Panicked motorists who flee the scene of an accident may face lesser charges than if they stayed and faced the consequences. Pennsylvania lawmakers and prosecutors are bemoaning the sentencing guidelines for hit-and-run drivers, and are calling for increased penalties on these motorists. Under current Pennsylvania law, a conviction for causing a fatal accident while driving under the influence is a minimum of 3 years in prison. However, if a driver leaves the scene and is apprehended later, they can only be charged with fleeing the scene which carries a minimum of 1 year in prison.
By increasing the penalties of fleeing the scene, lawmakers hope to eliminate the incentive for hit-and-run drivers. A driver that has been drinking and causes an accident can potentially face a harsher sentence for DUI if they stay at the accident. Comparatively, a driver that leaves the scene and is not apprehended until alcohol has left their system cannot be charged with DUI, and will face lighter penalties even if the accident caused a fatality. By making sentencing guidelines for DUI with accident and fleeing the scene (even if no alcohol was involved), there is no incentive to do a hit-and-run.
Luzerne County First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce told The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice that hit-and-run penalties should be greater than penalties for DUI in a fatal crash.
Last year state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, wrote legislation to increase penalties on drivers involved in fatal hit-and-run accidents. A grand compromise was achieved and hit-and-run accidents with a fatality was made a second-degree felony instead of a third-degree felony, which carried a maximum term of ten years in prison rather than seven years. However, the one year minimum term remains.
Sanguedolce said that the change in law will likely not effect first-time offenders or people with little or no criminal history, because typically the maximum sentence is not sought out for those who do not have a long criminal record. “The maximum sentence may be so far away from the standard range that the judge would not reach it,” he said.