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Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury in Massachusetts: What is the Commonwealth required to prove?

Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury in Massachusetts is prohibited by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90 Section 24(2)(a1/2(1).  The Massachusetts Court of Appeals recently discussed in the case of Commonwealth v. Hector Rico, decided in December of 2020 what the Commonwealth would have to prove to obtain a conviction on this charge.  The issue before the Court was whether the defendant had to know there was an accident and also have knowledge that someone suffered injury.

The Appeals Court found that the Commonwealth must establish the defendant’s knowledge on both elements of the offense.

The Leaving the Scene Statute states:  Whoever operate a motor vehicle upon any way . . . And without stopping and making his known his name, residence and registration number of his motor vehicle, goes away after knowingly colliding with or otherwise causing injury to any person not result in death she be punished.

In this case the defendant was fleeing from an officer; the officer in trying to catch him collided with another car; the defendant was charged with leaving the scene of person injury. The Appeals Court found that even if the jury could concluded that his swerved caused the injury and that he knew it caused the injury; there would be no evidence that he knew injury resulted from the swerve.  The Commonwealth proceeded under the theory that the defendant caused injury to the officer by swerving and left the scene of the accident.

The Appeals Court found that there was no evidence that the defendant saw the officer collide with another car.  Moreover, the Court found that even if you can infer that he knew there was an accident, you cannot infer that he would have known that there was an injury.  There was no testimony from any witness about the sounds from the accident.  There was no evidence to allow the defendant knew the force of the collision or a collusion that the officer would have been injured.

As a result the Appeals Court vacated the defendant’s conviction.  This is an important decision about how the knowledge element of a criminal statute modifies the entire statute.  When interpreting a criminal law, if there is a knowledge element with the word knowingly, the Appeals Court has interpreted it to mean all parts of the statute require knowledge.  This case is important as it interprets the Leaving the Scene Statute requiring that the person know there was both an accident and injury caused.  This case would exclude many times of cases with minor damage to vehicles from the leaving the scene of personal injury statute.  Based on this case, only crashes with more significant injuries and damage to the other car should constitute Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury.

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