Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Leaving the Scene Conviction of Woman Who Tried to Identify Herself

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed the conviction of a woman who was found guilty of leaving the scene of property damage, despite the fact that she got out of her car, had a conversation with the victim, and offered to provide her identifying information before leaving.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Martinez.

The defendant was charged with leaving the scene of property damage following a car accident in Charlestown in January of 2013.  The defendant sideswiped the victim’s parked car as the victim was sitting in the driver’s seat.  The victim could not open her door due to the damage, but she was able to slide across the front seats and exit through the front passenger door.  The defendant stopped, got out of her car, and had a conversation with the victim.  The victim’s friend called the police and provided the defendant’s license plate number.  As the defendant and the victim were talking, the defendant’s sister got into the defendant’s car and drove away.  When the victim asked for the defendant’s license and registration, the defendant said those materials were in her car that her sister had just driven away.  However, the defendant told the victim that her car would return.  Sure enough, the defendant’s sister drove back to the accident scene in the defendant’s car about 15 minutes later.

By that point, the victim wanted to wait for the police to arrive before exchanging information with the defendant.  The defendant, on the other hand, did not want to involve the police and offered to provide the victim with her license and registration.  The victim refused to take the information and insisted that the police be involved.  The defendant and her sister then got back into the defendant’s car and drove away without the victim receiving the defendant’s information.  Within half an hour, the police arrived and were able to track down the defendant through her license plate number.  The defendant told the police that she planned to return to the scene of the accident but did not specify when.

The defendant argued that she should not have been convicted of leaving the scene of property damage because she had stopped her car, met with the victim, and attempted to provide the information contained in her driver’s license and registration.  The Appeals Court disagreed, ruling that the issue was not whether the defendant had offered to provide her information, but rather whether she had actually done so.  The Court said that the defendant was responsible for failing to provide her information to the victim, regardless of whether it was reasonable for the victim to insist that they wait for the police to arrive.  The Court pointed out that the defendant easily could have written down her identifying information and left it with the victim.  Instead, by leaving without providing the information, the defendant violated the statute and was appropriately convicted.

If you are involved in a car accident, it is always smart to wait for the police to arrive and to provide all of your identifying information to the police officer.  The defendant’s unwillingness to wait for the police in this case was the primary reason for her conviction of a crime.