Under Maryland law, a person involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident has the duty to stop and remain at the scene, to render aid to the victim, and to report the accident to the police.
Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in an unreported opinion last week addressed what other crimes fleeing the scene of a fatal collision may prove, in a case called Richard Curtis v. State of Maryland.
A witness at trial testified to hearing the sound of a crash, then observing a pickup truck speeding away from the scene where it had struck a pedestrian.
The witness called 911, and the police investigation led them to the damaged vehicle.
The truck owner testified that he loaned his truck to the defendant, who called that night claiming he had struck a deer.
After his arrest, the defendant’s statement to the police was recorded and then played to the jury, during which he did not deny driving the truck that night and did not claim someone else was driving.
The State presented evidence of calls the defendant made from jail trying to claim someone else was driving, and the defendant called an alibi witness for the time of the crash.
The prosecution also proved that the defendant’s driver’s license was suspended at the time of the incident. The trial judge at the State’s request gave a “flight instruction” to the jury.
The instruction included that “a person’s flight immediately after the commission of a crime or after being accused of a crime is not enough by itself to establish guilt; but it is a fact that may be considered by you as evidence of guilt…If you decide there is evidence of flight, you must then decide whether this flight shows a consciousness of guilt.” After being convicted by the jury on all charges, the defendant appealed.
The defendant claimed that since the charge of leaving the scene includes the very fact that he had fled, it could not be said that flight from committing some other crime warranted the jury being given the flight instruction.
The appellate court found that here there was evidence of another crime, namely driving on a suspended license, which requires the State to prove the defendant knew his license was suspended.
The jury was therefore entitled to consider whether defendant’s fleeing the scene without reporting the incident indicated that he was aware of his crime in driving while suspended.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.