New Florida law awaits governor’s signature

Legislation awaits Florida governor Rick Scott’s signature that will have a decided effect on the incidences of hit-and-run drivers who kill their victims while driving while impaired.

Under present sentencing guidelines, Florida judges have enormous discretion when sentencing driver who leave the scene of a car accident. Judges can order defendants to serve a period of time behind bars from 21 months to 30 years. They can take into account any previous criminal record or health factors when handing down a sentence.

If a driver is found to be drunk at the time of the wreck, the judge is locked into at least ordering the defendant to serve four years, which gives tipsy drivers a big incentive to split the scene of a wreck and show up later at the police station when the alcohol has worn off.

Records from the Florida Highway Patrol for 2012 indicate that there were 70,000 incidents of hit-and runs, up 500 from 2011. Of the total, 166 involved fatalities.

A study of those killed by fleeing drivers showed that those who chose to run from the scene were impaired by substances that included synthetic pot and alcohol. The average sentence received was less than three years, and many got house arrest. Victims included a preschooler on a trike and Bible salesmen.

The original legislation called for a mandatory seven-year jail term, but that was whittled down to four years and includes stiffer sentences for those deemed to be “vulnerable road users” like pedestrians and bike riders.

Regardless of the criminal legislation before the governor, survivors of those killed by drivers who are impaired have recourse for civil action in the Florida courts, where the burden of proof is far lower than in the criminal court system.

Source: Broward Palm Beach New Times, “Eight Months After Ferrari Hit-and-Run, Driver Has Not Been Charged” Kyle Swenson, Apr. 29, 2014