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Colorado Drivers Must Identify Themselves to Police as Drivers

People v. Hernandez, No. 09SC615 (Colo. April 11, 2011)

TOPICS:
Leaving the Scene of An Accident
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Driver must Identify Self as Driver

Facts: Chivalry is not dead. Mr. Hernandez allegedly drove an SUV after a party, and crashed into another car. The occupants of the other car suffered some serious injuries. At the scene, Mr. Hernandez’s girlfriend told the police she was driving and gave the police her information. Mr. Hernandez remained on scene, gave his girlfriend his information to write in under ‘passenger’, and never disclosed that he was the one actually driving. Mr. Hernandez left after the police took his girlfriend in for a blood alcohol test. Later, after the prosecution charged her with DUI, the girlfriend recanted her story. The state subsequently prosecuted Mr. Hernandez for leaving the scene of an accident.

Issue: Whether the prosecution can sustain a conviction where the accused never left the scene of the accident but also never disclosed that he was the actual driver?

Held: Yes.

Reasoning: The Court held that although the statute does not specifically require identifying oneself as the actual driver that is what the driver must do if she or he is involved in an accident. Thus, the Court held the evidence of not identifying himself and allowing a misrepresentation of the identity of the actual driver was sufficient to sustain a conviction.

Justice Martinez dissented.

***Commentary provided by Eric Sims Jr., Esq (used with permission)***

BY THE COLORADO SUPREME COURT (SYLLABUS):

The issue raised in this case is whether a defendant may be convicted for leaving the scene of an accident based solely on his failure to identify himself to authorities at the scene as the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident.

The defendant was convicted of violating sections 42-4-1601(1) and -1603(1), C.R.S. (2010), statutory provisions that require the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to others to provide certain information before leaving the accident scene. The defendant did not identify himself at the scene as the driver; instead, his girlfriend provided the defendant’s name and address but told authorities that she had been driving.
The court of appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction.

It construed sections 42-4-1601(1) and -1603(1) to hold that a driver involved in an accident is not required to affirmatively identify himself to anyone at the scene as “the driver” if he otherwise provides his name, address, registration information for the vehicle, and, upon request, his driver’s license. People v. Hernandez, 224 P.3d 343, 347-48 (Colo. App. 2009). We disagree and hold that sections 42-4-1601(1) and -1603(1) do require the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident to affirmatively identify himself as the driver before leaving the scene if that fact is not reasonably apparent from the circumstances. Any other construction would defeat the language and legislative purpose of these provisions. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand for consideration of Hernandezs remaining claims.

Conclusion (by Court):
We hold that sections 42-4-1601(1) and -1603(1) require a driver of a vehicle involved in an accident to affirmatively identify himself as the driver before leaving the scene of the accident if that fact is not otherwise reasonably apparent from the circumstances. Accordingly, we REVERSE the judgment of the Court of Appeals and REMAND the case to that court for consideration of Hernandez’s remaining appellate challenges.

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