Car stuck in woods. Leaving the scene of an accident.

Leaving the Scene of An Accident in Northern Michigan

In Traverse City, and all of Northern Michigan, in the winter there are a lot of accidents where the drivers leave the scene. Why the driver leaves the scene depends on the driver and the location of the accident. If the driver is intoxicated, the driver has a strong motivation to lock up their car and leave the area. Because much of Northern Michigan has large stretches of rural land, there is always a good chance that the driver may simply sober up and then report the accident. The police agencies in Northern Michigan are aggressive when it comes to suspicious single-car accidents. When the police find a car in a ditch, the police immediately attempt to find the registered car owner.

Three statutes compose the spectrum of potential offenses available to a prosecutor. The first three statutes have similar elements that the prosecutor must prove at trial. The only difference between these statutes is the extent of damage caused and the severity of the penalty. The three statutes are the following:

1) MCL 257.617, leaving the scene of an accident causing death or serious impairment of a bodily function;
2) MCL 257.617a, leaving the scene of a personal injury accident; and
3) MCL 257.618, leaving the scene of an accident where there is damage to an attended vehicle.

The short version of the elements of these offenses are the following:
The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all of the following:
1) Defendant was driving a motor vehicle;
2) The motor vehicle driven by the defendant was involved in an accident;
3) The defendant knew or had reason to know that he/she was involved in an accident on a public road or another area open to travel by the public;
4) The accident resulted in either A) serious impairment of bodily function or death, B) personal injury to any individual, B) damage to a vehicle driven or attended by another.
5) The defendant failed to immediately stop their vehicle and render aid or give the information required by law; or, when the defendant believes remaining on the accident scene would result in further harm, the defendant failed to immediately report the accident to the nearest police officer or police agency.

Some single-car accidents fall outside the above-mentioned laws. For instance, what law applies when a driver’s car slides off the road in the middle of the winter?

MCL 257.622. Report of accidents resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage; forms; analysis; use; retention.
Sec. 622. The driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident that injures or kills any person, or that damages property to an apparent extent totaling $ 1,000.00 or more, shall immediately report that accident at the nearest or most convenient police station, or to the nearest or most convenient police officer.
MCL 257.622 includes an additional element of damage, either to the driver’s car or property along the side of the road, of $1000.00 or more. If the apparent damage to the vehicle or other property appears to be less than $1000.00, the driver does not have a duty to report the accident to the police. It is possible to defend against a charge under MCL 257.622. The prosecutor is required to produce expert testimony where the damage to the car or property was not readily apparent to the driver or where the damage was less than $1000.00, and when the damage to the vehicle was beyond the common knowledge and experience of the jury. For example, a car driven into a river requires expert testimony.

An experienced and aggressive defense attorney, like me, can make an impact on a charge under MCL 257.622.

Local residents need to be aware that the Judges in the 86th District Court, and most police departments, immediately suspect the driver of a single-car accident left the scene because they were intoxicated.  This assumption needs to be defeated in court, otherwise, the Judge will sentence the defendant as if he/she were a drunk driver, which includes drug and alcohol assessments, drug and alcohol counseling, and drug and alcohol monitoring throughout the probation term.   

I am a criminal defense attorney practicing in Northern Michigan including Grand Traverse County, Kalkaska County, Wexford County, Benzie County, Antrim County, and Leelanau County. Should you need representation please do not hesitate to call my office for an appointment. I am currently accepting clients from all of Northern Michigan, including Grand Traverse County, Leelanau County, Benzie County, Antrim County, Roscommon County, Otsego County, Crawford County, Wexford County, Manistee County, and Kalkaska County.

Call today for an appointment, 231-883-4170. Thanks for reading my blog. Please visit my criminal law blog here. 

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