What is a Hit and Run?
A hit and run is causing a traffic accident and speeding off afterward. This act can involve moving vehicles whereby the vehicle either hits a pedestrian, a bicycle, property or a parked car. This offense is a wobbler; that is, it is either charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. VC 20001 defines felony hit and run as fleeing the scene after causing a traffic accident, and somebody has been wounded or dies with a full understanding of the injury or death that has occurred.
On the other hand, California VC 20002 considers this offense to be a misdemeanor if a driver flees the scene when a property is damaged, with full knowledge of the damage that has occurred. Surprisingly, you may be indicted for hit and run if the fault is entirely on the other driver or when no one is to blame at all. The case of a double charge can also happen in the event property has been damaged, and injury or death has correspondingly occurred.
VC 20001 and 20002 are more concerned with the aftermath of the incident as opposed to the cause. Therefore, you are expected to first stop at the place of the accident. Leaving a scene without confirming the nature of the crash and persons injured can subject you to prosecution. You should then share your identity with the victim, police, or property owner (you can leave a note of your details at a place where the property owner can access the letter if they are not around at the time of the accident). The details of the message should include your name, contact, your address and the vehicle registration details.
You are also supposed to provide aid or assistance which may include transportation to a health facility or giving medical help to the injured persons. You are also expected to report the incident to the authorities. If you fail to perform the above actions, you may be indicted with a felony or misdemeanor hit and run even if the accident was the fault of the other driver.
Actions Considered Hit and Run
It is considered a crime when;
- Your driving caused the accident by colliding with another vehicle, and you drive away.
- You damage someone’s property, and you speed off.
- Your driving led to an accident, and you drove away without stopping to give your details, offer assistance to the injured or contact the law enforcement in the event the scene was not safe to stay to allow you provide your details or necessary aid.
Penalties for a Hit and Run
The case is handled as either a misdemeanor or felony subject to the criminal record of the driver and the evidence presented in the court.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you will be liable for a minimum fine of a thousand dollars and a maximum of ten thousand dollars or one-year jail term or both.
When convicted of a felony, you are required to serve a minimum jail term of ninety days. You are also liable to a minimum fine of a thousand dollars and a maximum of ten thousand dollars and/or a minimum prison term of 16 months and a maximum of three years in prison. If the accident led to death or permanent damage to another person apart from the defendant, the jail term increases to two years up to 4 years in state prison.
How Long Does a Hit and Run Offense Stay on Your Record?
Accidents in California are always awarded points. Specifically, hit and run offenses in California are typically awarded two points. The severity of the crime determines the period the points awarded remain on your driving record. Severe forms of hit and run offenses can attract a criminal record for a period of up to thirteen years. Most people prefer keeping good driving records with no offense points. Maintaining a good driving record is essential because it affects the insurance premium you pay. Additionally, your subsequent driving offenses such as DUI are most likely to be charged with enhanced penalties if you accumulate too many driving points.
What the Prosecutor Needs to Prove
To convict you, The prosecutor must demonstrate all the elements of the offense:
- Your involvement in the collision that resulted in either damage of property, harm or passing away of someone other than you, and you were also fully aware of the casualty that had occurred. In this case, the vehicle does not necessarily need to be in contact during the collision for your involvement to be proven;
- That you knew the gravity of the accident and that it had led to somebody else being killed or injured. If you alluded to knowing about the accident, especially during your interrogation or while talking to the witnesses or victims, the prosecutor might use your self-incriminating remarks to prove that you were aware of the accident. You can also be convicted if your car was damaged as a result of the hit and run;
- To be charged with hit and run, you willfully did not perform all your duties or one of your responsibilities. Driving away without giving any information can point to willfully avoiding acting as required by law which makes you liable for prosecution. According to California hit and run felony laws, the driver together with the owner of the car can be charged in the event the owner was a passenger at the time of the collision and advised the driver to flee the scene.
Before you can be convicted for a felony, the judge must be convinced and agree that injury or death was a result of the harm caused by the car accident. Also, the judge must acknowledge that you failed in performing all your duties or any one of your responsibilities as outlined in the vehicle code.
Common Defenses for Hit and Run
The Only Person Injured During the Accident is You
California VC 20001 only applies when someone else other than the driver gets injured in the collision. Both the section of the law specifies that the driver is liable only if someone other than the driver is injured or dies as a result of the accident. If the driver sustains an injury, the defense team may even argue that the driver was not at fault and didn't know about the accident because they are victims.
Failing to Give Your Information/Escaping the Scene was Not Willful
The actions you take after fleeing away may help the Attorney seeking to dismiss or reduce the penalties. For instance, staying at the scene after the accident may not be safe especially when an angry mob is involved. In such a case, it can be complicated to find time to give your details or try to assist the injured. Therefore, if it is possible to prove that you did attempt to comply with the law; and your Attorney can work to get the charges reduced or dismissed.
Lack of Knowledge
You cannot be liable for hit and run charges when you did not have the knowledge of the accident taking place or the information of any injuries or death occurring as a result of the collision. In cases where your car might have caused other vehicles to collide behind your car, it would be difficult to ascertain whether there were injuries or not before driving away. This argument can help in possibly dismissing the charges. In this scenario, it will be hard for the judge to convict you.
There may also be slight damage to the other car, and the other car driver confirms there are no injuries or significant damages. On your side, you also did not have any injuries, and therefore you walked away. In this case, a misdemeanor hit and run charge can apply even when a civil complaint of an injury is filed after.
It is important to note that seeking the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early as possible would help tremendously in evaluating your case and determining the possible defense strategies.
Contact a Hit and Run Attorney Near Me
Going by the harsh penalties at hand, there is no doubt you need the help of an experienced defense attorney. Call The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel at 818-582-2350 to take over your hit and run case if you are in San Fernando Valley or the greater Los Angeles area. Get an experienced hit and run attorney to handle your criminal case to keep you out of trouble.