The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that drivers must possess “actual knowledge” of a motor accident to be found guilty of charges in a hit-and-run case.
Zachariah Dorsett hit a teenager with his heavy pickup, after the teen fell off a skateboard into the road. Mr. Dorsett was pulled over and arrested by police roughly three miles from the scene of the accident and was charged with a serious offense, leaving the scene of a crash involving injury by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office. Nicholas Savinon, was dragged roughly 40 feet on North Ocean Boulevard in Boca Raton, Florida. He suffered numerous injuries: traumatic injuries to the brain, both a dislocated and fractured hip, along with fractures and various other injuries to his face.
When questioned, Dorsett claimed he did not even know that he hit the teenager; he explained that the radio was blasting at full volume, his windshield wipers and AC were running, and all of his windows happened to be rolled up. Dorsett was found guilty at trial, and sentenced to two years in a Florida prison.
At appeal, Dorsett’s criminal attorney argued that jurors were never given instructions explaining the fact that state law requires “actual knowledge of the accident” to be found accountable for the crime. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal heard the case, and reversed the lower court’s conviction. The case was then reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court; Justice Charles Canady wrote a 13-page opinion agreeing with the appeals court decision:
“Although (the section of state law) does not expressly state that actual knowledge is required for a violation, the law does expressly provide that a felony criminal violation requires that the driver ‘willfully’ violate the statute,” the opinion said. “For the reasons we explain, we conclude that a willful violation can be established only if the driver had actual knowledge that a crash occurred.”
This decision ensures that a motorist who is unknowingly involved in an accident can no longer be held liable for leaving the scene of an accident. This ruling is arguably significant for criminal defense attorneys, because prosecutors will now have an additional burden of proof in order to convict a defendant. Prosecution must now show that the defendant has knowledge of the accident in order to claim they willfully and intentionally left the scene.
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