The Court of Appeals in Cherry v. District of Columbia decided on July 27, 2017, revered and remanded the defendant’s conviction for leaving the scene of an accident after colliding and expanded and defined the statutory language.

Cherry’s car had collided with the wall adjacent to a convenient store. Cherry had exited his car and initially walked toward the convenient store while police officer were already at the scene.

He had initially failed to identify himself but had later (about 12 minutes) after the accident had come forward and identified himself as the driver of the vehicle and to the police officers at which time he was arrested for leaving after colliding.

The leaving after colliding Statute in pertinent part requires the driver who comes in contact with another vehicle to immediately stop and:

  1. If there is injury call 911 or call or to seek an ambulance or other emergency assistance, and
  2. Remain on the scene until law enforcement arrives, and
  3. To provide identifying information to law enforcement and to the injured person;

In an event of damage to personal property of another, then the Statute requires:

  1. Provide identifying information to the owner or operator of the property . . . or,
  2. If the owner or operator of the property is not at the scene, provide or cause another to provide identifying information and the location of the collision to the law enforcement

It is an affirmative defense that defendant’s failure to stop was due to:

  • A reasonable belief that there was personal safety issues, or the safety of another was at risk, and
  • Law enforcement was contacted as soon as it was safe to do so;
  • Identifying information was provided at that time,
  • Including the detailed description as well as the location of the collision or event,
  • The instructions of the 911 operator or a law enforcement office were thus followed

The defendant has a burden of proof by preponderance of the evidence.

The trial court found Cherry guilty because he had not identified himself to the police officers at the scene quick enough. The trial court had interpreted the statutory language as requiring Cherry to identify himself immediately.

The Court of Appeals disagreed with that interpretation.

The Court interpreted that the driver is required to:

  • Stop after the accident
  • Inspect and assess the damage and call the insurance company or spouse
  • Then promptly but not immediately provide identifying information to the owner of the property or to the law enforcement.

The Court of Appeals interpreted the Statute as requiring the identifying information to be provided without unreasonable delay but not required to be provided immediately.

Here Cherry had stepped up and provided identifying information within 12 minutes of the accident and that was deemed to be reasonable. He had not left the scene of the accident. Had entered the convenient store purportedly to provide information about the accident. And had ultimately volunteered the information to the law enforcement.

The case was remanded to the trial court.

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Categories: Criminal Defense.