The Pennsylvania State Police allege that a Mifflintown was involved in an April 26, 2013, DUI accident in Juniata County. This would be a fairly unremarkable event, but for what happened after the accident. The State Police allege that the defendant tried to flee from the accident scene by swimming across the Juniata River. Unfortunately for the defendant, he did not swim faster than troopers could arrive at the scene. When he was taken into custody, he was found to have a BAC (blood alcohol content) over the legal limit of .08.
Aside from the obvious dangers of swimming across a river while drunk, leaving the scene of the accident is an understandable strategy for someone seeking to avoid a DUI conviction. There are not many viable defenses to DUI, but one defense, which has worked in the past, is to argue that the defendant was not driving. If no one can place the defendant behind the wheel, then it may be hard for the Commonwealth to convince a magisterial district judge to hold the charges for court following a preliminary hearing, let alone prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
Successfully fleeing the scene of an accident also makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the Commonwealth to prove that a defendant was intoxicated. If the police do not find the suspect until the next day, chances are he is now completely sober. It would be mere speculation to assume that he fled the accident scene because he was drunk.
There is a down side to leaving the scene of an accident. First of all, some district attorneys are so outraged by the act of fleeing from an accident scene, that they will not consider ARD for DUI defendants who flee. Secondly, fleeing may lead to additional charges, aside from DUI. Possible summary offenses under the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code related to leaving the scene of an accident include “duty to give information and render aid,” “accidents involving damage to unattended vehicle or property,” and “immediate notice of accident to police department.” Of course, most defendants would gladly face these summary offenses, if it means successfully dodging a DUI, and that is exactly why so many people have and will continue to try to escape before the police can arrive.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, with extensive experience in DUI defense. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/DUI-Defense.shtml