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Attorney General Van Hollen Announces Significant Wisconsin Court of Appeals Decision Involving "Hit-and-Run" Statute

 

MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued the following statement in response to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision in State of Wisconsin v. Dawn D. Dartez, handed down yesterday, which reinstated a Dane County prosecution under Wisconsin's "hit-and-run" statute:

 

"Yesterday's decision came as the result of an appeal taken by my office. It will allow the Dane County District Attorney and other state prosecutors to file charges in a wider range of hit-and-run cases," said Van Hollen. "I'm pleased the court of appeals made the appropriate decision regarding these types of cases."

 

The Dane County criminal complaint alleges that Dartez, while intoxicated, lost control of the car she was driving and "missed the corner." The car left the road and crashed into the bedroom of a private residence on the corner, killing an occupant of the house. Dartez left the scene without rendering aid or identifying herself. The complaint charges Dartez with being the operator of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury or death of another without immediately stopping at the scene of the accident and rendering assistance, contrary to Wisconsin's hit-and-run statute.

 

Dartez argued in Dane County Circuit Court that she could not be prosecuted under this statute because the accident did not occur on a highway, but occurred where the collision occurred on the property of a private residence, an area not included in the relevant state statutes. The circuit court agreed and dismissed the charge. The court of appeals reversed the circuit court and reinstated the charge, concluding that the term "accident" includes an operator's loss of control of the vehicle that results in a collision. The court reasoned that because the complaint alleges Dartez lost control of her vehicle on a highway, her alleged conduct falls within the scope of the statutes even though the collision occurred off the highway.

 

This was a pretrial appeal. Dartez enjoys a presumption of innocence at this stage of the proceedings, and the State will be required to prove its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. The State was represented in the court of appeals by Assistant Attorney General Juan Colas.