State v. Scaturro: Leaving the scene of an accident intentionally is not necessarily a crime
The NC Court of Appeals issued an opinion in State v. Scaturro (PDF) on Tuesday that clarified an important point relating to the obligations of an individual involved in a car crash pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 20-166. Scaturro was a case in which the defendant struck a boy on a bicycle with his vehicle, after the boy made a change of direction and attempted to make a u-turn in front of Scaturro’s truck.
Scaturro stopped, got out of his truck, and found that the boy was injured. The boy’s left ear was nearly severed from his head. So Scaturro, attempting to be a good citizen, drove “like a maniac” to get the boy to the hospital. No one disputed that he did, in fact, drive the boy directly to the hospital, and nowhere else.
But because this is North Carolina (where every human act is viewed through the lens of potential criminal culpability), Mr. Scaturro was later charged with felony hit and run, because he did the right thing in the moment of that terrible accident.
According to N.C.G.S. § 20-166:
A willful violation of this subsection shall be punished as a Class F felony.
(a1) The driver of any vehicle who knows or reasonably should know:
(1) That the vehicle which he or she is operating is involved in a crash; and
(2) That the crash has resulted in injury;
shall immediately stop his or her vehicle at the scene of the crash. The driver shall remain with the vehicle at the scene of the crash until a law enforcement officer completes the investigation of the crash or authorizes the driver to leave and the vehicle to be removed, unless remaining at the scene places the driver or others at significant risk of injury.
In Scaturro’s case, the Superior Court judge failed to instruct the jury on the “willfulness” element of the offense. The State was required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Scaturro’s decision to leave the scene of the accident was not only intentional, but willful. That was the key distinction for the Court, which explicitly held that leaving the scene of an accident can be intentional, but not willful, within the meaning of the statute — if the decision to leave falls within a listed exception. In Mr. Scaturro’s case, it was undisputed that he left the scene for the express purpose of obtaining medical care for the boy.
Because the trial court failed to properly instruct the jury on the law, the case was remanded back to Superior Court for a new trial. One can only hope that the DA in New Hanover County will do the right thing (like Mr. Scaturro did) dismiss this embarrassment of a case.
Durham criminal lawyer Ben Hiltzheimer is a defense attorney in Durham, North Carolina, who represents individuals charged with DWI and the full spectrum of misdemeanors and felonies. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation and case evaluation at (919) 899-9404.