Criminal proceedings for hit and run accidents – important legal information
Criminal proceedings for hit and run accidents are quite complicated. Israeli law tends to take a harsh view of hit and run accidents, in which the offending drivers allegedly flee the scene or avoid helping the victims of an accident (including cases where only property was damaged). However, there is a wide spectrum of criminal offenses that defendants may be charged with in these types of proceedings. In addition, courts tend to examine the circumstances of each case extensively, including the damages caused, the manner in which the investigation was conducted by law enforcement officials, etc. Accordingly, in some cases, the proceedings may end with reduced charges and even a full acquittal. This article features an extensive explanation of the subject by attorney Moti Orange, an expert in traffic law from our firm.
What is the definition of a hit-and-run accident that leads (or may lead) to criminal proceedings?
Many of us have heard media reports on hit and run accidents. But in practice, not everyone knows exactly what the term means, and what the consequences of this kind of accident are. For example, many people are not aware of the fact that an accident may be considered hit-and-run even if only property was damaged, and no people were injured as a result. There is a separate option for hit-and-run accident victims to file a civil lawsuit. However, from a legal point of view, this is a different case entirely.
Israeli law defines a hit-and-run accident that may lead to criminal proceedings as the offense of fleeing after causing injury. This refers to traffic accidents in which the drivers who were involved knew or should have known that people were hurt in the accident, but despite this they did not stop at the scene of the accident or somewhere nearby in order to assess the results of the accident and call for help. Hit-and-run accidents often lead to criminal proceedings, which may result in prison sentences of several years, as well as monetary fines, license revocations and other sanctions. Below we explain this subject in detail.
What are the degrees of severity in criminal proceedings concerning hit-and-run accidents?
In general, there are 3 degrees of severity for the crime of fleeing the scene in a hit-and-run accident. The lowest degree is an offense of negligence, in which no criminal intent has been proven. In these cases, the penalty for negligence is up to 3 years in prison. In the next level of severity, in cases where criminal intent has been proven, the penalty may reach up to 7 years in prison. In the most serious cases, in which a person is killed or the victims of the accident are seriously injured, and criminal intent is proven, the penalty may reach up to 14 years in prison.
In addition to prison sentences, the court is authorized to impose additional sanctions, including revoking drivers’ licenses (whether directly or on probation), monetary fines, etc. However, it should be noted that the above sanctions constitute the maximal penalties for the given degrees of the offense of fleeing after injury. In some cases, the circumstances may lead to the charges being converted to those of other similar offenses, such as the offense of causing serious injury or causing death by negligent driving (in cases where the accident resulted in loss of life). The circumstances of each case decisively influence the charges and the final punishment imposed on defendants who are prosecuted for a hit-and-run accident.
What should be done in the event of a hit-and-run accident?
It is important to emphasize that car accidents are terrible and traumatic events for the offending party as well as the victim. In many cases, drivers responsible for a car accident flee the scene of the accident, out of stress and panic or as an instinctual reaction resulting from anxiety or stress. However, as explained above, fleeing after causing a car accident is considered a very serious offense. Trying to escape from dealing with its consequences can make the situation even worse, and even lead to additional charges, such as obstruction of investigative procedures. Therefore, it is important to report the crime to the police as soon as possible. When testifying to the police, defendants have the right to be represented by a lawyer. To ensure the issue is handled optimally in such cases, we strongly recommend seeking the help of an attorney specializing in traffic law, who has the necessary legal knowledge and experience in handling complex cases of this kind.
Can hit-and-run accidents end in reduced punishment or even acquittal?
As mentioned above, it depends largely on the circumstances of each case. For example, in a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, the Court ruled that a motorcyclist who hit and killed a pedestrian in Tel Aviv be sentenced to 9 months of community service. The court took the case’s circumstances into account, including the fact that the offending driver indeed abandoned the pedestrian at the scene of the accident, but took responsibility for the incident and turned himself in two hours later. In addition, the court accounted for the fact that the offender was a new immigrant from France, who had not yet adjusted to life in Israel, and that the accident took a toll on his mental state.
Aside from this example, there are also cases where the court may acquit drivers outright. One example of this is a 2020 ruling by the Traffic Court in Tel Aviv. In this ruling, the court acquitted a driver who hit a pedestrian while attempting to park, causing a fracture in her foot, and then drove away from the scene of the accident without offering her help. The court ruled that there were many investigative flaws in the case which caused evidentiary difficulties, making it impossible to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the offending driver saw or should have seen the victim at the time of the accident. In addition, the court noted that the fact that the victim’s husband approached the offending vehicle and began pounding on the vehicle with his fists and threatening the driver could explain the driver’s decision to flee from the scene, under the circumstances of the case. Accordingly, the offending driver was acquitted due to not being proven guilty.
These cases illustrate the extent to which each case of criminal proceedings for a hit-and-run accident is examined according to its individual circumstances, and that the courts may well take each case’s circumstances into account, both regarding the charges and the punishment imposed in case of conviction.
Criminal proceedings for hit-and-run accidents – contact an attorney specializing in traffic law
In this article, we have presented important information on hit-and-run accidents that lead to criminal proceedings, including the possible punishments and the degree to which each case’s circumstances may influence the outcome of said proceedings. For more information or answers to individual questions, our attorneys will be happy to provide you with comprehensive and professional service, using their extensive experience in representing clients in legal proceedings in the field of traffic law. You can contact us at the phone numbers or email address below and schedule a consultation with an attorney from our office in Jerusalem.