North Carolina Leaving the Scene of an Accident Charges: NC Gen. Statute §20-166

The scene of an automobile accident is frequently chaotic. People may be injured, property may be damaged, and emotions may be high. It can be unclear under those circumstances to know what to do. It is even possible that one may inadvertently violate the law in confusion about what they are supposed to do.

Leaving the scene of an accident without due cause is a crime in and of itself in North Carolina. It can lead to an increase in the criminal penalties that one must pay due to what occurred, and that is not a position that anyone wants to find themselves in. Sadly, many are not aware of their responsibilities ahead of time, and virtually no one is prepared to be involved in an automobile accident.

What Does Leaving the Scene of an Accident Mean?

Let us take a look at the list of obligations placed upon a driver who is involved in an automobile accident in North Carolina. If the driver of any vehicle knows or reasonably should know that their vehicle is involved in a crash, they:

“shall immediately stop his or her vehicle at the scene of the crash. The driver shall remain with the vehicle at the crash scene until a law enforcement officer completes the investigation of the crash or authorizes the driver to leave and the vehicle to be removed unless remaining at the scene places the driver or others at significant risk of injury.”

These rules apply to everyone involved in the accident unless otherwise instructed by a law enforcement officer. Should one fail to uphold their responsibility to stay on the scene of an accident, they may be charged with a Class F or Class H (depending on the circumstances) felony for having left the scene. 

This law is in place to deter people from committing hit-and-run violations. When someone is involved in an accident, it is essential that law enforcement interfaces with that person to determine the nature of the accident and to assess who was at fault. Additionally, medical first responders must have the opportunity to look at each person involved in an accident to make sure they are unharmed.

What Kind of Penalties Can Someone Face for Leaving the Scene?

There are degrees of seriousness to the actions that one may or may not have taken as far as leaving the scene of an accident. Suppose law enforcement feels that the individual willfully left the scene of a crime without regard for other people involved. In that case, the penalties are likely to be steeper than if someone inadvertently violated the letter of the law. In the latter case, that person may not ever even formally be charged with a crime. 

If law enforcement believes that the suspect intentionally left the accident scene, they may be charged with that offense. If the charge is proven in court and the suspect is found guilty, they may face anywhere from 120 days to 5 years in jail and have to pay fines and penalties. 

Again, the severity of the penalty will closely follow the severity of the offense and what the prosecutor feels that they can prove. In many cases, the charges may be reduced to a misdemeanor in order for the prosecutor to push through the charges fully and make them stick. Still, even that is a charge that you do not want to show up on your criminal record.

Defenses for Leaving the Scene

To defend oneself against the charge of having left the scene of the crime means to offer reasons why you did not remain at the scene as everything continued to unfold around you. Naturally, these defenses are best made with the assistance of an attorney, but we wanted to provide you with a few examples of the types of defenses used by other defendants in the same place as you before. 

Law Enforcement Instructed Me to Leave

A direct order from a law enforcement officer to leave the scene or not to return to the scene can be used as a defense against the charge of leaving the scene. Law enforcement officers have the authority in these situations to ask anyone to stay away from the scene if they believe that person’s presence there could disturb the collection of evidence or otherwise disrupt the scene in any way. 

I Had to Leave for Safety Reasons

Leaving the scene of an accident is permitted under the law if one can reasonably assume that remaining on the scene will lead to additional bodily harm to themselves or another person on the scene. For example, if one of the vehicles has caught fire in the course of the accident, then it is reasonable to run away from that scene before additional bodily damage occurs. 

I Did Not Intend to Leave the Scene

This defense may not be powerful enough to negate all penalties that you may have to pay, but it might lessen the charges against you. If you did not willfully leave the accident scene or did not realize that you had an obligation to stay, then a prosecutor may reduce or drop the charges at their discretion. What the prosecutor is looking for in these scenarios is your intent when you took the actions you took. 

Contact an Experienced Defense Lawyer at King Law

No matter what defense you intend to offer in your case, you need a lawyer to help you out. A trained attorney can work with you side-by-side to ensure you receive a fair trial and that you are well aware of all of your rights. They can also help you gather evidence and make the strongest possible case that you do not deserve the charges currently levied against you. 

If you are facing these or any other charges, please get in touch with our office at (888) 748-5464 (KING), or reach out to us by filling out our contact form. We have a team of highly trained lawyers standing by to assist you.