ARS § 28-661 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of leaving the scene of an accident. People commit this offense if they get into a car accident that causes injury or death to another person and fail to stop. A conviction can rise to the level of a Class 2 felony that is normally punishable by up to 10 years in state prison. This crime is sometimes referred to as “felony hit and run.”
The language of ARS 28-661 states that:
The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of a person shall…Immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to the accident scene as possible but shall immediately return to the accident scene.
- hitting a car that results in injury to the other motorist and speeding off.
- killing someone in a traffic accident and failing to stop.
- crashing into a parked car that injures a pedestrian and not stopping.
People accused of this crime can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. Some common defenses include defendants showing that:
- there was no injury or death in the accident,
- the police arrested the wrong person, and/or
- they acted out of necessity.
A person commits a Class 3 felony, punishable by seven years in prison, if he/she fails to stop and the accident results in death or serious physical injury.
A person commits a Class 2 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, if he/she causes a hit and run accident that results in death or serious injury and fails to stop.
All other crimes under this statute are Class 5 felonies punishable by up to four years in state prison.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “leaving the scene of an accident”?
People are guilty in felony hit and run cases if:
- they get involved in a car accident that causes injury or death to a person, and
- knowingly fail to stop or remain at the accident scene.[i]
Arizona law says that drivers have a duty to give information and assistance after an accident. This means a person must stop at an accident, which involves injury, death, or vehicle damage, and:
- give their name, address, and their vehicle registration number to all parties involved,
- show their driver’s license to all parties involved, and
- render reasonable assistance to any injured person involved in the accident.[ii]
Under ARS 28-661, there is only one “scene of the accident” no matter the number of victims involved.[iii]
2. Are there defenses to ARS 28-661 charges?
Criminal defense lawyers or a defendant’s legal team draw upon several legal strategies/disclaimers to contest criminal charges under this statute. Three of these include showing that:
- an accident did not cause injury or death.
- law enforcement arrested the wrong hit and run driver.
- the accused acted out of necessity.
2.1 No injury or death
A person is only guilty under this statute if he/she flees the scene of an accident where it caused the injury or death to a person. This means it is always a defense for an accused to say that an accident did not result in a person’s death or personal injury.
2.2 Police arrested the wrong person
A defendant can try to challenge a leaving the scene of an accident charge by showing that the police arrested the wrong person. Hit and run cases often involve drivers traveling at high speeds, so sometimes law enforcement may not get a good glimpse of the guilty party.
Under a necessity defense, a defendant tries to avoid guilt by showing that he/she had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime. In the context of felony hit and run, accused people can attempt to show that they committed the crime since they had no other choice (e.g., because of an emergency).
3. What are the penalties?
Leaving the scene of an accident is a felony offense in Arizona.
A person commits a Class 3 felony, punishable by seven years in state prison (as opposed to jail time), if he/she fails to stop and the accident results in death or serious physical injury.[iv]
A person commits a Class 2 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, if he/she causes a hit and run accident that results in death or serious injury and fails to stop at the accident scene.[v]
A person commits a Class 5 felony if he/she fails to stop and the accident results in injury other than death or serious physical injury. A Class 5 felony is punishable by a state prison term of four years.[vi]
In addition to prison time, a violation of this law will result in the revocation of an offender’s driving privileges.[vii]
4. Are there related crimes?
There are three offenses related to felony hit and run. These are:
- DUI – ARS 28-1381A1,
- criminal damage – ARS 13-1602,
- disorderly conduct – ARS 13-2904, and
- misdemeanor hit and run – ARS 28-662.
4.1 DUI – ARS 28-1381A1
Per ARS 28-1381A1, people commit the crime of DUI if they drive or are in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of:
- an intoxicating liquor,
- any drug,
- a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance, or
- any combination of liquor, drugs, or vapor.
Note that if a person commits this offense and then leaves the scene of an accident, then that person can be charged with both:
- ARS 28-661, felony hit and run, and
- ARS 28-1381A1, DUI.
4.2 Criminal damage – ARS 13-1602
ARS 13-1602 is the Arizona statute that says it is a crime to commit certain acts, like: recklessly
- defacing another person’s property, or
- tampering with another person’s property so that it’s value or function is substantially impaired.
Unlike with leaving the scene of an accident, prosecutors have to prove that a defendant acted recklessly to secure a guilty charge under this statute.
4.3 Disorderly conduct – ARS 13-2904
ARS 13-2904 is the Arizona statute that makes it a crime for people to commit certain acts intending to disturb the peace or the quiet of a neighborhood. Some of these acts include:
- fighting, and
- making unreasonable noise.
Unlike with the crime of felony hit and run, most disorderly conduct convictions are Class 1 misdemeanors.
4.4 Misdemeanor hit and run – ARS 28-662
ARS 28-662 is the Arizona statute that says it is a misdemeanor offense for:
- a driver to fail to stop at an accident scene, and
- do so when the accident results in vehicle damage.
Whereas felony hit and run involves physical injury and death, misdemeanor hit and run focuses on vehicle damge.
[ii] A.R.S. 28-662.
[iv] ARS 28-661B.
[v] See same.
[vi] ARS 28-661C.
[vii] ARS 28-661E.