Why Wasn’t Commerce Secretary John Bryson Charged with Hit-and-Run for California Accidents?


In June of 2012, Commerce Secretary John Bryson was involved in two traffic collisions in California and left the scene of both of them. While failing to stop at the scene of an accident can be a criminal act known as hit and run, authorities declined to prosecute Bryson after an investigation revealed that he did not intentionally disobey the California Vehicle Code rules, explains a California car accident lawyer.

According to U.S. News and World Reports, Bryson was involved in two traffic accidents in Los Angeles last June. Bryson first rear-ended a Buick that was stopped for a train. While he spoke to the men in the vehicle for a few moments, Bryson left the scene of the accident, hitting the vehicle a second time as he was departing. Shortly thereafter, Bryson struck another vehicle in a nearby neighborhood and again left the scene.

Law enforcement agents later found Bryson alone and unconscious in his vehicle. Bryson was tested for narcotics and alcohol and the tests revealed only a low level of Ambien in his blood stream, which criminologists could not conclusively determine played any role in Bryson causing the accidents.

Police cited Bryson for felony hit-and-run; however, the district attorney declined to pursue criminal charges in early July. According to court documents, criminal charges were not filed against Bryson because he acted in a state of confusion following a seizure, and there was no knowing failure to provide personal information at the accident scene.

Why Was Bryson Not Held Liable?

The California hit-and-run laws are intended to punish people who intentionally flee the scene of an accident without providing their personal or identifying information to law enforcement or to others who were injured or who suffered property damage. According to a 1998 case called People v. Scheer, the crime of hit and run is a “general intent” crime. This means that a driver must intend to leave the scene of an accident and intend to refrain from providing required personal identifying information to others involved in the accident.

Because there is evidence that Bryson did not act intentionally in leaving the scene of either accident, Bryson cannot be guilty of hit and run in California. His situation is an unusual one, in that the lack of intent was caused by a medical problem, in this case, an alleged seizure. The same result would not occur if an intoxicated or drunk person “unintentionally” left the scene of an accident; being intoxicated at the time when an accident occurs is not a defense to hit and run. In fact, according to People v. Xinos, additional penalties are imposed in California when a driver who is intoxicated at the time of an accident flees the scene because in this case the intent is to destroy evidence by making it impossible for law enforcement to give the suspect a Breathalyzer test.

In the unusual circumstances of Bryson’s case, however, the district attorney did not believe that Bryson fulfilled the general intent required under California’s hit and run laws. Prosecuting Bryson would thus not serve the purpose of the law, which is to stop drivers from intentionally leaving the scene of accidents on California’s roadways.

Additional information on California’s hit-and-run laws and other subjects relevant to personal injury law is available to the public free of charge through our office.

If you would like to request a free book or article, or to speak with a California car accident lawyer, feel free to call 1-888-834 5055.

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