Lawmakers seek end to 'I didn't know' hit-and-run defense - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

Lawmakers seek end to 'I didn't know' hit-and-run defense

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From the high-profile Amy Senser trial to the case of a St. Paul woman who is expected to stick to her claim that she didn't realize she struck and killed a man with her car, lawmakers say they are fed up with that excuse.

Some call it the "I didn't know" defense, and when it comes to hit-and-run cases, it's being used all the time. That has some lawmakers looking at what seems to be a loophole in state law that leaves a legal tactic to get away with murder.

"I guess anybody can hit anybody and get away with it," said Sherri Conley.

Conley told FOX 9 News she is tired of the excuses, but she will hear them all again from her son's killer in court on Tuesday. Teisha Randle claims she didn't know she hit Austin Conley with her car, saying she thought a rock had shattered her window.

Witnesses said Austin Conley was crossing 3rd Street when a car traveling at a high rate of speed struck him in the crosswalk, sending him flying. Witnesses said the car then hit him again before taking off on the freeway.

"There needs to be a law," Conley said. "You can't get away with that. You just should not be able to get away with that."

Prosecutors say Randle had spent the night drinking vodka straight out of the bottle and fled because she was drunk. They also say she tried to hard her car and didn't even have a driver's license at the time.

A bill that will be introduced later this week would require drivers to stop after a collision as soon as it is safe to do so in order to investigate what they hit.

"You can't be saying, 'Well, I thought it was a deer,' or 'I thought it was something else,'" said Nancy Johnson, of Citizens for Safe Driving. "Your responsibility is to find out what it is you hit."

Johnson wants to change the state's hit-and-run law by requiring drivers to stop and investigate after a collision, placing the burden of proof on drivers for knowing what their vehicle hit -- not on prosecutors.

The "I didn't know" defense was popularized by Amy Senser, who testified she thought she hit a traffic barrel on a freeway off-ramp and not Anousone Phantavong, whose car had run out of gas. Senser was found guilty, but only after a long trial and exhausting her appeals.

For Conley, the defense is the ultimate insult -- a way to escape responsibility for taking the life of a 20-year-old man, a business major at Augsburg College who had his life ahead of him.

"I know he would do anything for anybody. That's why it's hard for me," Conley said. "She couldn't even stop to see if he was okay. That's not forgivable."

The problems with the state law are not new. In fact, the Minnesota Supreme Court first identified the loophole six years ago by ruling that under the statute, if a driver doesn't know what they hit, they had no duty to stop. Instead, the state had to prove the driver "reasonably" would've known they hit a person.

The bill to change the law is expected to be in its final form later this week.

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