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Car Accident Results in Serious Injuries, New York Appellate Court Discusses When Consecutive Sentences Appropriate

On the evening of March 19, 1992, the defendant, while driving in an intoxicated condition, struck an individual, severing one of his legs and permanently disabling his other leg (personal injury). The defendant fled the scene with several motorists in pursuit. In an effort to elude his pursuers, defendant ran several red lights and ultimately collided with a vehicle (car accident) in which the second complainant was seated. Although defendant then attempted to flee on foot, he was apprehended by a by-stander. The police arrived shortly thereafter and the defendant was arrested.

After a jury trial, the defendant was found guilty of vehicular assault in the second degree for leaving the scene of an incident without reporting and reckless endangerment in the first degree.

The Vehicle and Traffic Law provides that “Any person operating a motor vehicle who, knowing or having cause to know that personal injury has been caused to another person, due to an incident involving the motor vehicle operated by such person shall, before leaving the place where said personal injury occurred, stop, exhibit his licence and insurance identification card … give his name, residence … and [other enumerated] information … to the injured party, if practical, and also to a police officer …”

According to a New York Injury Lawyer while the defendant failed to stop, report or provide any of the requisite information to the alleged victim (the second complainant) after he collided with her vehicle; instead, fled the scene of the second collision on foot, the trial evidence did not establish that the alleged 2nd victim sustained any personal or physical injury.

The Vehicle and Traffic Law contains an inherent anomaly where it is required that the offending driver have “scienter”–i.e., that he must “[know] or [have] cause to know” that personal injury has been caused to another person by virtue of his operation of a motor vehicle. The offense of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, however, necessarily arises because the offender does not stop, inquire or ascertain whether injury resulted from his operation of a motor vehicle. Instead, the offender ignores the consequences of his actions by leaving the scene. Unless a person involved in a motor vehicle incident stops and/or inquires, the element of scienter (knowledge of the resulting injury) may be difficult to establish. It has been held that such knowledge can be gleaned or imputed from the circumstances surrounding the collision. The Court concluded that a jury could reasonably find that the victim’s head hit defendant’s windshield and that defendant, therefore, knew or had cause to know that personal injury was, in fact, caused to another. Where the impact of a motor vehicle collision is of great magnitude, a finding of scienter (or knowledge of injury) may be implicit. In such event, a jury could reasonably conclude, based upon the nature and extent of the impact, that personal injury was sustained by another and that the offending driver would have cause to know of such injury. Accordingly, it would appear that in the more typical “fender-bender” type collisions, the “victim” must, in fact, sustain some degree of personal or physical injury before knowledge of injury can be imputed to the offending driver.

A defendant’s criminal culpability is measured by (1) the fact that he left the scene of an incident without reporting and (2) the extent to which he has harmed the victim. It follows that a prerequisite to finding a defendant guilty under either subdivision is that the victim actually sustain the type of damage or injury delineated in that particular subdivision. A Bronx Personal Injury Lawyer said that only then can it fairly be said that defendant “should have known” that the specific form of damage or injury had been caused to another by virtue of his operation of a motor vehicle.

The trial evidence did not sufficiently establish that the alleged victim sustained any personal injury as a result of the collision with defendant. Only damage to the automobile was sustained; hence, dismissed.

Now, the issue is raised on the imposition of Consecutive Terms of Incarceration, according to a Manhattan Personal Injury Lawyer. The Penal Law provides that there are two situations in which sentences imposed for two or more offenses must run concurrently – where offenses are committed through a single act or omission or where an act or omission constitutes both one of the offenses and a material element of the other.

The crimes for which defendant stands convicted were not committed through a single act. These acts constituted the crimes of vehicular assault in the second degree, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting (as to the first complainant) and reckless endangerment. Each crime was committed through distinct acts, occurring in a “consecutive” time frame, rather than as a result of a single act or omission.

As repeatedly held, where one crime is effectively completed before the other crime takes place, consecutive sentences is justified. The continuous, heinous course of conduct of the defendant, constituting three distinct criminal acts, warranted the imposition of consecutive sentences of imprisonment for leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, as a felony.

Have you been injured because of the reckless driving of another or you know someone who is? Are you tired of the wanton disregard of another of your right to be safe in your person? Stop these reckless individuals from endangering themselves and the people around them. Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates for consultation.

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