These incidents have become increasingly common over the past few years, especially among pedestrian accidents. Today, about 25 percent of pedestrian accidents are hit-and-runs. Frequently, people flee accident scenes because they don’t have insurance, have immigration issues, or are otherwise afraid of the consequences. Regardless of the reason, these victims badly need compensation for their injuries. The medical bills are usually quite high, since pedestrians have no protection from oncoming cars.
On the criminal side, prosecutors are very aggressive in this area. Most people detest most hit-and-run drivers. Additionally, as mentioned, the victims are often seriously injured, which means there’s a substantial sympathy factor. Therefore, society demands justice. In their quest for justice, prosecutors sometimes present weak cases in court. Generally, they hope that because the defendant has immigration issues or otherwise wants to remain in the shadows, the defendant will quickly agree to an unfavorable plea bargain. Unfortunately, that’s often how it goes down.
If you or a loved one was a victim of a hit-and-run driver, a Marietta personal injury lawyer can obtain the compensation you need and deserve, even if there was little or no evidence at the scene. Similarly, if you or a loved one was accused of being a hit-and-run driver, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer challenges the often-scant evidence in court and obtains the best possible result.
Criminal Court Issues
If the accident causes a serious or fatal injury, Section 40-6-270 is a felony in Georgia. A conviction could mean up to five years in jail. If the accident caused a non-serious injury or property damage, the offense is a misdemeanor.
Incidentally, this law applies to all drivers involved in all accidents, whether or not they are at fault for the collision.
Usually, a “serious injury” is any injury that requires emergency medical care. Treatment at the scene generally isn’t a serious injury. Additionally, if the crash victim goes to the emergency room, gets tired of waiting, and goes home, that’s not a serious injury, even though prosecutors normally charge it as such.
Lack of evidence regarding the driver is even a more common issue. Frequently, witnesses only identify the vehicles, especially if the hit-and-run happened at night. In court, prosecutors must prove that the defendant, as opposed to someone in the defendant’s car, violated Section 40-6-270. This issue also comes up if more than one person gets out of the vehicle and flees on foot. It’s difficult to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, which one was behind the wheel at the time.
A Marietta criminal defense attorney could also use lack of credible evidence to obtain a positive result. Crash victims usually aren’t credible witnesses, especially in criminal court. Vehicle collisions often cause head injuries and other wounds that affect sensory perception. On a related note, crash victims are often in so much pain that that’s all they think about.
Crash witnesses may not be credible witnesses either, once again, especially if the wreck happened at night. Eyewitness testimony is generally unreliable. Since 1989, inaccurate eyewitness testimony has been the primary factor in over 70 percent of reversals. Cross-racial identification mistakes are even more common. If a white man sees ten black men who are about the same age, weight, and height, they all look alike. That’s not racism. That’s science.
Resolving Hit-and-Run Criminal Cases
Charge reduction plea bargains have been very common in Georgia criminal courts since plea bargains first became common in the 1890s. Hit-and-run cases are tailor-made for these arrangements. Dur to lack of evidence issues, prosecutors are usually willing to reduce felony hit-and-run charges to misdemeanor charges.
There’s an extremely big difference between a felony and misdemeanor. A felony conviction could mean long-term confinement in a remote prison facility. Moreover, felonies usually have substantial collateral consequences. Many people believe that convicted felons are bad people. A misdemeanor, on the other hand, means less than a year, usually in a local facility. Additionally, misdemeanors don’t have the same collateral consequences. Many people believe that these individuals made a poor choice.
Hit-and-Run Negligence Claims
Lack of evidence usually isn’t a problem for Marietta personal injury lawyers. The burden of proof in civil court (a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not) is much lower. So, a little proof goes a long way.
A witness doesn’t need to get a look at a driver or even a good look at a vehicle. Assume a witness sees a red pickup hit a pedestrian and keep going. A few blocks away, a traffic camera spots a red pickup and captures a partial plate number. That’s enough for an attorney to locate the vehicle’s owner. It’s more likely than not that the owner was driving the vehicle at the time.
On a related note, the eyewitness doesn’t need absolute credibility. If a witness has a poor viewing angle or the street was dark, it’s still more likely than not that the witness saw a red pickup.
Once a Marietta personal injury lawyer identifies the tortfeasor (negligent driver), an attorney must prove negligence, or a lack of care. Common breaches of duty include aggressive driving, which is relatively easy to prove in a hit-and-run, and impaired driving, which is much harder to prove.
Other Options for Victims
Sometimes, an attorney and/or a private investigator cannot find the tortfeasor. In many hit-and-run cases, there’s simply not enough evidence.
Many drivers have UM/UIM policies. An uninsured or underinsured policy pays if the tortfeasor is, wait for it, uninsured or underinsured. These claims often settle quickly and on victim-friendly terms. An insurance company wants to keep its paying customer happy. Generally, it’s illegal for an insurance company to raise a policyholder’s rate for a car crash that wasn’t the policyholder’s fault.
Many incidents, such as hit-and-run wrecks, have civil and criminal consequences. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Virtual, home, and after-hours visits are available.