cannot do anything if you refuse to talk to them. If they end up citing you for the accident and a hit-and-run offense, then it would have likely occurred regardless if you spoke to them or not. You should immediately contact board certified criminal defense lawyer Doug Murphy before speaking with police.
Hit & Run: Failure to Stop & Render Aid, some Defenses
To protect your rights and help prevent a criminal record, there are a number of defenses that can be used to fight a conviction of leaving the scene of an accident and failing to stop and render aid.
- It wasn't you. This defense is the most obvious. If it wasn't you, then it wasn't you. Maybe someone was indeed driving your vehicle. Only the driver of the vehicle can be convicted; you cannot be convicted for someone else's actions, even if it was your vehicle. If your lawyer can establish that someone else was, in fact, driving your vehicle at the time of the accident, then you have a defense.
- Emergency Situations. Maybe there was an emergency, i.e., you were driving in response to an emergency, accidentally hit another object, but had to keep going. For example, maybe you were transporting a child with a life-threatening illness to the Emergency Room. These situations are strictly reviewed by judges, but they can if proven, be a valid defense.
- Insufficient knowledge of an injury. Sometimes, depending on circumstances, a person operating a vehicle may not even realize he or she struck something. The roads could be bad or weather conditions could make seeing difficult. In order to be convicted, you must have known or must have reasonably known that an injury or death resulted from the accident. Many times injuries are not realized until hours or days after the accident occurs. Maybe the accident caused no property damage (e.g., struck bumper only) and drivers and passengers all felt fine, no visible injuries, but one day later a passenger's shoulder begins to hurt, and it turns out he or she pulled a ligament.
- Involuntary Intoxication. In many instances, involuntary intoxication may not be a valid defense, but imagine if you were given the wrong medication prior to getting behind the wheel and operating the vehicle and then had an adverse reaction to the medication. If a medical practitioner inadvertently gave you the wrong medicine or you were not properly informed of side effects of medicine prescribed to you, then depending on the facts and the severity of the effect, you may have a valid defense.
- Inability to Provide Reasonable Assistance. If someone or something prevented you from rendering aid, you should not be held criminally responsible.
As you can see, these are difficult defenses to prove, but an experienced criminal defense lawyer will know how and when to use the defense if appropriate and accurate to do so. If argued well before a judge and jury, then a conviction may be prevented.
Overall, there is a lot that goes into making a good defense work, especially for a hit-and-run scenario. Having a defense isn't the same as having a defense strategy. You need to be able to use the defense to weaken the prosecutor's case. An experienced attorney knows how to use a defense to optimize chances of successful negotiations or -- if it comes to it -- trial.
Hit & Run: Failure to Stop & Render Aid, the Possible Penalties
If you leave a scene of an accident, and someone was either severely injured or died in that accident, then you could be charged with a third degree felony. Under § 12.34 of the Texas Penal Code, this charge -- if there's a conviction -- carries with it a fine of up to $10,00 and/or prison between two and ten years. If the injury is not serious, then a conviction could mean a fine of up to $5,000 and one year in a county jail or up to five years in state prison.
Hit-and-Run Lawyer in Houston, Texas
It is a difficult experience to be arrested due to the suspicion that you left the scene of an accident without rendering aid to a person injured from the accident experience. At Doug Murphy Law Firm, we devote our resources and capabilities to defend our clients' rights. We have decades of proven experience and a reputation earned in the courtroom for successful results. Attorney Doug Murphy is a Board certified criminal defense lawyer and a Board-certified DWI lawyer who not only fights on behalf of his clients but constantly gives back to the legal community to teach other attorneys how to do the same. Contact Doug Murphy online or at 713-229-8333 today to discuss the circumstances of your case.