As frequent readers of this blog know, I was hit-and-run on the last day in TX that even if caught drivers had little to nothing to fear as H&R was only a minor misdemeanor, slightly higher than a traffic ticket but only just. Since then H&R has become a felony in TX, which brings a whole new arsenal of ways to ramp up punishments. It isn’t used very often but there is a provision in Texas’s murder laws that any felony that results in death can be tried as capital murder, the TX equivalent of 1st degree in other states, and may be punished by anything up to and including death. This is true even when the death was accidental, like an accidental discharge of a firearm that hits a bystander who then dies.
Well hit-and-run is no accident, it’s a deliberate action to leave the scene of a wreck without rendering aid to the victim, and is a felony in TX. In many cases of death by motor vehicle, the victim could have recovered had he or she gotten prompt medical attention, but because the victim was hit-and-run the victim sometimes sits on the side of the road for hours, if not days. In cases like this the crime led directly to the death of the victim, and could be easily tried as murder under TX laws. That they aren’t says more about TX DAs and their ADA prosecutors, but that’s for another post.
But what about states that don’t have that mechanism? Well, for those that have constitutions that allow it, they can modify their murder laws to be in line with the TX statute. Which gives me a minor “ugh” moment, but moving on… For states that don’t have that mechanism and can’t change their murder laws, there needs to be a second class of hit-and-run where the victim dies because of the hit-and-run, with much higher sentencing standards up to and including life in prison without parole. And yes I’m realistic enough to know that my favorite revenge fantasy, chaining the driver to the steering wheel and recycling the car is never going to be allowed in this country. But I would like to see the recycling of the car part made a mandatory part of the sentence in any hit-and-run, perhaps with the perp and the victim, or the victim’s survivors in case of a fatality, watching.
Whatever mechanism chosen, hit-and-run is one of the most under-prosecuted crimes in the country. You can literally leave someone to die on the side of the road like a stray dog, and get less than a year in jail maximum sentence, which leads many prosecutors to just not prosecute because the result is not worth the effort required to prosecute. Even in cases where the hit-and-run was deliberate, separate from the wreck, prosecution is rare because there is no mechanism for ratcheting up the prosecution to match the level of the crime. Increasing the severity of the allowable prosecution to match the severity of the crime would prevent that.
All states must, MUST, make hit-and-run a felony. All states must, MUST, make hit-and-run that results in a fatality a major felony that results in prison sentences on par with firearms crimes. After all more people die from motor vehicles than from firearms every year, and that includes the people who use firearms for suicides. When you take out firearm suicides the ratio gets absurd. Motor vehicles are the much more deadly weapon than firearms.