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


“It’s no longer a defense to say ‘I didn’t know what it was,’” she said.

Current state law reads that a driver must stop at an accident involving “immediately demonstrable bodily injury or death.” The proposed legal change adds the five key words “reasonably investigate what was struck.”

Other states have laws similar to Minnesota’s, and the “courts are all over the map with how they interpret it,” Moller said.

The proposed law passed the judiciary panel Thursday on the strength of an amendment that clarified the law but left its core parts intact.

One of the changes, made to assuage critical senators’ concerns, is something of a technical revision; it removes a line saying that “mistake as to what was struck is not a defense for failure to stop and investigate.”

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the Legislature would go too far in this case by telling courts what is and isn’t an acceptable legal defense. The distinction, it appears, is that the Legisature can define a crime but generally doesn’t dictate the arguments that are to be accepted in criminal proceedings.

Mankato-area bicycling advocate Tom Engstrom said the law could save lives.

“I think the value is that it would hopefully get medical help to whoever was hit,” he said. “It seems to make good sense and it seems like that’s a loophole in hit-and-run law that needs to be closed.”

After the hearing, the sister of the man who was struck by Al-Naseer in 2002, Kris Zell of St. Louis Park, said the bill is a definite improvement in the law.

Zell said it was the 2010 Supreme Court decision and the possibility that defendants would use it to escape justice that motivated her to help pass this law.

The bill is ready for floor votes in both the state House and Senate.



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