If you or a loved one have recently been charged with a hit and run crime in California, it is in your best interests to waste no time in securing the services of a defense attorney experienced in this practice area. The consequences of a hit and run conviction can be quite severe, depending on the details of the case, and it is well worthwhile to fight these charges in every way legally possible.
At Leah Legal, we have handled numerous hit and run defense cases for our clients in the Los Angeles Area and throughout Southern California in the past and have achieved favorable outcomes to their cases. We know how to build a solid defense based on the facts of the case and how to challenge the evidence and arguments of the prosecution. To learn more or to avail yourself of a free legal consultation on your hit and run case, contact us anytime 24/7 at 818-484-1100.
How Is "Hit and Run" Defined in California?
California Vehicle Code Sections 20001 and 20002 define and assign criminal punishments to "hit and run" violations. VC 20001 deals with felony level hit and run incidents and 20002 addresses misdemeanor hit and run charges.
In California, anytime a driver of a vehicle is involved in an accident, he or she is obligated to stop and perform certain duties aimed at ensuring the safety of victims and at ensuring you can be contacted later on if there are legal actions regarding the incident. To simply drive on after an accident, knowingly and willfully avoiding these duties is to commit a hit and run.
Property Damage Hit and Runs (VC 20002)
When a hit and run accident resulted only in property damage but no injury to another person, it will be charged as a misdemeanor. Note that it is still a hit and run even if you were not the at-fault party or if the amount of damage was minimal — so long as you left the scene of the accident without stopping to identify yourself, give out contact information to the other driver, and cooperate with any law enforcement officers present. Also note that, while the damaged property is usually the other driver's vehicle, it can be anything, including a bicycle, motorcycle, trailer, fence, or mail box.
What, specifically, are the requirements you must perform if involved in a property-damage-only accident in California (under VC 20002)? They include the following:
- Stop immediately at the scene of the accident or as soon as it is possible to do so safely.
- Give the other driver your full legal name, current address, contact information, license number, vehicle registration number, and insurance information. Even if the other driver is not the owner of the damaged car, this information must still be provided. And if you were driving someone else's vehicle, you must give the owner's information along with your name and basic information.
- If you struck a parked car and the owner cannot be contacted at the time, leave a note with the same information and a short explanation of what happened. The note must be firmly attached to the vehicle so it will not simply blow off.
Note that VC 20002 does not require you to exchange insurance information with the other driver, but VC 16025 does, and to fail to do so can result in a $250 fine.
If convicted of VC 20002, a misdemeanor hit and run charge, you can be punished by a maximum of 6 months in county jail, up to 3 years of probation, full restitution to the property owner, and a fine of up to $1,000. You will also receive 2 points on your California driving record. And if a DUI was involved in the accident as well, you will face additional charges under VC 23152 and/or VC 23153.
Oftentimes, a civil compromise will be reached that will result in the hit and run charge being dismissed in exchange for the defendant making full restitution to the property owner. However, there are many defense strategies to use to fight for an acquittal, including:
- The only property damaged was that of the defendant or of the owner of the vehicle he/she was driving. If no property damage or injury took place affecting another person, then no hit and run has been committed under California law.
- You did not realize there had been an accident. This is often the case when no actual collision took place or it was an incident in which one car barely touched the other.
- You did not "willfully" leave the scene of the accident. It may be the other vehicle was on fire or unsafe to stop near, the traffic would not allow an immediate stop, or that you were on your way to the hospital during a medical emergency.
- You were not the driver. If someone else was driving your car, either because you loaned it to that person or because it was stolen, you may have been mistakenly accused of hit and run although you were not even driving the vehicle in question.
Hit and Run Causing Injury or Death (VC 20001)
When a hit and run incident causes the injury or death of another person, it will typically be charged as a felony under VC 20001. In some cases, however, it can be charged as a misdemeanor, such as when the injury involved was slight.
After an accident in which another is injured/killed, California law requires you stop at the scene, identity yourself, and cooperate with police who may be present. The requirements are essentially the same as for a property damage hit and run (discussed above), but there is the additional duty of providing immediate help to any injured victims at the scene to the best of your ability. This will often mean calling 911 for an ambulance, but it can mean lending physical aid as well.
If there was a fatality due to the accident, you must also call the police without delay (unless they are already present).
Note that you are required to stop and perform these duties regardless of whether or not you were the at-fault party in the accident and regardless of how severe the injury was to the victim.
VC 20001 can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. If injuries are not very serious, it may be charged as a misdemeanor and punished by:
- From 90 days to 12 months in county jail. But a good lawyer can often help you get the jail time reduced or eliminated.
- A fine of from $1,000 to $10,000 dollars.
- Full restitution to the victim for all related medical expenses and property damage.
When serious injury, permanent disablement, or death results from a hit and run incident, you will face a felony charge, punishable by:
- 16 months to 4 years in state prison.
- A fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.
- Full restitution to all victims.
- Loss of your driver's license.
And if you are convicted of both hit and run and vehicular manslaughter, gross vehicular manslaughter, or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you can receive an additional 5 years in state prison.
And there are yet further consequences for a hit and run conviction to be aware of, including these:
- The DMV will add at least 2 points to your driving record, and it only takes 4 points within a period of one year for your driving privileges to be suspended for 6 months or more. Thus, if you already have points on your driving record, you could have your license suspended even for a misdemeanor level hit and run.
- You will see your premiums shoot up on your auto insurance policy. Or your insurer may simply cancel your policy completely. In that case, you could have difficulty finding new coverage and will see high rates when you do find it.
- Besides the criminal penalties, you will likely face a civil suit. For property damage, your auto insurance company will have to pay, and you will have to cover any amount exceeding the value of the policy. For injuries, you can be sued, if the at-fault party, for medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering claims. If a victim died in the accident, you can face a wrongful death suit.
Defense strategies against a felony-level hit and run charge are partly the same as for a property damage only hit and run, but different at other points. Here are some of the most common defenses used:
- If the only person injured in the accident was the defendant, he or she cannot be guilty of a hit and run under California law.
- Lack of knowledge. If the driver did not realize his driving had caused an accident, and especially not a serious accident where injury or death occurred, the hit and run charge can be defeated or at least reduced. For example, drivers of big rigs often get in accidents without even realizing they have struck a much-smaller vehicle.
- The defendant did not willfully abandon the scene of the accident. It could be the defendant was unable to stop due to dangers present at the accident scene or because of a medical emergency. It may be he/she intended to or actually did contact the police as soon as possible to report the accident.
The Value of an Experienced Defense Attorney
As can easily be seen from the coverage of misdemeanor and felony level hit and run charges above, a conviction on such a charge is an extremely serious matter. It is not something to be taken lightly, and you will greatly reduce your chances of a favorable outcome to your case if you enter the courtroom unprepared.
At Leah Legal, we not only bring a deep understanding of the California Vehicle Code to the table, but we also know how to help you assemble the evidences and summon the witnesses that can help you win your case. We will visit the scene of the accident, obtain photographs of the scene and of the vehicles involved if at all possible, examine the driving record of the plaintiff, and coach you on how to act and what to say in court to avoid incriminating yourself.
We will always make a dismissal or acquittal, that is "a full victory," our goal first and foremost and fight tenaciously to achieve that end, leaving no legal stone unturned. However, we also possess well seasoned negotiation skills that we can employ where necessary to win you a reduced charge, a civil compromise, or a mitigated sentence.
We always keep you fully informed of the latest legal developments in your case, and we never act on a plea deal without your full knowledge and consent.
At Leah Legal, we always put ourselves in the shoes of each client and work in their best interests, treating them the way we would like to be treated were our positions reversed.
Contact Us Today For Assistance
If you have been recently arrested on hit and run charges, out team at Leah Legal stands ready to come to your aid with top-quality legal advice and representation to help you win your case.
We have an intricate knowledge of the California Vehicle and Penal Codes and longtime familiarity with the inner workings of local L.A. Area court processes. We can put our knowledge to work for you and win you the best possible outcome to your case.
Call us anytime 24/7/365 at 818-484-1100 for a free consultation and immediate attention to your needs.