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No Collision or Actual Knowledge of Accident Required to Be Convicted Under Hit-and-Run Law

Under Nevada law, a driver who has been involved in a car accident is required to stop and remain at the scene of the accident until he has provided certain information and rendered aid to any person who may have been injured in the accident. NRS 484E.010. If the accident resulted in bodily injury or death, a driver’s failure to comply with these statutory requirements is a felony.

The Nevada Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to review this hit-and-run law in Clancy v. Nevada. In that case, Barry Robinson was operating his motorcycle on Interstate 15 in Las Vegas when an SUV merged in front of him and struck the front of his motorcycle. The contact caused Robinson to lose control of the motorcycle, and he and his passenger fell off and were injured. The motorcycle hit the center divider, skidded across the freeway, and stopped in the emergency lane. A witness traveling in front of Robinson observed the SUV hit the motorcycle and then accelerate, and saw the driver of the SUV looking in his rearview mirror and over his shoulder at the crash behind him. The SUV then exited the freeway at the next exit but did not stop.

The witness called 911 and reported the accident, and provided the 911 operator with the license plate of the SUV. The SUV belonged to Benjamin Clancy, who was also later identified as the driver of the SUV at the time of the accident. Clancy denied having any knowledge that an accident occurred.

Clancy was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. At trial, he offered expert testimony through an accident reconstruction specialist who opined that, based on the reasonably minimal damage to and markings on the rear of Clancy’s SUV, there was no evidence of a collision between the SUV and Robinson’s motorcycle. The Nevada jury returned a guilty verdict convicting Clancy of the felony.

Clancy appealed the conviction, arguing that the State was required to prove that Clancy had actual knowledge that an accident occurred, while the judge had instructed the jury only that they needed to find that Clancy knew or should have known that he had been involved in an accident prior to leaving the scene. The Nevada Supreme Court disagreed, holding that (1) NRS 484E.010 does in fact require the driver’s knowledge of an accident, but (2) such knowledge may be actual or constructive.

The Court reasoned that the purpose behind the statute “is to require drivers involved in an accident to stop and provide identifying information and render reasonable assistance to injured persons for the benefit of any person who may have been injured in the accident.” That purpose is not served if the driver is unaware of the event that requires him to stop and render information and assistance. Thus, the State must prove the driver’s knowledge of involvement in an accident before criminal liability under the statute will be imposed.

However, such knowledge need not be absolute. According to the Court, “[i]mposing an actual knowledge requirement would encourage drivers not to stop so as to avoid gaining actual knowledge of an accident or to avoid further criminal liability, which defeats the purpose of the statute.” A jury therefore need only find that the driver should have known, under the circumstances, that he was involved in an accident.

The Court further held that a driver may have been “involved in an accident” under the statute regardless of whether or not actual physical contact or impact between two vehicles occurred. In other words, it did not matter whether Clancy’s SUV actually came into contact with Robinson’s motorcycle, so long as the SUV played some role in Robinson’s fall and injuries.

Based upon the accounts of two witnesses and the other evidence presented at trial, the Court concluded that there had been sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Clancy’s SUV was “involved in an accident” with Robinson’s motorcycle, and that Clancy knew or should have known that the accident had occurred. The Nevada Supreme Court upheld Clancy’s conviction.