Your rights at an auto accident

QUESTION: If I'm involved in a car accident, do I have to answer the police officer's questions about how the accident occurred? Don't I have the right to remain silent?

ANSWER: The general answer is yes. Florida Statute Section 316.062 requires anyone who is involved in an automobile accident involving injury or death to a person, or damage to property must stop in order to provide assistance and must also provide certain information either to the other driver involved n the accident or to a police officer upon request. In return, however, the information so given is subject to an "accident report privilege". This privilege is found at Florida Statute Section 316.066(4) which states: "Each crash report made by a person involved in a crash and any statement made by such person to a law enforcement officer for the purpose of completing a crash report required by this section shall be without prejudice to the individual so reporting. No such report or statement shall be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal.

This law explains why, for those who may have sat on a jury involving an automobile accident case, why the accident report was never discussed or entered into evidence. Another law, Florida Statute 316.650(9) prohibits introducing traffic tickets as evidence in a trial. Thus, a jury in a civil case will not see the accident report which describes the accident sued upon and will not learn which party, if any, was issued a citation for the accident. There is an exception to the general requirement that information be provided to an investigating officer. This is where the officer completes his "accident investigation phase" and begins his "criminal investigation" into the accident. Where this occurs, a separate officer from the one conducting the "accident investigation" may take over the "criminal investigation" or the same officer may conduct both investigations. Where this occurs, the officer should clearly inform you that he has completed his accident investigation and is beginning a criminal investigation. Once the criminal investigation has begun, the person being interviewed has the right to refuse to answer any further questions. However, if the person elects to voluntarily cooperate with the officer and continues to answer questions, any answers so given may be introduced into evidence in any subsequent criminal or civil proceeding.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, and you're unsure which part of the investigation the officer is conducting, you should ask the officer to provide this information to you. Then, unless you are clearly the victim of a crime rather than a potential suspect, most attorneys would recommend that you refrain from making any statements or answering any further questions until you have had an opportunity to speak with an attorney. As a general rule, your election to exercise your constitutional right to remain silent cannot be used against you at a later time, in court.

Caution: If you are being given a ticket for an automobile accident, the officer will probably ask that you sign the ticket. By doing so, you are not acknowledging guilt, but instead, you are only agreeing to appear in court or follow those procedures for taking care of the ticket specified in the directions you will receive. If you refuse to acknowledge receipt of the ticket by signing for it, the officer may place you under arrest.

The information contained herein is intended for the general education of members of the public interested in gaining additional knowledge about Florida law. While every effort has been made to insure the accuracy of this article, such accuracy is not warranted. If you require legal advise concerning a specific legal question, do not rely upon the information contained herein but instead, consult with a qualified attorney of your choice, or call the law firm of Allen R. Seaman, PA, 1601 Belvedere Rd Suite 506-E, West Palm Beach, FL 33406. (561) 540-3636.