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Criminal Practice — Hit & Run – Flight Instruction – Reckless Driving

Criminal Practice — Hit & Run – Flight Instruction – Reckless Driving

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State v. Barnes (Lawyers Weekly No. 15-16-0185, 8 pp.) (Chris Dillon, J.) Appealed from Mecklenburg County Superior Court (H. William Constangy, J.) N.C. App. Unpub.

Editor’s Note: On the Court of Appeals’ website, this case is listed as State v. McKinley.

Holding: Given the speed and manner of defendant’s departure from the site where he struck another car, and his subsequent eluding of police after parking his car, he took sufficient steps to avoid apprehension to support a jury instruction on flight.

We find no error in defendant’s convictions of misdemeanor hit and run and reckless driving.

Defendant argues that allowing the jury to consider flight as evidence of a defendant’s consciousness of guilt is inappropriate in the context of a hit and run charge under G.S. § 20-166(c) inasmuch as “fleeing the scene of the collision” is an essential element of the offense. We are unpersuaded by defendant’s claim that flight is an essential element of misdemeanor hit and run under § 20-166(c).

In contrast to “flight” in the legal sense, the driver’s motive for failing to immediately stop at the crash scene is immaterial. Indeed, a hit and run occurs even if the departing driver is completely without fault in the collision and not subject to apprehension.

In any event, defendant’s conduct went well beyond a mere failure to immediately stop at the scene of the crash, as required for the offense of hit and run.

Even if the instruction was erroneous, given the damage sustained by the victim’s car and the car defendant was driving, we believe that, irrespective of the flight instruction, the jury would have found that defendant knew or reasonably should have known that he was involved in a crash where property was damaged. Therefore, any error was harmless.

No error.

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