The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently addressed the elements that the Commonwealth had to prove in a leaving the scene of personal injury charge. This issue was addressed in Commonwealth v. Daley, decided October 26, 2012. You can click here to read the decision.
The Defendant in Daley was involved in an accident where he struck a person, but claimed that he did not know he was involved in an accident; the defendant claimed he hit a stop sign, looked around and did not see any person around. The victim was found in a snow bank. The next day the defendant heard of the news report of the accident and went down to the police to let them know it was his truck. Daley was charged with motor vehicle homicide, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and leaving the scene of an accident where death resulted.
A judge dismissed the first two charges, after a Rule 25 motion, and proceedings began in regard to the third charge. The issue arising from this case was that of the defendant's knowledge. For leaving the scene of the accident to be criminalized, the statute required that he must only have left, "after knowingly colliding with or otherwise causing injury to any person."
The adverb "knowingly" provides for the requisite mens rea, or mental state, necessary to complete this crime. The "knowingly" element is just as necessary as the "colliding with", "injury", and "person" elements. Together those terms create the four necessary elements of this crime. If three are present and one is not, the required elements are not met. For any criminal charge, the Commonwealth must prove each of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.
The Commonwealth attempted to argue that the defendant is only required to know he collided with something, and not necessarily that he collided with a person. The Commonwealth reasoned that the "knowingly" is only relevant to the collision. Examining the statute, however, one can tell that is not the case. As an element of the crime, the "knowingly" applies to all three concurrent elements. The defendant not only needed to know there was a collision (which he did know), he also needed to know that the collision was with a person. In addition, the defendant must also have known that injury was sustained, as the "knowingly" is applied to the "injury" element.
Originally during a bench trial, the Judge ruled that the Commonwealth had met their burden under their interpretation of the statute. The trial judge allowed a motion for post conviction relief and the Commonwealth appealed. The SJC affirmed trial judge's decision and agreed that the Quincy criminal lawyer was correct that the Commonwealth failed to prove the knowledge element under the statute.