In 2016, Georgia had the fourth-highest number of hit-and-run accidents in the country. Some of these drivers did not know that they hit someone or something. That’s especially common in fender-bender and pedestrian accidents. Other motorists think that no one will notice a door ding or other parking lot mishap.
But most of these drivers are probably afraid of the consequences. Typically, this fear stems from lack of insurance, illegal immigration status, or panic over causing the accident.
None of these excuses are valid defenses to Section 4-6-270, which is Georgia’s hit-and-run law. Even if the defendant was not at fault, and even if no one was hurt and the damage was miniscule, FSRA (Failure to Stop and Render Aid) is a serious misdemeanor. It carries a maximum one year in jail and a minimum $300 fine. The maximum fine is $1,000.
Probation may be available, especially for a first-time offense if no one was seriously hurt. FSRA probation is extremely restrictive. In some cases, it could affect your driving privileges. For example, if the wreck was alcohol-involved, a judge will almost certainly impose an Ignition Interlock Device requirement. If someone was seriously hurt, FSRA is even worse. At that point, FSRA is a felony (one to five years in prison). Felony probation is even longer and more restrictive than misdemeanor probation.
Whether you are charged with misdemeanor or felony FSRA, an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney can reduce or eliminate all these adverse consequences.
Elements of the Offense and Pretrial Investigation
As the name implies, FSRA imposes a number of requirements on Cobb County motorists. Stopping after the accident is not enough. The statute also requires motorists in these situations to:
- Stop as soon as possible and immediately return to the accident scene,
- Provide name, address, and vehicle registration number to the other driver or victim, or leave such information in a note if the vehicle was unoccupied,
- Produce a drivers’ license “upon request and if it is available,”
- Assist an injured victim, probably by calling 9-1-1, and
- If the victim is unconscious, report the accident to police.
So, there are both substantive and technical FSRA violations. Aggressive prosecutors almost always press charges over either type of infraction.
Assume Kim hits a parked car and leaves a note with her name, address, and telephone number. If I hit someone in the parking lot, that’s probably what I would put in a note. But since Kim did not include her vehicle registration number, she could be charged with FSRA.
Or, assume Curtis sideswipes a car. Although he pulls over straightaway, he fumbles for a few minutes to look for his drivers’ license and write a note. Since he did not “forthwith” return to the accident scene, he could be charged with FSRA as well.
Most FSRA cases involve substantive violations. These are classic hit-and-run incidents. In non-serious injury cases, investigators usually do not do too much. They often view such incidents as a civil matter between the alleged victim and the insurance company. But in serious injury or deadly hit-and-run cases, authorities often launce extensive investigations. These efforts include:
- Looking for physical evidence at the scene, such as a coolant trail,
- Following the evidence trail,
- Reviewing nearby surveillance video, and
- Canvassing the area for witnesses.
Despite the intensive nature of these investigations, they often do not yield enough circumstantial evidence to convict the defendant, as outlined below. But at this point, the investigation only needs to produce probable cause. That’s a much lower standard of evidence than the one a Cobb County judge uses at trial.
What to Expect in an FSRA Case
The court case typically begins when prosecutors file informations, which are the main charging instruments in both felonies and misdemeanors. In some felony cases, prosecutors first present their cases to grand juries. These bodies then decide if there is probable cause to file charges. But typically, grand juries only review extremely serious cases, like murders, or extremely complex financial crimes.
Technically, Georgia prosecutors must only prove that the defendant left the scene of an accident before fulfilling all the substantive and technical obligations in the statute. But sometimes, and this is where attention to detail comes in, prosecutors plead FSRA crimes much like theft offenses. The charging instruments include the name of the alleged victim.
Prosecutors hope that the alleged victim’s testimony will make their cases more compelling. That may be true, but it also makes the prosecution more complex. It’s not always easy to secure an alleged victim’s cooperation, especially after several months or years go by.
Most FSRA cases settle out of court. Often, this settlement includes a plea to a lesser-included offense, like reckless driving. This offense is a misdemeanor, but it does not carry the same stigma as hit-and-run. Furthermore, FSRA may be a crime of moral turpitude in some contexts, but reckless driving is never a CMT in any context.
Some Possible Defenses
Lack of evidence
How does a Marietta criminal defense attorney obtain such a positive result in such a serious crime? The answer is usually either lack of evidence or an affirmative defense.
Many times, police investigators identify the vehicle that caused the collision, but they do not identify the person who drove the vehicle. If the vehicle was a family car or if the owner sometimes loaned the vehicle to a roommate or another party, which is often the case, the jury may have a reasonable doubt as to who was behind the wheel at the time. This same defense is available in many DUI collision cases.
Additionally, the alleged victim’s behavior at the scene may be an affirmative defense, at least to the degree of punishment. Many people are belligerent are outright hostile after an accident, perhaps due to a brain injury or perhaps just because of their natural personalities. Such aggression could explain why the defendant did not linger at the scene.
Contact a Hard-Hitting Lawyer
FSRA charges are daunting, but there are a number of defenses. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. The sooner you call, the sooner we’ll begin working for you.