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"I panicked and left the scene of an accident”.

Updated: 2 days ago



Hit and Run: deeds, not words.




‘PANICKING' WON'T BE ACCEPTED by the court.

Just so you know.


There's a good reason for that: if the court were to accept ‘panic’ as a good reason to leave the scene of the accident, then everyone and their mother would drive off after scraping the side of a parked car.

Or worse.


“Just tell them you drank a bottle of vodka
after the accident, and they’ll never be able
to prove that you were drunk
when the accident happened”.

So panicking is off the table as something that’s ‘acceptable’. After all, it’s known as Hit and Run for a reason. The imagery is not great.

 

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve all probably felt panic at certain times in our lives, but the panic usually doesn’t negatively affect other people.

Usually, the panic we feel is limited to ourselves. We’re the only ‘victims’ of it.

And that’s the important point.

 

Accidents are different.

They do happen, everyone understands that.

But accidents involve other people, not just us.

And that’s a problem as far as the court is concerned.

 

Here’s something else to bear in mind: credibility.

Coming into court months after the event and telling the court you panicked way back then is usually worthless unless the police accept that excuse.

Worthless in the sense that the judge doesn’t believe it.

 

That means the police would confirm that you had mentioned to them that you panicked at the time.  

The judge will often ask the police what their view about something like that is.

The reality is -for almost any defence in criminal law- if you don’t raise the defence issue there and then with the police officer at the scene, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to convince a judge later.


Not impossible, but unlikely.


You have a distinct lack of credibility coming to court with a defence the police never heard about at the time.

In politics it’s called a “credibility gap”, the difference between what was promised and what occurred.   


Same thing happens in law.


 

“Tell them this…”

 

I can’t count the number of times that clients have suggested a defence that is utterly implausible.

The view seems to be that unless the police didn’t actually catch you in the act, they can’t prove the case against you, and you’ll be acquitted.


The best one is the “I had some drink after the accident” defence.

In other words, while they accept that they had drank and driven, the ‘excuse’ now being devised is something they’ve read online:

“Just tell them you drank a bottle of vodka after the accident, and they’ll never be able to prove that you were drunk when the accident happened”.


This is the line of thinking.

Sounds vaguely plausible I suppose. Vaguely.

But we’re forgetting about something really important: common sense.


Its not so common you know.

 

The only problem with the “drinking after the accident” argument is that I’ve never seen it successfully deployed in court.

Ever.

Let’s revisit common sense again.

 

We all live in the real world. In the real world when people are involved in accidents they’re often dazed, confused, injured or worse. The first instinct is to get medical attention.

It is almost never to start drinking.


And even if your first instinct was to drink, it’d be one hell of a coincidence that after crashing you either had a drink right next to you waiting to be drunk, or you found a bottle of something just lying around the scene.


In the real-world coincidences like that don’t happen. They don’t exist. So peddling nonsense like this will not only make you look untruthful.


It also signals to the court that you think you’re smart enough to pull the wool over their eyes.

You, the person whose never been to court in their life, is going to tell a yarn to a judge who’s listened to a lifetime of yarns from people better able to make up stories than you?


Common sense.
Its not so common you know.

 






THE COURTS HAVE HEARD this sort of guff many times over years, and they’ve come up with ways to deal with it.

Pretty ingenious ways actually.

If you decide to argue this defence (“I drank after the accident”) then you will very likely need to bring a scientific expert to court who can give evidence that if it hadn’t been for that drink you had after the accident, you wouldn’t have been over the limit.

Good luck with that.

__________

 

Courts are not places inhabited by robots who mercilessly apply the law without feeling or sympathy.

They are made up of people. Real people.  

Real people with real lives.

 

I have often said that judges really dislike coming to decisions that create an unfairness.

They like fairness more than anything else.

It is not in the public interest to absolve people of guilt who are involved in an accident and drive away. Its also viewed as rather mean. After all, how would you like it if someone drove into the side of your mother’s car and drove away?

Precisely.

 

Penalty for leaving the scene of an accident.


The offence is covered by section 106 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. These are the things you must do when an accident occurs. These apply whether you collide with a person or property.

·       Stop the vehicle.

·       If someone is injured, offer them assistance.

·       Keep the vehicle at the scene “for a period which is reasonable”. 

·       Give the “appropriate information” to the other person or driver involved or a Garda.  

·       Report the accident to a Garda “as soon as practicable”.

 

If a person fails to do any of these things, they can face a maximum fine of €2,000 or 6 months in jail or both.


You, the person whose never been to court in their life,
is going to tell a yarn to a judge who’s listened to a lifetime of yarns
from people better able to make up stories than you?

 


Who’s entitled to the “appropriate information?


These include the person you crash into but also the owner of any property that you damage. The main requirement is to keep your vehicle at the scene for as long as it it’s necessary for anybody who’s entitled to get the information to actually get it.


This time period can vary depending on the case, but if nobody comes to the scene you don’t have to go banging on doors at 2:30am to find out if anybody is entitled to the information (ref. Mutton v Bates [1984]).


If your car is involved in a slight accident but you are not aware of it at the time (e.g. you had loud music playing and didn’t hear the accident) but you later discover a slight mark on your car, you must report it (ref DPP v Drury [1989]).


How long do you have to report the incident to the police? It has to be reported “as soon as practicable”. As soon as practicable is not the same as “as soon as possible”, but you can’t delay things either.


In an old UK case of Virgus v Man [1941] the court found that a three-hour delay in reporting the incident was too long. They felt that it should have been reported sooner and convicted the driver.

_____________


CONTRARY TO WHAT SOME people might think judges don’t automatically want to disqualify people who plead guilty to hit and run.

I say “plead guilty” as opposed to being found guilty.


There is a difference.


“Putting your best foot forward” is a legal euphemism for
“if you’re begging me not to disqualify you from driving,
what are you going to do for the court in return?” 

A person can of course plead not guilty to hit and run, just like they can plead not guilty to any charge they receive.

But here I am going to assume that you’ve decided to plead guilty because the police have CCTV evidence, or a statement from a witness showing that your car was involved in a hit and run or maybe you simply admitted you were at fault.  


Depending on a bunch of circumstances it is possible that you could avoid being disqualified from driving.

 

The biggest factor here is whether anyone was injured in the accident. If they were then the chances of avoiding a disqualification are very slim.

Why?


If the injury was a result of a hit and run then it stands to reason that you fled the scene, leaving an injured person behind.

Not only is a disqualification virtually certain, you are now at high risk of jail.

As citizens we have a moral duty to help our injured fellow man and woman.


Not only moral, but also legal.


Section 106 of the Road Traffic Act is mandatory when it comes to accidents involving vehicles: you must help anyone injured.

If you don’t you bear very heavy consequences.


One judge I knew ‘dropped’ his pen on the floor
at the first sight of tears and spent the next few minutes
pretending to pick it up until the crying in front of him stopped.
If it didn’t he'd tell the person to -how to put this delicately- “shut up”.

 

 

But let’s assume a different scenario.


After all, most hit and run incidents do not involve injury to anyone. They are usually scratches between vehicles in car parks or slight dents when a car reverses slowly into another car.

But sometimes they are crashes too.

Injuries are rare.


So, let’s say you do scratch someone’s car while pulling out of a carpark space and drive away.

Not very nice behaviour I’m sure you’ll agree. After all, if your car was scratched and someone drove away, you’d be pretty angry about it.

Say the police arrive to your home and you admit you did this terrible thing and full of remorse pay the costs of repairing the damage caused.

Say you speak to your solicitor and decide to plead guilty in court.

What happens then?

 

Assuming you have no previous convictions, were fully cooperative with the police, were insured at the time and -most importantly- paid in full the damage caused to the other driver, you would have a chance of avoiding a disqualification from driving.


That is because being found guilty of hit and run doesn’t carry an automatic ban from driving, like drink driving or dangerous driving.


The judge has a choice.

 

Which brings me back to my earlier point.

Accidents do happen. They happen to us all. Its what we do afterwards that determines what a judge may do if we appear before them charged with hit and run.


“Putting your best foot forward” is a legal euphemism for “if you’re begging me not to disqualify you from driving, what are you going to do for the court in return?” 

Expressions of remorse and guilt in courts up and down the country every day are so plentiful as to be valueless.


Unless there backed up by some ‘pain’ at your end they’re worthless.

After all, as far as a skeptical judge might be concerned, you’re only sorry now because you were caught. If you hadn’t been caught, you’d have done nothing about compensating the other motorist.

So, you “have a ways to go” as they say in rural Texas, to convince that skeptical judge.

 






AND THEY ARE SKEPTICAL. Not stupid, not out of touch, just skeptical.

They’ve seen a lifetime of story tellers stand in front of them in court, begging, wailing, crying.


None of it makes the slightest impression on them.

One judge I knew ‘dropped’ his pen on the floor at the first sight of tears and spent the next few minutes pretending to pick it up until the crying in front of him stopped.

If it didn’t, he’d stare coldly at the person and in a quiet voice tell them to -how to put this delicately- “shut up”.

You never saw tears evaporate so quickly.

 

But actions, positive actions, steps to right the wrong, actions that have taken you time, effort and money always make the difference.   

They make the difference because they have cost you.

They’re not empty words or gestures like saying sorry and pretending to cry.  


They’re tangible, real and have a value.

As your parents told you all those years ago: actions speak louder than words.


So choose your steps carefully if you hit something and forget about panicking.

 

 

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