The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 28, 2014

Hit-and-run bill passes key panel

'I didn't know what I hit' wouldn't be a defense

ST. PAUL — Leaving the scene of an accident with a vehicle or person without stopping will be a crime under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Dahle of Northfield.

Dahle, whose district includes most of Le Sueur County, believes the bill closes a loophole in the law that allows drivers to flee the scene of an injury accident and claim later they didn’t know they hit anything.

The bill faltered after a 4-4 vote in a March 11 judiciary committee hearing, but it was changed and passed through the same panel on Thursday evening.

The highest-profile hit-and-run case in recent years involved Amy Senser, who was convicted of striking and killing a man with her car on an I-94 off-ramp in 2011.

At least one legislator argued that her guilty verdict shows the current law works, but other cases have ended differently.

In 2010, the state Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Mohammed Al-Naseer in a 2002 hit-and-run death after the government didn’t prove the defendant knew he struck the victim.

A victim’s mother in a similar hit-and-run case contacted the Alliance on Crime, a St. Paul-based victim rights organization, which started advocating for this bill. It was introduced last year, said Kelly Moller, the group’s former executive director, but time ran out to pass it.

There has been some confusion among legislators about when, precisely, a driver would commit a crime under the law. Would it be illegal to hit an animal without stopping? A pothole?

No, a crime is only committed once a person or vehicle is hit and the driver doesn’t investigate, Moller said. The driver already has a legal responsibility to call police if they see that someone is injured or killed.

If the vehicle is unattended, a note can be left for its owner.

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