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Criminal Liability for Hit and Run in Massachusetts

houseIn Commonwealth v. Anderson, a Massachusetts appellate court considered a criminal hit and run case. The defendant was charged with leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident after causing personal injury and property damage, as well as reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

The case arose after 2:00 a.m., when police officers and firefighters responded to a car accident. A Ford Mustang had crashed through the wall of a house, such that it was partially inside and partially outside. A woman and her boyfriend occupied the house. The boyfriend was injured and had to go to the hospital. By the time the police arrived, nobody was inside the Ford Mustang, and nobody identified himself as the driver. The key was left in the ignition, and the glass and locks were intact. The defendant was the registered owner.

When police tried to reach the defendant, they got his parents. Later, the defendant came to the police station and talked to one of the officers who’d responded to the scene. He told the officer that he’d lost control of the Mustang, hit the house, and in a panic, left for a friend’s house. Other than this confession, nobody came forward to identify him.

He was charged, and at trial the Commonwealth introduced the registration papers showing the Mustang was registered to him. It also introduced the boyfriend’s hospital records. Neither of the victims testified at trial. The defendant was convicted.

On appeal, he argued that the convictions should be reversed even though he’d admitted to losing control of the car and driving into the home. He claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to show he operated the car. He also argued that his conviction of leaving the scene even though there were personal injuries should be reversed because the medical records had been improperly admitted.

At the close of the prosecution’s case and at the close of all evidence, the defendant had moved for required findings of not guilty. He claimed that the evidence of his operating the car was not sufficient, and it was a required element of all the offenses for which he’d been charged. He claimed his statements to the officer were not enough to establish he’d operated the vehicle, since nobody corroborated the claims. He argued the same on appeal.

The Commonwealth argued that the issue of corroboration should only come up if there’s a possibility that a conviction could be based solely on statements made by somebody suffering an emotional or mental disturbance. In this case, unlike in the OUI cases cited by the defendant, the existence of the crime wasn’t dependent on the defendant’s identity as the operator of the car.

The appellate court found that the evidence was more than enough to corroborate that a criminal act was committed by somebody. The car was half inside and half out, according to both police officer testimony and photographs. Moreover, reckless operation could be inferred based on the car entering the wall, even though the wall was at a distance from the road. The driver had disappeared without letting the victims know of his identity.

The defendant also argued that the medical records explaining how the accident occurred were hearsay. The court disagreed, noting that statements made for the purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment aren’t subject to exclusion as hearsay and can include descriptions of pain and cause as long as they don’t try to reveal the identity of who was responsible.

The court explained that under G. L. c. 90, § 24(2)(a1/2)(1), it doesn’t matter whether a victim was injured in a medically significant way. Instead, the Commonwealth needed to show that the defendant left the scene after knowingly causing an injury to someone. Even a crash that didn’t result in a significant injury is enough to establish criminal liability. The judgment was affirmed.

If you are charged with a motor vehicle offense in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014