Two New York legislators have introduced legislation to repair what they perceive as a loophole in the state’s current drunk driving laws. The bill was motivated by the case of Alix Rice, a woman who was killed by an intoxicated driver who left the scene of the accident because he claimed he was unaware that his car had hit Ms. Rice.
The victim was riding her skateboard along a rural road in Amherst, N.Y., in 2011, when she was struck and killed by an automobile. The driver was arrested for DWI and charged with a felony for leaving the scene of the accident. However, the driver was able to avoid the felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident by testifying that he did not know that he had hit the woman. (The driver later was convicted of the lesser charge of driving while intoxicated.) The outcome in this case was important, because a felony conviction carries far more severe penalties than a conviction for a misdemeanor.
The proposed legislation would prevent an intoxicated driver from denying any knowledge of the incident. Generally, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted intentionally in leaving the scene of an accident in order to obtain a felony conviction. The driver’s denial of knowledge of the accident makes such proof very difficult. The bill lightens the prosecutor’s burden by creating a presumption that drunk drivers have knowledge of any accident that they caused. The law would apply only to intoxicated motorists.
Leaving the scene of an accident is an extremely serious offense. Anyone who is charged with such a crime should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to review the case and devise a defense strategy. If the proposed legislation passes, the services of a knowledgeable defense lawyer will become even more necessary.
Source: The Legislative Gazette, “Bill would close DWI loophole,” Adam Shelmerdine, Feb. 13, 2015