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Appellate Court Upholds Evading Responsibility Conviction; Defendant Avoided Identification, Failed to Help the Victim

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim following his conviction for evasion of responsibility in the operation of a motor vehicle (evading responsibility).

In this case, the defendant and two friends were at a nightclub when they engaged in a verbal argument with another group, which included the victim. Each group left in their respective cars, with the defendant as a driver, and raced each other along Interstate 95 through Stamford. After getting off the highway, each vehicle was idling at a red light when the victim left his car and attacked the defendant through the driver’s side window. The defendant dragged the victim down the road “in an effort to remove him,” but after swift application of the brakes failed to do so, the defendant hit the gas and the victim fell off. The victim’s friends found him lying in the road with blood running from his mouth and the back of his head, and the victim died shortly thereafter.

The defendant did not stop to provide any aid to the victim. Instead, he drove to his apartment complex, which was located nearby, and rather than notifying police of the incident himself, his friend made the phone call instead. During this phone call, the friend claimed that he was the driver and did not inform police about the victim’s injuries. The defendant and the third occupant perpetuated this lie. However, the defendant subsequently admitted that he was the driver, and gave a new sworn statement relaying the events as they actually occurred. The defendant was charged with and convicted of negligent homicide with a motor vehicle, evading responsibility, and third-degree making a false statement. Following sentencing, the defendant appealed, claiming there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction of evading responsibility. He agreed that the predicate elements (first three) were proven, but claimed that he was “legally justified” in leaving the scene and complied with the statutory requirements.

When a court considers a sufficiency of the evidence claim, it must first “construe the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the conviction.” The court must then determine whether or not the facts admitted to evidence, along with attendant inferences, support a jury’s determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To convict a criminal defendant of evading responsibility under General Statutes § 14-224(a), the State must first prove: “(1) the defendant was operating a motor vehicle, (2) the defendant was knowingly involved in an accident and (3) the accident caused physical injury to any other person or damage to property.” When these threshold elements are established beyond a reasonable doubt, the State must establish one or more of the following: failure to (4) immediately stop and render necessary assistance; (5) provide identifying information with the person injured or owner of damaged property; or (6) if unable to satisfy (5), call police and leave such identifying information with them. Connecticut courts have held, however, that this statute “does not leave an operator an excuse for failing to stop.”

In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the jury reasonably concluded that the defendant evaded responsibility. He never reported the accident; rather, his friend made the call. The friend “failed to inform the police of the circumstances of the accident and the fact that the victim had been injured, [nor did he] identify the defendant as the operator.” During the initial investigation, the defendant did nothing to reveal the truth of what occurred. The Court noted that in a previous case, the Supreme Court of Connecticut stated, “[t]he purpose of the statute on evading responsibility is to ensure that when the driver of a motor vehicle is involved in an accident, he or she will promptly stop, render any necessary assistance and identify himself or herself.” The defendant failed to satisfy the requirements of § 14-227(a), and after considering and rejecting additional matters on appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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