An interesting legal question was posed by the 1st DCA this week regarding the jury instructions for the charge of Leaving the Scene of an Accident Causing Death or Serious Bodily Injury (Florida Statute 316.027). In the case, the defendant was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident causing death (and vehicular homicide), after drinking for approximately 7 hours, and then driving his car while a firework was exploding inside the car, crashing into someone causing death, and then driving away.
During trial, the court read to the jury a jury instruction that stated the State must prove that the defendant either knew or should have known that he was involved in a crash.
However, the statute for Leaving the Scene of an Accident Causing Death provided that it is only a first degree felony for the driver of a vehicle who causes a crash resulting in death to willfully fail to stop and remain at the scene.
Therefore, the defendant appealed, arguing that the jury instruction misstates the law: a person cannot willfully leave the scene of a crash without actually knowing that the crash occurred.
The 1st DCA agreed with the defendant, overturned the conviction, and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court as an issue of great public importance.
The 4th DCA in Palm Beach County has also certified this question in Dorsett v. State, where the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the standard jury instruction for Leaving the Scene of an Accident Causing Death did not accurately state the law because a defendant must have actual knowledge of the crash in order to be held convicted for leaving the scene of a crash under the statute for Leaving the Scene of an Accident Causing Death.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.