There was an interesting story in the MetroWest Daily News on Friday, written by Norman Miller. Apparently, an Ashland woman drove her car into a parked car, then left the scene, but later came back. According to the article, a resident on Old Worcester Road heard a noise at approximately 1:20 in the morning. The resident looked outside and saw a woman looking at a parked car. By the time the resident went outside to investigate, the woman had left the area. The resident then returned inside and called the police, and then noticed that the woman had returned. According to the article, the woman, later identified by police as Stephanie Santos of Homer Avenue in Ashland, appeared to be examining the car again. The article indicates that Santos then drove away.
When they arrived on the scene, the police discovered a Toyota Corolla with serious damage. It appears that police were able to locate and speak with Santos, who told them that she did not know how the damage occurred to the Corolla. The article indicated that Santos appeared to be intoxicated, but refused to take any field sobriety tests. According to the article, Santos was charged with driving to endanger, leaving the scene of property damage and operating under the influence – second offense.
This article caught my eye because it contains some interesting facts. First off, Santos was charged with leaving the scene of property damage. In my experience as a criminal defense attorney, and in my time as a prosecutor in Middlesex County, I have seen this charge many times. Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of a minor fender-bender, and maybe a few us have dinged a parked car and thought “well it’s not a big deal, I’ll just drive away.” But it is a big deal, as Santos has already discovered, because it can lead to a criminal charge.
In order to prove a charge of leaving the scene of property damage, the prosecution must generally prove that the defendant drove a car on a public way, hit some property, eg.g another car, that the defendant knew she hit the property, and that after hitting it, the defendant left the scene. Judging from the facts as sketched out in the article, it is not clear how the prosecution will prove that Santos caused the accident, unless the resident actually saw her striking the parked car.
There is an additional problem with the more serious charge Santos faces: operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor (called an OUI in Massachusetts, but commonly referred to as a DUI). As a former prosecutor and a current DUI defense attorney, I have extensive experience trying these types of cases from both sides. To prove its case, the government must prove that the defendant drove the car, on a public way, and did so under the influence of intoxicating liquor.
In a case like Santos’s, it may be hard for the government to prove that Santos was under the influence of alcohol. According to the article, Santos denied drinking and refused to take any field sobriety tests. The article does not mention a breathalyzer test either, suggesting that Santos did not take one. In such a trial, the only evidence of whether Santos was intoxicated may be the observations of the police officers who spoke with her, and in my experience, the absence of more concrete evidence such as field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer test, makes it hard for the government to reach a conviction.
If you or anyone you know has been arrested on a DUI or leaving the scene of property damage charge, you should consult an experienced defense attorney. As an Ashland criminal defense attorney with experience in these types of cases, I offer a free consultation to potential clients. Call me today for a free consultation at (508) 762-4540 or contact me using the form on this website.