A hit and run crime happens when a person is involved in an accident either with another vehicle, an object (such as a road sign, mailbox, or a building), or another person, and proceeds to leave the accident scene without identifying themselves to the victim, property owner, or the police.
In California, a hit and run can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony is a serious crime compared to a misdemeanor. If found guilty of a felony hit and run, you can face a maximum of four years prison time in addition to paying a fine of up to $10,000. If it is a misdemeanor, the consequences include jail time of up to six months and a maximum fine of $1000. With the help of a competent criminal defense attorney, you stand a chance of facing lesser consequences if you are going to face them at all. With an impressive record of accomplishment of defending people alleged to have committed hit and run crimes, The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is ready to represent you if you are facing criminal charges.
Definition of a Hit and Run According to California Law
Under California Vehicle Code 20002 VC, a hit and run is an accident where the driver leaves the scene of the crash immediately the accident occurs without stopping to properly identify themselves, either to the other party involved or the police. In addition to stopping to identify themselves, the California VC 20002 also stipulates that the driver is supposed to offer reasonable help to the victim(s). The help can either be calling for an ambulance when the victim is injured or calling and informing the law enforcement in case the victim dies. The driver is expected to call and inform the police of the accident in case the police are not already at the scene of the accident.
It is worth noting that the law requires that a driver stops at the accident scene, whether the driver is at fault or not. Many people end up facing hit and run charges even though they are innocent simply because they failed to stop and identify themselves with the police or the other parties involved.
Felony Hit and Run
As mentioned earlier, there are two forms of hit and run charges; felony and misdemeanor hit and run. This means that the State of California recognizes a hit and run as a wobbler crime. A wobbler crime is one that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. When the accident results in injuries or death of the victim, the hit and run becomes a felony hit and run.
A felony is a serious crime; hence, if you end up facing felony hit and run charges, you will need the help of a seasoned Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. Since anything you say to law enforcement officers or other parties can be used against you in a court of law, it is prudent that you seek the services of the attorney as soon as the accident occurs before speaking to the law enforcement officers.
Apart from paying a fine that could go as high as $10,000 and serving a sentence of up to four years in the state prison, you also permanently lose your driving license if found guilty of a felony hit and run. You can be charged with felony hit and run even if the accident caused the death or serious injuries to your passengers.
Elements of a Felony Hit and Run
For you to be charged with felony hit and run, the following are the elements that the prosecution has to prove to the court:
- You were involved in the accident
- You knew that you were involved in the accident
- You were aware that someone else was killed or injured or that they were likely to be killed or injured
- You intentionally failed to do the following:
- Stop where the accident occurred
- Offer assistance to the injured party
- Provide your details to the law enforcement officers or the injured person. The information should include your name and address and your vehicle’s registration number
- Submit your driver’s license and that of the injured party to a law enforcement officer as well as to the other driver
- Get in touch with California Highway Patrol or any local police department
Penalties for Felony Hit and Run
The penalties for felony hit and run are quite severe, especially if the accident caused the death of the victim. In most cases, if the accident involved minor injuries, the charge can be reduced to a misdemeanor hit and run. The following are some of the penalties of felony hit and run:
- Imprisonment term, ranging from two to four years
- Permanent loss of your driver’s license
- Restitution and fines going up to $10,000
In addition to the above penalties, you may end up suffering other consequences. For instance, the owner of any property you damaged in the accident may decide to sue you. If they do so, you will end up facing a civil lawsuit in addition to the hit and run charges.
Your insurance company can also decide to raise your premiums after the accident. If they do so, you will end up suffering financially. Your insurance company may also decide to cancel your coverage altogether.
If the accident caused the loss of life, the family of the deceased could sue you for wrongful death. Such cases usually involve significant monetary damages, which is why you need a great defense attorney to help you win the case, so you don’t have to face these dire consequences.
In the case of vehicular manslaughter, the punishment after being proven guilty of a hit and run offense can be enhanced by an additional five-year prison sentence. Vehicular manslaughter is found in Penal Code Sections 192(c)(1) and 191.5, and it refers to a criminal offense where the accident causes the death of another party.
Misdemeanor Hit and Run
You can be charged with a misdemeanor hit and run if the accident you were involved in did not cause serious injuries to the victim. A hit and run charge is regarded as a misdemeanor charge when there are neither serious injuries nor death to another party or parties. Thus, misdemeanor hit and run involve property damage, which is often covered by the insurance company.
You can be charged with a misdemeanor hit and run if you hit a building, signpost, or mailbox and then leave without stopping to identify yourself. Even if you are involved in an accident where there was property damage, but you are not the one who caused the accident, you are still required by law to stop and identify yourself. Failure to do so may result in you facing a misdemeanor hit and run charge.
Therefore, the main difference between a misdemeanor hit and run and a felony hit and run is that a felony hit and run involves injuries to another person or people while a misdemeanor hit and run charge involves property damage. While a felony hit and run is considered as a crime involving moral turpitude, a misdemeanor hit and run is not. A crime of moral turpitude is a crime that can have consequences such as deportation for immigrants.
Elements of a Misdemeanor Hit and Run
The prosecution must prove that:
- You were involved in an accident but left the accident scene
- You left without letting the police know of the accident or identifying yourself with the other people involved in the accident
- Someone else's property was damaged in the accident
Regardless of the amount of property damage, you can face misdemeanor hit and run charges if you were involved in the accident but did not stop. You can face misdemeanor hit and run charges if you do the following:
- Drive away when you have hit another person’s property with your vehicle
- Drive away in case of a fender bender (minor) collision, even if you are not at fault
- Drive away from an accident scene caused by your driving actions, even if your vehicle did not collide with another vehicle
Therefore, it is easy for someone to find themselves facing misdemeanor hit and run charges, including those with no criminal history. You can easily be caught unawares and end up facing these charges. Due to this, you need to have a competent criminal defense attorney who can help you with your hit and run case.
Penalties for a Misdemeanor Hit and Run
If the court finds you guilty of a misdemeanor hit and run, you can suffer all or any of the following consequences.
- A maximum of three years in informal probation
- Maximum jail time of six months in county jail
- Fines as high as $1000 and other penalties as the court will see fit
- Restitution to the victim whose property was destroyed
- Addition of two points on your driving record by the DMV
In addition to the above punishment, you may also face the same additional consequences as the felony hit and run charges.
Nevertheless, the good news is that if you are a first-time misdemeanor hit and run offender, the chances are that you won’t have to endure severe punishment like significant jail time. Also, if you do not face other allegations, such as driving under the influence, you won't face a significant sentence.
California courts can allow for your case to be civilly compromised in a California court if it is your first time committing the misdemeanor hit and run offense and if there are no allegations of substance use.
According to California Penal Code 1377, a civil compromise is a civil lawsuit for property damages. A case is civilly compromised if a civil lawsuit is available to a person injured due to another’s misdemeanor behavior. If the judge permits you to make use of the civil compromise, your criminal charge of misdemeanor hit and run will be thrown out of the court once you fully refund the owner whose property was damaged.
Legal Defenses Against a Hit and Run charge
There are legal defenses that a qualified Criminal Defense Attorney can use in an attempt to get you off the hook. These are the common defenses against misdemeanor hit and run charges:
The Only Damaged Property Is Your Vehicle
You may be driving a smaller car and then hit a bigger vehicle like an SUV. In such cases, the only damaged vehicle in that accident may be your car. If that is the case, you have no duty to stop and exchange details. The California misdemeanor hit and run law state that you have no obligation to stop in such a scenario.
Likewise, if the accident you were involved in an accident where your car hit someone else's property and neither your car more, the property was damaged; you have no obligation to stop. Also, if your vehicle was the only one damaged in such an accident, you will not be liable if you did not stop. This is stipulated in Vehicle Code 20002.
Therefore, even though you may be arrested for failing to stop after an accident, your lawyer can use the defense that your car was the only one that suffered damages due to the accident and therefore you had no obligation to stop.
You Were Not Aware
Even though this defense cannot work in accidents where substantial damage occurred, it can be a great defense when the accident did not have a significant impact like when you hit an animal and do not notice or when you hit another person's property, but the damage is minimal. In such cases, your lawyer can argue that you were not aware of the accident when it occurred. If you were not aware of the accident, you are under no criminal liability.
This defense might not work in accidents where there was substantial damage because it would be difficult to prove that you were not aware that you caused tremendous damage. For instance, if you were driving, and you hit someone's fence and significantly damage it, it will not be easy to argue that you did not notice the damage of the accident. However, if you were driving a bigger vehicle such as an SUV and you accidentally backed into a smaller car without noticing and left, you can argue that you were not aware that you had hit another vehicle.
It Wasn't You
If you maintain that you were not the one driving your car at the time of the accident, your Los Angeles criminal defense attorney might have grounds to argue your non-involvement in the accident. This can happen when someone else had access to your car, or your car was stolen before the accident. This is a strong argument, but it is only permitted if:
- There is no eye witness to testify otherwise
- You had filed a stolen vehicle report before the accident
The law stipulates that for a hit and run criminal offense, the driver has to be identified by the prosecutor. If the prosecutor fails to identify you as the driver, they cannot charge you with a hit and run. This applies in a felony hit and run as well as misdemeanor hit and run charges.
Leaving the Accident Scene Unwillingly
You may have had a valid reason to leave the scene of the accident without stopping. For instance, you may have had a more urgent matter to attend to, such as rushing a sick passenger to the hospital. There are also instances when you are forced to leave the scene of the accident to save your life. This happens when the other people at the scene of the crime are hostile, and there is a danger that they may want to harm you. Just like the lack of awareness, this defense can also help get you off the hook if you are facing felony hit and run charges.
All these defenses are viable reasons that your attorney can argue on your behalf. Be sure to provide every single detail of the accident to your attorney. Your attorney will then use the information to come up with the best defense strategy for your case.
You are the Only Injured Party
If you are facing hit and run charges, whether felony or misdemeanor, your attorney can argue your case because you are the only injured party. Under California VC 20001, you cannot be charged if you are the only injured party after the accident.
Other Crimes Related to Hit And Run
There are several other criminal offenses related to hit and run. They include:
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Driving without a license
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
The local law enforcement and the California Highway Patrol are responsible for enforcing Diving Under the Influence (DUI) laws. DUI laws are stringent and very strict. A DUI can involve alcohol or any intoxicating substance such as prescription drugs or illegal drugs like cocaine and bhang. Compared to other substances, alcohol DUI is more common. If one is found guilty of an alcohol DUI, they face two charges, that of California VC 23152(a) and California VC 23152(b).
California VC 23152(a) covers DUI with alcohol or drugs while driving with 0.08%, or more blood alcohol content is found under VC 23512(b).
If the prosecution proves that you were intoxicated while driving your vehicle, you may end up facing DUI charges in addition to the hit and run charge. DUI is considered a misdemeanor criminal offense in California which means that if you are facing misdemeanor hit and run, and you face DUI charges, the punishment won't be as severe especially if it is your first DUI.
The punishments for a first time DUI include:
- Jail time ranging from ninety-six hours to six months in the county jail
- A fine ranging from 390 dollars up to 1000 dollars
- Restriction or suspension of your driver’s license for a period ranging between six to ten months
Facing DUI and hit and run charges is not a situation you want to find yourself in. This is because DUI penalties can be complicated at times, and if you add the hit and run punishment on top of them, you can find yourself in a tough situation. However, with the legal assistance of a qualified Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, you can rest assured that your case is in capable hands.
Driving Without a License
All the drivers in California are required by law to have a valid Driver's License. California law requires that all drivers, including those moving permanently to California from other states, to have a California driver's license. According to California Vehicle Code 12500(a), driving without a license is a misdemeanor.
The penalties for driving without a license in California include a jail time that could go as long as six months, in the county jail. You may also be required to pay a fine of 1000 dollars either in addition to the jail time or instead of jail time. If it is proven that you were driving with no license at the time you committed the hit and run, you will face the driving without a license charge in addition to the hit and run charge.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Due to the penalties and additional charges, a hit and run charge is a serious charge, whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. You may end up facing serious financial losses if the property owner or the family of the deceased sues you for damages. Therefore, you need the excellent services of the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney. If you find yourself in a hit and run scenario, do not hesitate to call us at 310-564-2605. Our lawyers are dedicated to serving the residents of Los Angeles so call us to get the best legal representation.