The unfortunate recent death of a UM student raises a question of whether or not victim-injury points apply in a leaving the scene of an accident (LSA) case that results in death. Despite years of practice as a Miami criminal defense lawyer, it became necessary to research case law to come to a conclusion. The answer is that points may apply depending on the facts and circumstances of each particular LSA case. The case involving the UM student arose from a hit and run accident that occurred on November 13, 2010 in Coral Gables. Unfortunately, 10 days later the young student passed away as Jackson Memorial Hospital. Coral Gables detectives are continuing the investigation and believe that an arrest is imminent.
Before determining whether victim-injury points will apply at a sentencing hearing, it is important to understand the elements the prosecution has to prove to sustain a conviction for leaving the scene of an accident. First, the state must prove that the defendant was the driver of a vehicle involved in a crash that resulted in the injury or death of a person. The second element requires that the defendant knew or should have known that he or she was involved in a crash. This is sometimes a difficult element to prove for the state, unless a defendant provides a statement admitting to knowledge. Third, the state must prove that the defendant knew that a person died or suffered an injury as a result of the crash. Fourth, the defendant wilfully failed to stop at the crash scene and remain there to give law enforcement critical information.
If the state is able to prove the crime of leaving the scene of an accident, they will appear at sentencing hearing and submit a score sheet to the court. LSA involving damage to a vehicle or property is misdemeanor of the second degree and is punishable up to 60 days in jail. LSA involving personal injury to another is a third degree felony. LSA involving the death of any person is a first degree felony. The sentencing guidelines for LSA involving death is 21 months up to 30 years in prison. If it is determined that a person while driving under the influence (DUI) at the time of the accident a two year minimum mandatory prison sentence applies.
The Florida Sentencing Guidelines allow for victim-injury points for a case that involves death. In fact, prosecutors can seek to add an additional 120 points to the guideline calculations. If these victim-injury points are applied to an LSA case involving death, the bottom of the guidelines goes from 21 months to a little over 9 years. The Supreme Court of Florida in 2008 came down with a ruling that victim-injury points in LSA death cases will not apply if the death occurred prior to the LSA. Their logic relied on the theory that the death would have occurred whether or not the defendant remained on the scene. Being that the UM student died 10 days after the crime, the prosecution would have good argument that the victim-injury points will apply if the person driving the car is ever brought to justice.
UM Student Dies from Hit-Run Injuries on Coral Gables Street, Miami Herald.com November 23, 2010.