When you or a loved one faces arrest for a driving crime, you may have difficulty navigating the California justice system. The arrest could be unexpected, and that’s why you need a criminal defense lawyer’s services for guidance, legal counsel, and building defenses. You want to hire a skilled attorney who is conversant with California criminal laws. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney, we have experienced defense lawyers who have worked with several clients facing driving crime charges. We are here to help you understand the nature of your criminal accusations and fight for your rights.

The Nature of Driving Crimes

In California, several guiding statutes prohibit motorists from committing driving offenses. Primarily, California Penal Code entails statutes that punish most driving crimes. Driving crimes are classified into different categories depending on the nature and elements of your crime. As a result, you may face various penalties for committing the same offense if the circumstances vary. For example, most driving crimes impose harsher penalties on repeat offenders compared to first-time offenders. The common driving crimes and their penalties in California are:

  1. Hit and Run

When your vehicle hits someone else’s property or injures a victim when on the road, you are expected to stop the car and offer assistance to the affected person. If the accident did not involve any injuries but caused significant property damage, you should also purpose to exchange contact details with the affected person. This way, you can later discuss the incurred costs and how to share them based on liabilities. 

Under section 20002 of the Vehicle Code, the law prohibits a hit and run involving property damage belonging to someone else. For example, if you crash into someone’s lawn, destroy their gate, or crash into their parked vehicle and drive off, you are charged for violating VC 20002. 

Usually, the offense leads to misdemeanor charges, meaning that you may spend up to six months in county jail. Alternatively, the court may order you to pay fines of up to $1000, on top of paying restitution fees to the victim, if necessary. 

Additionally, VC section 20003 involves a hit and run that causes injuries or death to the hit victim. The severity of issued penalties is more under this section, directly affecting a person’s life. When the police track your car to you, you could face immediate arrest or obtain a notice of arrest. 

A hit and run offense involving injuries is classified as a felony based on the crime’s seriousness. Consequently, you will spend a maximum of one year in jail or pay fines ranging from $1000 to $10,000. 

Possible Defenses for the Crime

When your defense attorney assesses your case facts, he/she can develop possible defenses based on their credibility and relevance to the matter. The following are the possible defenses:

You Tried to Contact the Property Owner but Failed

After hitting and damaging someone else’s property, you may have attempted to contact the owner without success. For example, if you called the contact number left on the mailbox or asked neighbors for the person's details, you will have tried to contact them.

Thus, any failed attempts to inform the person of the accident will count as a defense, as you did not have any other alternative in the circumstances. However, you want to present all records of your failed attempts to contact the owner as proof, as the prosecutor will attempt to challenge your presentations. Thus, we recommend retaining the call log or any proof of leaving a note for the property owner to find. 

You Genuinely Found it Unsafe to Stop at the Accident Scene

If your case involves hitting a person, you may present this argument in your defense. While it does not justify your actions, you may receive a more lenient sentence when the judge weighs the case circumstances.

For example, you may have been trying to escape from carjackers who had set traps on the road. Subsequently, if you tried to escape the vicinity and was involved in a hit and run, the circumstances surrounding your case could alleviate harsh penalties. 

However, you must provide credible evidence of the occurrences you claim to back your argument up. Thus, your lawyer can rely on proof from highway surveillance cameras or any other admissible evidence to show the gang members chasing you. 

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter

Generally, the crime of manslaughter is defined in section 192 of the Penal Code as causing unpremeditated death. Thus, the prosecutor does not have to prove that you had malicious intent to kill someone. Instead, he/she focuses on any signs of negligence or undue disregard for human life when presenting a case against you. 

Normally, vehicular manslaughter involves causing an accident victim’s death by driving negligently. The most common causes of vehicular manslaughter involve drunk driving leading to a fatal accident. Nevertheless, note that you face charges regardless of whether your negligent action was legal. The underlying rule will focus on the harm that the victim suffered. 

Vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler crime, so that you may face felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the circumstances of your case. As a misdemeanor, you will serve a jail sentence that runs for up to twelve months. 

Felony charges are issued when the prosecutor proves that you killed the victim for monetary compensation. For example, you may have been working for someone with ulterior motives on the deceased. Subsequently, you will serve a two to a six-year sentence in state prison.

Defenses to the Crime

When you face vehicular manslaughter charges, you will need to prepare persuasive defenses, as the penalties you are likely to receive are severe. Therefore, you and your attorney want to prepare the best arguments that align with your case. Some defenses available are:

Your Driving Activities Were Not Grossly Negligent

Firstly, you can present facts to show that you did not engage in any grossly negligent activities that caused the accident. In presenting the defense, you will counter the prosecutor’s line of argument, as he/she should show that you did not exercise the required duty of care while on the road. 

For example, if the vehicular manslaughter arose from vehicle malfunctions like brake failure, you had limited control over the incident despite trying to avert the danger. Moreover, your defense may include facts that aim to contradict the prosecutor’s case entirely by introducing new evidence. However, your defense lawyer should ensure that these facts are admissible to avoid presenting unreliable arguments that are likely to be discarded. 

You Faced an Emergency Before the Accident Occurred

Alternatively, you may argue that you were in the process of responding to an emergency that caused the vehicular manslaughter accident. While the defense may not completely absolve you of the legal responsibility for the accident, it will shed light on your behavior. In return, the judge may consider lowering your sentence based on the mitigating factors. 

However, you also want to confirm that you did not violate other regulations that would outweigh your argument when presenting this defense. For example, the court may reject your defense if you were under the influence regardless of your emergency response claim.

The Accident Did Not Occur Because of Your Actions

Sometimes, the investigation officers assessing the accident scene may construe information inaccurately, leading to wrongful accusations. Additionally, the accident victim may give false details when testifying to place blame on you. Therefore, you can counter these claims by providing additional information about the accident in your defense.  

In most cases, your attorney will liaise with professional accident impact assessors to check for signs that differ from the prosecutor’s findings. For example, if your vehicle was not dented, yet the victim insists you hit him/her, your lawyer may raise reasonable doubt on the issue, bringing attention to the inconsistencies. 

  1. Driving With a Suspended License

Any motorist driving on a public road should have a valid license to validate his/her driving competence. A failure to comply will violate section 14601(a) of the California Vehicle Code and will attract several penalties. 

Usually, a driver may have his/her license suspended for various reasons, which entail previous law violations. Thus, driving with a suspended license contravenes driving regulations and could result in the enhancement of your original driving penalties. Some common causes of license suspensions include:

Refusing to Take a Chemical DUI Test

When an officer arrests you after a suspected DUI offense and subjects you to a chemical test, you can refuse to take it and opt to face the subsequent outcome. Hence, a license suspension is among the consequences of a chemical test refusal, and it may last for six months to a year.

Driving Recklessly

If you are involved in several instances of reckless driving, you will also have your license suspended. The rationale behind this penalty is reducing the danger you pose to other motorists when you engage in recklessness. Hence, you are prohibited from driving with your suspended license, and any instances of violating the restrictions attract penalties.

When handling your case, the prosecutor must show that you knew your suspended license status yet continued to operate your car. Thus, the main issue for determination is whether you were aware of the violation, leading the prosecutor to present several evidential sources. 

For example, he/she may refer to any recent receipts you have received while on the road to show that you knew of your suspended license status. Additionally, any previous court rulings regarding your license suspension are relevant and will prove that you were aware of the imposed restrictions. 

If the judge finds you guilty of the offense, you will face misdemeanor penalties, including paying a $1000 maximum fine. Alternatively, you could receive a six-month jail sentence. 

Defenses for Driving With a Suspended License

Since the prosecutor will focus on showing that you knew you were driving with a suspended license, your defenses should counter the argument. Alternatively, you may focus on proving that your license was not fully suspended, giving you the mandate to retain your driving privileges.  Some defenses to rely on include:

The Was a Mistake in Issuing the Suspension 

Firstly, you may argue that the initial license suspension order was erroneously made, making it invalid. The occurrence may arise from inaccurate facts and consolidation of records that lead the court to believe you should receive a license suspension. 

If your attorney can successfully show that your violations did not warrant a license suspension, you will avoid facing penalties for your current charge. However, the arguments must be accurate and valid, as the court holds all your driving violation records.

You Use a Restricted License

Sometimes, you may be guilty of a driving offense that allows you to use a restricted license instead of a complete suspension. For example, if you are guilty of a DUI, you can drive to particular locations like your workplace or an assigned DUI school.

The restricted driving is acceptable, provided you install an Ignition Interlock Device (IDD) in your car. Thus, when an officer issues a ticket based on your initial DUI license suspension,  you can raise the defense of a restricted license to justify why you used the vehicle. 

Often, officers are likely to apprehend you on your route to the authorized driving location. As a result, the judge can rightfully consider your argument.

You Lacked Common Knowledge of the License Suspension 

Additionally, your lack of common knowledge about your license being suspended can be an acceptable defense. However, it should meet the requirements of a genuine lack of information, especially when the relevant authorities fail to communicate. 

For example, if you worked with a representative who did not communicate the final court verdict after a previous driving crime, you can use the defense. 

Moreover, you may rely on the argument if you were unaware of your license suspension extension. Subsequently, you will have driven without prior knowledge of the extension, giving you a good chance to avoid facing repercussions. 

  1. Carjacking Offense

Carjacking is also considered a serious driving crime, primarily because it involves felony charges against the suspect. Therefore, it is important to learn of the different factors considered before a conviction, along with possible sentences. 

Elements of the Crime

Usually, the prosecutor focuses on specific crime elements that he/she must prove before the judge convicts you. Since the prosecutor bears the burden of proof, his/her role also involves collecting and presenting evidence for each of the elements. The different elements of the crime are:

  • You Took the Victim's Car in Your Possession

Firstly, the prosecutor should show that you removed the victim from the car and took possession of it. To prove this, evidence may be presented to show that you controlled the vehicle. For example, if you moved the vehicle for even a short distance, it will have been in your possession. 

Moreover, any records collected from your time of arrest will be useful for the prosecutor's case. The information is useful especially when you were apprehended from the victim's car, as it is direct proof of possession. 

  • You Took Possession in the Victim's Immediate Presence 

Additionally, carjacking should occur in the victim's presence, meaning that he/she witnessed the entire procedure and had to surrender the vehicle. This crime element distinguishes carjacking from other related crimes like grand theft auto that may occur when the owner is away from the vehicle. 

To prove that the victim was present, the prosecutor may rely on testimonies from witnesses or surveillance footage that shows the events. A police statement from the victim is also relevant and admissible evidence, as it includes a narration of the carjacking events. 

  • You Took Possession of the Car by Using Fear or Force Against the Victim 

Further, the crime should include the use of coercion or imposition of fear to take the victim's car. Hence, the prosecutor focuses on providing evidence to show any intimidation tactics you may have used.

For example, if you varnished a gun to the victim or used violence to remove him/her from the car, the actions satisfy the element of force/fear. 

  • You Intended to Permanently or Temporarily Deprive the Victim of the Vehicle

Lastly, the prosecutor must show that you intended to cause a temporary or permanent deprivation of the car you took. Thus, he/she should adduce evidence to prove that you left with the vehicle with no intention of returning it to the owner. 

Sometimes, circumstantial evidence is more suitable to prove your intentions, as your actions indicate your goals. For example, if you drove off with the vehicle and attempted to sell it illegally for profit, the prosecutor can establish an intention to permanently deprive the car from the owner.

Penalties for the Offense of Carjacking

If the prosecutor succeeds in proving all elements of crime, the judge will issue a sentence based on the case circumstances. Under section 215 of the California Penal Code, carjacking is a felony offense. Therefore, penalties include serving a jail sentence for three to nine years in state prison or paying a fine of up to $10,000.

Additionally, you should note that you may receive an enhanced sentence based on aggravating circumstances. The following are some of the common aggravating factors that lead to a sentence enhancement:

  • Using a weapon when carjacking 
  • Kidnapping the victim of the offense
  • Causing severe injuries on the victim
  • Carjacking to benefit a gang 

Nevertheless, your defense attorney may raise defenses to mitigate your case. For example, you may use a defense of mistaken identity where you were genuinely not involved in the crime. Additionally, you may also raise arguments to show that you did not use tactics to induce fear or coercion on the victim.

  1. Evading a Police Officer Using a Car

Trying to evade an officer is an offense under section 2800.1 VC. Once arrested, you will be charged with a misdemeanor that leads to a court trial. Usually, you will be guilty of the crime by wilfully trying to flee or escape a police officer, despite a clear indication that the officer is pursuing you. 

When facing trial proceedings, the prosecutor should show that your evasion was wilful. A wilful action can show that you knew of the repercussions you write about to face and therefore fled. Additionally, there should be proof that the officer pursued you to show that you were not merely trying to change your driving direction. 

The police pursuit often occurs in a noticeable vehicle that has the siren and lamp lights on. These distinct features should serve as an indication of a certified officer trying to stop you. As a result, evading the officer violates statutory provisions, leading to the criminal trial.

Penalties for Evading a Police Officer

The presiding judge will issue several penalties after finding you guilty of the crime. They are:

  • Serving a one-year jail sentence in county jail
  • Paying a maximum fine of $1000

Sometimes, you may be eligible for probation instead of serving a jail sentence. However, you must adhere to the various probation rules or risk facing a punitive jail sentence upon displaying non-conforming behavior.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Driving crimes occur when moving from one place to another and are punishable under California Penal Code. Subsequently, you may have difficulty coming to terms with the events as they unfold if you face arrest. Therefore, having a criminal defense lawyer to guide you through the entire process is advisable, as he/she will guide you based on experience and in-depth legal knowledge. 

Moreover, a defense lawyer services give you an easier time preparing for trial, leading to organized and credible court presentations. At the Riverside Criminal Defense Law Firm, you have a great opportunity to partner with well-experienced attorneys who prioritize your case for a favorable outcome. If you or a loved one is currently facing driving crime charges in Riverside, California, give us a call today at 951-946-6366