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Legislature passes bill banning the 'ignorance defense' in hit and run cases

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Minnesota lawmakers have sent Gov. Mark Dayton a bill changing the state's hit-and-run law to specify that motorists are required to stop and investigate when they hit something.

The Pioneer Press reports the House approved the measure on a 124-3 vote Tuesday, joining the Senate which had passed the bill earlier.

The bill makes it explicit that not knowing what was struck is no defense in a hit-and-run case.

Many Minnesotans associate that defense with Amy Senser. In a 2012 trial that was closely tracked by the news media, Senser testified she did not realize her vehicle had hit a person on the night she struck and killed a man refilling his car's gas tank on a freeway exit ramp.

Senser was nonetheless convicted by a jury of criminal vehicular homicide.

But as the Star Tribune reports, the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2010 reversed the vehicular homicide conviction of Mohammed Al-Naseer on the grounds that prosecutors had failed to prove he knew he'd struck a person.

Last month the sister of the man who was killed in that incident urged legislators to change Minnesota's law, MPR reported. Kris Zell said then "It encourages drunk and other impaired drivers to flee the scene instead of offering life saving assistance." Zell's brother was changing a tire when he was fatally struck.

The bill's House author, DFLer Paul Rosenthal of Edina, said in a statement it's common sense to stop and investigate when you hit something "...but this bill sets out in clear language that Minnesota courts will not tolerate people leaving the scene of a collision without at least attempting to see what they collided with..."

The group Minnesotans for Safe Driving had made changing the hit-and-run law its only legislative priority during the current session at the Capitol.

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