The Court of Appeals in Crawford v. D.C. decided on September 6, 2018, reversed a conviction for Leaving After Colliding (“LAC”) due to lack of sufficient evidence for the conviction.
The appellant had argued specifically insufficient evidence to satisfy the mens rea element of the offense, which requires that:
The appellant “know or ha[ve] reason to believe that his . . . vehicle has been in a collision.” D.C. Code § 50-2201.05c (a).
Factually, the appellant was observed by the Police Officers with his vehicle abutting the car in front of him in the parking space and it appearing that there was contact with the car in front.
As the appellant left the parking space, the Officers pursued and made an arrest for Leaving After Colliding. It also appeared that the appellant was under the influence and was given a field sobriety test, which he failed. This appeal though was entirely focused on the Leaving After Colliding conviction.
The Offices at trial testified that the appellant “had no idea what we were talking about[,]” and that “[h]e didn’t know that he had collided with a vehicle.”
The appellant maintained at trial as well that there was insufficient evidence of the requisite mens rea to find him guilty of leaving after colliding with property damage as he was never aware that he had hit the car in front of him. The owner of the vehicle in front testified as to minor damage to his bumper.
The trial court even expressed uncertainty as to whether the appellant was aware of the minor collision to contact with the car in front stating:[T]his happens to me, quite frankly, and maybe, perhaps when [appellant] was pulling out he didn’t realize he had hit the car because the damage to the bumper is so slight that what it looks like is, while it’s being described as a crash, I mean, it’s not the crash in, it can’t be a crash in the stereotypical way that we think of a crash . . . . Here, the bumper is fully intact, it just has scratch marks on it, which is consistent with sort of someone pulling out of a parking space and, and sliding by the car in front of it and so that, so you’re both, so you’re rubbing by the car in front of you, which is technically a collision but, you know, that sort of problem, that probably happens every day in this city given the parking constraints that we are faced with.
Regardless, the trial court found appellant guilty of LAC-PD because it believed that lack of knowledge was not a sufficient defense to this crime and that was held to be a reversible error by the Court of Appeals as it spoke directly as to an essential element of the crime which was the required mens rea – knowledge and intent.
The case was remanded to trial court for a decision consistent with the Court of Appeals ruling.
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