No one plans to be involved in an accident. The experience of hitting someone or something will highly likely get you completely off-guard. It is perfectly normal to feel frightened, stressed, and confused all at the same time. Even if you know that the right thing to do is pull over, the panic and tension may make you flee the scene. From a rational perspective, this behavior is understandable. Unfortunately, a hit-and-run is still unlawful in California. If you find yourself facing hit-and-run charges, we recommend reaching out to Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. You owe yourself the favor of not discussing your case with anyone until you speak to a skilled lawyer.
Whether you face misdemeanor charges under VC Section 20002 for property damage or felony charges under VC section 20001 for causing injury or death, all is not lost. There is much an experienced attorney can do to turn the situation around. From gathering evidence and securing witnesses to defending you in court, we do all it takes to increase your chances of enjoying the best outcome.
Legal Definition of Hit and Run in California
California’s Vehicle Code 20002 makes it illegal for drivers to leave an accident scene without pulling over to provide their personal information and driver’s license/registration details to other persons involved or the police. Before a conviction, the prosecution will need to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You were driving and were involved in an accident
- The incident damaged another person’s property
- You knew that the collision did or would probably damage another person’s property
- You willfully or deliberately failed to pull over, identify yourself, and provide your license and registration number
It’s best to understand that you can face hit and run charges even if you were not at fault. Irrespective of who bears the blame, you must stop at the accident scene, identify yourself and provide your license and registration number. Moreover, performing part of the duties can still leave you facing hit-and-run charges.
For instance, you are guilty of a hit-and-run if you pull over after an accident but leave without providing the necessary information. Often, defendants with a bad driving record face a higher risk of conviction and heavy punishment.
Understanding the Duties of Drivers Involved In an Accident
If you are involved in a collision that causes property damage or the injury of another person, there are three crucial duties you must perform. These duties are as follows:
- Stop immediately
- Provide identification information (name, contact details, current address)
- Provide your vehicle registration number and driver’s license
Furthermore, you must disclose whether you are not the owner of the car you are driving. In this case, you have a duty also to submit that vehicle owner’s name, contact details, and current address. Generally, a hit-and-run is when you fail to satisfy all the responsibilities mentioned above.
So what happens if you hit property or a parked car and the owner isn’t around?
In this case, you should leave a legible note providing all the necessary information and a rough description of what transpired. You must also go straight to the local police and report the incident.
Another point worth noting is that the situation doesn’t change based on your unique circumstances. You still have to stop immediately and report an incident to the police without delay if you cannot find a property’s owner. Then again, you must fulfill the mentioned duties irrespective of whether an incident happens in a private or public location.
Vehicle Code 16025 — Provide Your Auto Insurance Information
Under Vehicle Code 20002, you merely need to stop and provide personal information, your vehicle registration, and your driver’s license. However, there is a separate Vehicle code that tasks drivers involved in collisions with the duty of providing their auto insurance information.
Under VC 16025, any driver involved in an accident should provide evidence of financial responsibility. This means you should provide your auto insurance information the following information:
- Name of your insurer
- Insurance company address
- Number of your insurance policy
Violating VC 16025 is an infraction that attracts the following penalty:
- A fine not exceeding $250
Difference Between Vehicle Code 20001 & Vehicle Code 20002
Generally, hit and run offenses can be charged as follows:
- Hit and run after property damage (Vehicle Code 20002) — Misdemeanor
- Hit and run after causing injury or death (Vehicle Code 20001) — Felony
A hit and run is a wobbler offense that can attract misdemeanor or felony charges. While prosecutors impose misdemeanor charges when an incident only involves property damage, defendants face felony charges when they flee the scene leaving behind an injured or dead victim.
Violating Vehicle Code 20001 is the greater crime. The offense attracts harsher punishment when charged as a felony, although a skilled attorney may find clever ways to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor. Again, hit and run is a “wobbler” offense, meaning there is always room to reduce felony charges.
Under VC 20001, it is illegal for any driver involved in an accident causing death or injury to flee the scene. Again, you have to pull over immediately and provide the necessary information. Moreover, you are tasked with rendering reasonable assistance to the injured victims, including helping them seek medical attention.
So, what happens if the victim is dead?
In this case, you should report the incident to the nearest police station without delay. Note that you may face felony hit and run charges if you fail to report the accident “without delay.”
The prosecution needs to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt for you to be convicted:
- You were driving a car and were involved in a collision
- The collision resulted in someone else’s death or injury
- You knew you were involved in an accident that did or probably caused injury or death
- You willfully refused to fulfill your legal requirements
The term “involved” merely implies that you were allied with an accident in one way or another. This is irrespective of whether you were at fault or not. On the other hand, the term “willfully” implies that you deliberately fled the scene. This is regardless of whether you intended to injure someone or not.
Both felony and misdemeanor hit and run charges can attract harsh penalties. If you are arrested over an incident or under police investigation, your best chance of enjoying a favorable outcome is to seek the counsel of a skilled criminal defense attorney.
Hit and Run Penalties
Fleeing the scene following an accident puts you in the wrong light. Even if you were not at fault, your actions show a disregard for human life. Hence, the laws impose stiff punishment, especially when you fail to fulfill your legal obligations after an accident that causes injuries or death.
Violating VC Section 20001 is a misdemeanor. If convicted, you may face the following penalties:
- Jail time for up to 6 months
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
As aforementioned, violating VC Section 20001 is a wobbler offense. The specific facts of your case will help the prosecution to decide the most befitting charges.
When the offense is charged as a misdemeanor, the punishment may include:
- Up to 1-year incarceration
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
A felony conviction may attract the following penalties
- Jail time for up to 3 years
- A $1,000 to $10,000 fine
Again, the specifics of your case may play a significant role in determining the charges and penalties you will face. If an accident results in a victim’s death or severe injury, the offense will still be a wobbler. However, a conviction will carry a mandatory minimum sentence.
Here is what to expect:
- Misdemeanor conviction mandatory minimum sentence — 3 months to one-year imprisonment
- Felony conviction minimum compulsory sentence — Imprisonment for up to 4 years
Additional Hit-and-Run Consequences
It is common for vehicular collisions to involve civil liability. Hit-and-run accidents are no exception. The victim(s) involved will likely bring forth a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for damages suffered. Depending on whether an incident involved property damage, wrongful death, or personal injury, you may have to make a settlement that covers for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Loss of consortium
Furthermore, the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles will add at least two points to your driving record. This penalty has a good chance of impacting your driving privileges. Once your auto insurer gets wind of your accident, you can also expect a drastic increase in your annual auto insurance premiums.
A good reason to fight the hit and run charges is that most insurance policies don’t cover damages if you flee the scene. Then again, even if you have a policy that provides the needful coverage, your insurer may only provide as much cushioning. Either way, a good chunk of damages awarded to the plaintiff will likely come from your wallet. Even though victims can file claims and win way before your criminal trial, a conviction will likely increase the plaintiff’s odds of winning the civil lawsuit.
How to Resolve a Misdemeanor Hit and Run
Accidents happen. Even victims understand this much and may be ready to settle a matter outside court if they receive proper civil compensation. In return for a settlement, hit and run offenders can dodge the devastating impacts of a misdemeanor conviction.
Usually, going to court is inevitable if an accident results in the death or injury of a person. However, you can avoid a trial by settling restitution in full. This arrangement will only work if the victim is ready to sign a statement that says they have received satisfactory compensation. Most courts will happily grant a permanent stay on a case’s proceedings once the parties involved settle for a civil compromise.
So what happens if a victim refuses a civil compromise?
In this case, the judge may still grant the accused a chance to earn a hit-and-run charge dismissal. Judges have supreme authority over court proceedings, meaning they can give a permanent stay on a case even if the prosecutor objects. Moreover, the judge can also grant a judicial diversion (granting the accused a chance to earn hit and run charges dismissal) even if the prosecution objects.
During a judicial diversion, the accused has to enter a No Contest plea. Court proceedings are different because a case doesn’t end with a defendant being sentenced. Instead, the judge postpones sentencing for a year, allowing the defendant to settle restitution and satisfy other obligations ordered by the judge. As long as a defendant meets all the set requirements, the judge will withdraw their plea during the sentencing hearing and dismiss the case.
If your case merely involves property damage, you have a means of dodging the outcome of the typical hit-and-run court proceedings. Note that civil compromises often bear the best fruit if you seek legal aid as soon as possible. Talk to a skilled criminal defense attorney about the details of your case immediately to find out the best course of action.
Best Defenses to Fight Hit and Run Charges
A hit-and-run conviction can attract numerous devastating consequences. Apart from spending time behind bars and paying hefty monetary fines, a conviction could also end up on your permanent criminal record. Moreover, you may be at a loss of your driving privileges or become subject to exorbitant auto insurance rates.
Fortunately, all is not gloom and doom merely because you are facing charges. A competent criminal defense attorney can use the best defenses to ensure your case has the best possible outcome.
Here are some of the best defenses a lawyer may use, depending on the specific facts of your case:
Lack of Knowledge
It is possible to hit something or someone without your knowledge. Sometimes, defendants face hit and run charges, yet they simply didn’t notice they were involved in an accident. For instance, if you are driving a big SUV, you may not feel the impact of bumping into a smaller car.
Furthermore, you don’t have a case to answer if you were unaware of any damages or injuries caused by a collision. It could be that you were involved in an incident and you pulled over, but no one indicated that they had suffered injuries, and you also did not see any apparent property damages. In this case, any rational person may not find it necessary to leave their contact information, vehicle registration, and driver’s license number.
Borrowed or Stolen Car
The court can only impose hit and run charges on the person who committed the offense. That said, you don’t have a case to answer if you were not the one behind the wheel. It could be that someone else, perhaps your friend had your car over the weekend. It could also be that even if the vehicle involved in a hit and run is registered in your name, it was stolen at the time of an incident.
You Couldn’t Stop
Another viable defense is that you could not stop for your safety. For instance, it could be that the location of an accident exposed you to people who would not mind lynching you for the collision. This defense can only yield the intended outcome if you drive to the police station to report the incident without delay.
You Couldn’t Render Assistance
Following an accident that involves the injury of other people, your first duty is to render assistance. Unfortunately, this may not always be possible, especially if you are injured or physically unable to help. Again, this defense only yields the best fruit if you report the incident without delay and possibly call 911. The idea is to ensure the victims receive timely help even as you seek medical attention for your injuries.
Hit and Run Related Offenses
There are crimes closely allied with a hit-and-run offense. Depending on the unique facts of a case, the prosecution may charge you with these offenses instead of or alongside hit and run.
Driving Under the Influence — Vehicle Code 23152
California has complex DUI laws. Drunk driving can quickly leave you facing charges for violating different Vehicle Codes. For instance, VC 23152(a) makes it illegal to operate a car under the influence of alcohol. On the other hand, VC 23152(b) criminalizes driving with a BAC of .08% or higher. If you flee the accident scene because you were drunk driving and with a BAC of .08% or higher, you are likely to face three different charges.
The prosecution will need to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt before they can convict you:
- You drove a motor vehicle
- At the time, you were impaired by alcohol or drugs
The punishment for drunk driving may highly depend on the following factors:
- Your criminal record and whether you have prior DUI convictions
- Whether your actions lead to the injury or death of another person
Here’s an overview of the punishment to expect:
- Summary probation for 3 to 5 years
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
DUI Causing Injury — Vehicle Code 23153
Under Vehicle Code 23153, it is illegal to operate an automobile while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol and act negligently, causing another person’s injury.
The prosecution must prove the following factors before convicting you:
- You were operating a car
- When driving, you were intoxicated with drugs or alcohol
- By drunk driving, you were negligent in carrying out your duty
- Your actions lead to the injury of someone else
Violating VC 23153 is a wobbler offense that can attract a felony or misdemeanor charge. Again, the prosecution will consider a range of factors before deciding on the charges that best match the magnitude of your offense. These factors include:
- Whether you have pas DUI convictions
- Whether a case involves other aggravating factors
If drunken driving results in the injury of another person and you have at least four prior DUI convictions, the prosecution is likely to impose felony charges.
- Up to 1 year jail time
- A fine of up to $5,000
- 2, 3, or 4 years prison time
- A maximum fine of $5,000
A felony DUI can earn you an extra 3 to 6 consecutive years in jail on your sentence if the victims suffer great bodily harm. The judge may also add one year to your sentence for each victim that sustains injuries (3 years max). Moreover, felony DUI is a “strikeable” offense under California’s Three Strikes Law.
California Vehicular Manslaughter — Penal Code 192(c)
If the victim following a hit and run ends up dead, the prosecution will likely charge you with vehicular manslaughter alongside hit-and-run. Under Penal Code 192, it is illegal to drive a vehicle unlawfully and negligently, causing another person’s demise.
Vehicular manslaughter is a serious offense often punished based on the degree of negligence showcased by the defendant. If the facts of a case demonstrate gross negligence, you are likely to face steeper penalties if convicted.
Here are the elements of a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter:
- You drove a car and committed an infraction or misdemeanor
- Your actions, given the circumstances, showed a disregard for human life
- You acted with ordinary negligence
- Your actions caused the demise of another individual
If convicted for violating PC 192, you may face the following penalties:
- Jail time for up to 1 year
- A maximum fine of $1,000
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a wobbler offense. The prosecution can impose misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the circumstances around an incident. If convicted of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, the punishment may include:
- Incarceration for up to 1 year
- A fine of up to $1,000
- 2, 4, or 6 years jail time
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Whether you face felony or misdemeanor hit and run charges, you cannot afford to underestimate the importance of seeking legal counsel. A reliable criminal defense attorney will review your case and inform you of your legal options. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we specialize in defending the accused. Let us fight the case against you and help protect your rights and best interests. Our skills and dedication to providing top-notch services will increase the odds of having your charges or sentencing reduced or dropped. Call us at 951-946-6366 for a free consultation and thorough case evaluation.