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Lawmakers close loophole used in Senser hit-and-run defense

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature Updated: April 29, 2014 - 4:29 PM

A bill requiring Minnesota drivers involved in collisions to stop and investigate what they struck awaits Gov. Mark Dayton's signature into law.

The bill, which cuts off the “ignorance” defense commonly ¬¬used in hit-and-run cases, passed the Minnesota House of Representatives 124-3 Tuesday. A Senate version passed 44-16 last week.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Rosenthal, DFL-Edina, and Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield comes in the wake of a 2010 state Supreme Court ruling that reversed the criminal vehicular hom9icide convictions of Mohammed Al-Naseer in the hit-and-run death of Kane Thomson after prosecutors failed to prove Al-Naseer knew he struck a person or vehicle when he left the scene, as required by current law.

Naseer’s reversal was used by the defense team for Amy Senser in a high-profile trial that ended in her conviction and prison sentence. Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings player Joe Senser, struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong on a darkene3d I-94 freeway ramp in August 2011. Throughout the trial, Senser maintained that she left the scene because she believed she struck a construction cone or barrel. Senser was released from prison and transferred to a work release facility last week.

The language of the bill eliminates a loophole that allows “not knowing what was struck” as a legal defense for drivers accused of hit-and-run.

“It’s common sense for most Minnesotans that if you hit something, it’s your responsibility to stop and investigate what you hit, but this bill sets out 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 and making contact with the victims if there were other individuals involved,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “It’s the sort of personal responsibility that we expect.”

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