NEW YORK, NY (March 24) – You're driving up Sixth Avenue at night
in Manhattan. You see a rare opportunity to make some time as one traffic
light after another begins changing from red to green in perfect sequence.
You press down hard on the accelerator as your vehicle picks up speed
with each passing second. Then, before your foot can reach the brake pedal,
a man carrying a briefcase is suddenly standing right in front of you,
as if from out of nowhere. You hear a sickening thud. It all happens so
fast, so unexpectedly. Now what? Do you stop and call for help? Or, do
you leave the scene of the accident as fast as you can, hoping no one
saw your car strike the unfortunate pedestrian who is now lying motionless
in the street?
Steve Brill, a
New York criminal defense lawyer, in cases involving serious pedestrian knockdowns it is not at all uncommon
for the driver, in a moment of panic, to think that if they can escape
without being identified, it might be possible to avoid facing what they
fear are dire legal and financial consequences.
In 2007, hit-and-run drivers killed 38 people in New York City, and 17
of those cases were never solved.
"Unless the driver believes that remaining at the scene may jeopardize
his or her own safety," Brill strongly advises, "the driver
should never leave the scene of an accident. They should stop their car
and call the police immediately. Then I strongly suggest the next call
they make should be to an attorney."
Leaving the scene of an accident is the event that triggers potential
criminal charges and exposes the driver to longer jail time and license sanctions.
"With the popularity of cell phones with built-in cameras," Brill
said, "drivers involved in a pedestrian knockdown are almost always
identified by someone. In the past, far more hit-and-run drivers got away
with it. But that is very rarely the case anymore."
Brill explained that the degree of the crime and severity of the penalties
for leaving the scene of an accident almost always depends on the condition
of the driver and the facts surrounding the incident.
"For example, if someone leaves the scene of an accident where only
property is damaged," Brill said, "the driver could be arrested
on a minor misdemeanor charge."
"On the other hand," he continued, "if it is alleged that the
driver was drunk, or driving recklessly and someone is injured, or killed, the potential
penalties and license sanctions will be the most severe."
As a New York criminal defense lawyer, Brill has seen hit-and-run cases
where the District Attorney's office went so far as to charge the
driver with second-degree murder based on allegations of 'depraved
indifference' to human life. "In each of these situations,"
Brill said, "the driver was accused of driving drunk and causing
an accident that killed someone."
Brill further explained that in pedestrian knockdown accidents involving
serious injury, or death, part of the investigation done by the NYPD will
include efforts to determine whether to charge the driver with criminal behavior.
"I get calls from people all the time," Brill said. "They
have just hit someone with their car and don't know what to do next.
When I get these calls, I always advise the person not to say anything
to the police, or the DA's office, or to any law enforcement official,
until I get there. "If not," he said, "the driver risks
making a statement that could be incriminating.
"While we are unable to advise a client to run from the scene,"
he added, "we have advised clients to exercise their
5th amendment right to remain silent and not volunteer any information. If the NYPD wants to make an arrest,
that is their prerogative. But our clients do not have to make their job