Supreme Judicial Court, October 26, 2012

Leaving the scene of an accident where death resulted, under G.L. Chapter, 90, § 24(2)(a ½)(2), requires the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant knew he collided with a person.

While driving the defendant spilled coffee that he was drinking, reached down to pick it up and felt a thud.  Believing he had collided with something, he stopped the truck, got out and looked around, and drove away after not seeing anything in the roadway.  The victim was later found on a sidewalk in a snow bank between the roadway and the sidewalk.  The defendant was charged and found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident where death resulted.   During trial, the judge initially agreed with the Commonwealth that it did not have a burden to prove that the defendant knew that he had hit a person.  After trial, the judge allowed the defendant's motion for relief from judgment on the ground that the Commonwealth did have such a burden of proof and ordered a judgment of acquittal to be entered. The Commonwealth appealed.   The Supreme Judicial Court granted the Commonwealth's application for direct appellate review to determine whether the crime of leaving the scene of an accident where death resulted requires the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant knew he collided with a person. G.L. c. 90, § 24(2) (a 1/2) (2).

General Laws c. 90, § 24(2) (a 1/2) (2) states:

"Whoever operates a motor vehicle upon any [public way or place] ... and without stopping and making known his name, residence, and the registration number of his motor vehicle, goes away to avoid prosecution or evade apprehension after knowingly colliding with or otherwise causing injury to any person shall, if the injuries result in the death of a person, be punished...."

Based on the plain language of the statute, the Court concluded that leaving the scene of an accident causing injury to a person, resulting in that person's death, requires the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant knew he collided with a person "or otherwise" caused  injury to a person.  The defendant’s acquittal was affirmed.