Florida Supreme Court Justices have spoken, and prosecutors may now find it more difficult to convict people who are charged with hit-and-run.
In 2013, Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal overturned Zachariah Dorsett’s conviction and prison sentence. Dorsett had been convicted of leaving the scene of an accident that caused injury. In the accident, Nicholas Savinon, aged 15, was dragged under Dorsett’s pickup truck for a distance of 40 feet.
The appellate court’s ruling included that the jury did not receive two special instructions, one of which would have told them that prosecutors had the duty to prove that Dorsett had knowledge that an accident had occurred. Prosecutors hoped that the Florida Supreme Court would rule that “knowledge” should be more specific. They did not.
Issuing a 13-page ruling, the high court said that the phrase is standard. Written in the unanimous decision is the following:
“The State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver had actual knowledge of the crash, an essential element of the crime of leaving the scene of a crash.”
According to public record, there were just over 6,000 crashes in Palm Beach County in 2013 that involved drivers leaving the scene. All of these crashes included injury, property damage, or death. In 2011, the number of hit-and-run accidents were almost half of that number.
Former prosecutor Elizabeth Parker, now a defense attorney, said the ruling will ensure that investigators must give direct evidence that a defendant knew he or she had been involved in an accident. The evidence may come from physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, concrete facts, or confessions.
Convictions can no longer happen based on the fact that a crash occurred and a driver left the scene. That driver must be proven to have known there was a crash.
It is unclear whether the ruling will be retroactive or if it will only apply to cases going forward. The high court did not answer this question in its ruling.
For many hit-and-run victims, this comes as a slap in the face. That includes Lydia Savinon, Nicholas’ mother. Nicholas continues to thrive, despite dealing with the complications brought about by traumatic brain injury.
If you or a loved one have been the victim of a hit-and-run driver, you need a compassionate lawyer to guide you through the next steps of your case. Call us for a free consultation. We will listen to your account and advise you as to the best course of action.