Last year the Florida Legislature passed the Aaron Cohen hit-and-run law (named after a Miami cyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver), strengthening the penalties. This year FHP has been pursuing enforcement of these cases, and just two weeks ago launched an awareness campaign, which we applauded in our blog. Now the Florida Supreme Court has issued a ruling that represents a setback for enforcement of hit-and-run cases, requiring proof that the driver knew they had hit someone. As the parent of the victim stated, "This allows everyone to flee the scene and use that as an excuse and say, 'Wow, I didn't know I was in a crash.'" Below is the article about the court decision.
Court: Fla. must prove hit-and-run drivers knew about crash
By GARY FINEOUT
Feb. 27, 2015
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Drivers in Florida can't be prosecuted for leaving the scene of an accident unless there is proof they knew they were in a crash.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously agreed with a lower court's decision to throw out the conviction of a South Florida man charged after he hit a skateboarder while driving in the rain.
Zachariah Dorsett was driving his truck down Florida's famed A1A highway in Boca Raton when he struck a then-15-year-old skateboarder who had fallen into the crosswalk.
Dorsett maintained that he did not know he had hit Nicholas Savinon when he was pulled over by police about 3 miles from the accident.
There was no evidence of damage to the truck, braking or any skid marks in the 2007 accident. Dorsett, who was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, said he had his radio, windshield wipers and air conditioning on at the time.
Savinon was dragged nearly 90 feet under his truck. One witness testified seeing the truck back tire go up and down over Savinon, while another saw the skateboard get spit out from underneath the truck and split in two.
A jury convicted Dorsett of leaving the scene of a crash that caused an injury. He was sentenced to two years in prison. An appeals court in 2013, however, overturned the decision and ordered a new trial because jurors were never asked to decide whether they thought Dorsett knew he had been involved in an accident.
The state Supreme Court in its ruling sided with the appeals court. In the decision, Justice Charles Canady wrote that felony convictions require proof that someone "willfully" broke the law and knew what they were doing.
"The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver had actual knowledge of the crash, an essential element of the crime of leaving the scene of a crash," Canady wrote.
Michael Savinon, the father of Nicholas Savinon, said the decision means that other hit-and-run drivers in the state may be able to get away with the crime in the future.
"This allows everyone to flee the scene and use that as an excuse and say, 'Wow, I didn't know I was in a crash,'" Savinon said.
Nicholas Savinon, who is now 22, had a traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident and spent weeks in a coma. His mother, Lydia Savinon, said he still lives at home with his parents and just recently began working at a Publix grocery store.
She said she remains convinced that Dorsett did know that he hit her son.
"In my opinion, there's no way he couldn't have known," Savinon said.
The ruling by the court means that the case could wind its way back to prosecutors in Palm Beach County. An assistant state attorney said Thursday that until the case is officially remanded back to them they cannot decide whether they will push for a new trial.
Questions about the case were emailed to Dorsett's attorney, but she said she could not comment until she had spoken first to her client.
Lydia and Michael Savinon said they are more concerned now about taking care of their son instead of focusing on whether Dorsett is charged again.
"We're surviving," said Michael Savinon. "Our whole focus as parents is just to help him be part of our family."