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Hit-and-Run, § 346.67(1)(a) – Elements – Operator ID

State v. Aprylann Wuteska, 2007 WI App 157, PFR filed 6/14/07
For Wuteska: Mark H. Bennett

Issue/Holding: The plain text of § 346.67(1)(a) requires the operator of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person or damage to a vehicle to identify him or herself as the operator:

¶13 Applying these principles, we conclude the only reasonable meaning of Wis. Stat. § 346.67(1)(a) is that it requires the operator of the vehicle to identify himself or herself as the operator. The introductory language of § 346.67(1) imposes a number of obligations on “the operator of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or in damage to a vehicle….” (Emphasis added.) Section 346.67(1)(a) requires “[t]he operator [to] … give his or her name or address and the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving … to the person struck or to the operator or occupant of or person attending any vehicle collided with.” [4] (Emphasis added.) Implicit in giving the registration number “of the vehicle he or she is driving” is giving the information that he or she is driving the vehicle whose registration number is being provided.¶14 In addition, Wis. Stat. § 346.67(1)(b) requires that “[t]he operator shall upon request and if available exhibit his or her operator’s license.” (Emphasis added.) Such a request makes no sense unless the operator has first identified himself or herself as the operator.

¶15 Finally, we consider the purpose of Wis. Stat. § 346.67(1). The “two clear purposes” of Wisconsin’s hit-and-run statute are:

(1) to ensure that injured persons may have medical or other attention with the least possible delay; and (2) to require the disclosure of information so that responsibility for the accident may be placed.

State v. Swatek, 178 Wis. 2d 1, 7, 502 N.W.2d 909 (Ct. App. 1993) (citation omitted). The first purpose relates to para. (1)(c), which is not at issue in this case. The second purpose is the one that is relevant to construing para. (1)(a). In order to determine responsibility for the accident, it is necessary to know who was operating the vehicles involved in the accident. …

[4] In State v. Mann, 135 Wis. 2d 420, 424-25, 430, 400 N.W.2d 489 (Ct. App. 1986), we held that the word “attending” is not unconstitutionally vague and that an operator who leaves the scene of an accident without giving the specified information to the responding officer has violated this requirement; we rejected the argument that the officer was not a “person attending any vehicle collided with” because he was aiding the injured person and was not doing something in relation to the vehicle.

This result was probably foreordained by State v. Stephen D. Harmon, 2006 WI App 214, ¶14 (“the need for disclosure of information in order to place responsibility for the accident exists whether the operator acted with or without intent”), albeit in dicta.


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