Hit and Run
As hit and run incidents are increasingly becoming rampant in California, criminal proceedings for these offenses are getting stricter than ever. Our law firm (LA Criminal Defense Attorney) operates with the notion that only the best legal representation can guarantee you good outcomes out of your hit and run case. We are available to help all people charged in Los Angeles seeking legal help on cases revolving around driving crimes and DUI crimes among others. In the following sections, our criminal defense firm answers the common questions people ask about a hit and run case in California.
Which California Laws Apply to Hit and Run Offenses?
In California, a hit and run offense can either be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor. Vehicle Code 20001 highlights the guidelines for punishing felony hit and run crimes. On the other hand, Vehicle Code 20002 points out the rules for misdemeanor hit and run offenses. Both laws apply to every hit and run case in California regardless of the person responsible for the accident, the number of damages caused or severity of the injuries.
Misdemeanor Hit and Run
Felony hit and run offenses focus on injuries inflicted on an individual while the misdemeanor ones focus on property damage. A hit and run offense may qualify as a misdemeanor if you fled the accident scene and failed to identify yourself to the involved party. You’ll also be prosecuted under Vehicle Code 20002 if you damaged someone else’s property in a car accident.
Vehicle Code 20002 mandates you to observe certain measures after getting involved in a car accident that leads to property damage. You're required to stop your car immediately and present your identifying information to the other party. You should also give the other party your vehicle registration and driver's license upon request if they're on the accident scene. You're mandated by the law to give the name and address of the vehicle's registered owner if the motor vehicle you were driving isn't yours.
Failing to present your identifying information may lead to a misdemeanor hit and run conviction. A California prosecutor, jury or judge may consider your actions as a disregard of other people's safety if you fled the accident scene. If you happen to hit a type of property (such as a parked car) and the property owner isn't present on the scene, you should leave a note stating your identifying information and a summary of the event. Remember also to contact the California Highway Patrol (for an accident that took place in an unincorporated area) or the local police department.
Though VC 20002 doesn’t make it mandatory to share your insurance information with the other party, you should present it along with your car’s identification number. Vehicle Code 16025 states that this action is compulsory for vehicles involved in accidents. A violation of this statute qualifies as a California infraction, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250.
Felony Hit and Run
Vehicle Code 20001 defines felony hit and run as the act of hurriedly leaving an accident scene in which someone else suffered injuries or died due to your actions. Your case qualifies as a misdemeanor hit and run if you flee an accident scene in which no one suffered injuries, but there was significant property damage. You’ll be charged with felony hit and run even if the other party was 100 percent at fault at the time of the accident.
You have to observe certain conditions for you not to be prosecuted as a felony hit and run offense under VC 20001. Consider stopping your car at the accident scene immediately and providing the involved parties or on-scene police officers with your identifying information. The information must include your or the car owner’s name, vehicle registration number and current address.
VC 20001 requires you to help any injured parties seek proper medical attention. You may offer reasonable assistance by arranging for transportation or transporting victims that need medical help. You should also present your driver’s license to the involved parties or on-scene police officers upon request. If there’s no law enforcement officer present at the accident scene, but you’ve shared your identifying information with the other party, contact the California Highway Patrol or a local police department stating your situation and identifying information.
In this context, the term “reasonable assistance” implies that you must establish the kind of assistance that suits the injured party and must give or have someone else provide the aid. Though Vehicle Code 20001 doesn’t mandate you to share your insurance information, you must do so to comply with Vehicle Code 16025. Any VC 16025 violation is treated as an infraction punishable with a fine not exceeding $250.
What are the Penalties for Hit and Run Offenses in California?
Penalties for California Misdemeanor Hit and Run
A VC 20002 conviction attracts penalties such as informal probation of up to three years, a county jail sentence of up to six months and restitution to the involved party. You’ll also be mandated to pay a fine not exceeding $1,000 together with the court-assessed penalties. Expect the California DMV to add two points on your driving record.
You’re entitled to a “civil compromise” if it’s your first time facing a misdemeanor hit and run charge. For this entitlement to apply to your case, you shouldn’t have any allegations of substance or alcohol abuse against you. With a civil compromise, the court will dismiss your misdemeanor hit and run case once you compensate the other party for damages. Such entitlement is outlined under Penal Code 1377 of the California laws.
Penalties for California Felony Hit and Run
Vehicle Code 20001 points out two sentencing schemes for felony hit and run crimes. The first sentencing applies to accidents that merely result in an injury while the other one applies to accidents that result in severe/permanent injury or death. Certain case facts and your criminal history help classify felony hit and run as a wobbler (an offense that can either be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony).
Penalties for a felony hit and run offense that involves less severe or temporary injury include:
- One-year county jail sentence (if your charges are dropped to a misdemeanor)
- State prison sentence for sixteen months, two years or three years (if your offense qualifies as a felony)
- A fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000
- Two points (instituted by the California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles)) on your driving record
- Restitution (if the other party suffered injuries after you fled the accident scene)
Punitive measures for a felony hit and run in serious/permanent (loss or impairment to someone else’s body) injury or death are as follows:
- A minimum sentence of 90 days or a maximum sentence of one year in county jail (for a charge reduced to a misdemeanor)
- State prison sentence for two years, three years or four years (for a charge prosecuted as a felony)
- A fine that ranges from $1,000 to $10,000
- Two points (as mandated by the California DMV) on your driving record
What Aspects of a Hit and Run Case Should a California Prosecutor Prove?
The prosecutor has to prove the elements of a hit and run crime whether it qualifies as a misdemeanor or felony. Both Vehicle Codes 20001 and 20002 outline the elements that constitute a hit and run offense. They are as follows:
Elements of a Misdemeanor Hit and Run
For a misdemeanor hit and run offense, the prosecutor should prove that you were driving at the time of the accident and that the crash resulted in significant property damage. A California court will also expect proof that you knew that your actions damaged a person's property or the property damage was foreseeable. Your case may be built on the fact that you willfully avoided sharing your identifying information with the other party.
In every misdemeanor case, the term “willfully” indicates that you (the suspect) intentionally failed to perform duties highlighted under Vehicle Code 20002. The term doesn’t necessarily imply that you wanted to benefit yourself or break the law on purpose. The legal field uses it to indicate that you were conscious of your actions.
You’ll be charged even if you carried out some of the duties outlined under Vehicle Code 20002. For instance, stopping at the accident scene but failing to share your identifying information makes you a suspect in a misdemeanor hit and run case. The prosecution team would review your criminal history and driving record before filing charges if you acted this way.
Elements of a Felony Hit and Run
Prosecution teams use certain facts while proving that you violated Vehicle Code 20001. They must present proof linking you to the accident that caused injury or death to someone else. Their evidence should show that you were aware that the accident had occurred and a person suffered injuries or died due to your actions. They also need to prove that you were conscious about the foreseeability of the accident and you intentionally caused it.
If your case is presented to a jury, the jury members may unanimously agree that you were at fault at the time the accident took place based on the prosecutor's facts/evidence. They might also agree that you failed to perform one or all of the duties highlighted under Vehicle Code 20001. Before voting you guilty, they'll have to determine that the accident was the leading cause of injury or death the other party faced.
The term "involved," in this context, implies that you were connected to a particular accident naturally or logically. Making contact with the victim's car or property doesn't mean that you were involved in a crash. For this term to be applied in your case, your driving must have caused the collision or victim's injuries.
Prosecutors use the term “knowledge” in VC 20001 cases to mean that you knew that an accident occurred. If they prove your knowledge about the incident, your penalties may be based on the severity of the incident or injury/death caused. Consequently, "acting willfully" means that you had intentions of committing the act as you did. The prosecutor won't use this term to imply that you intended to break the law or benefit yourself.
Which Legal Defenses Apply to Hit and Run Cases in California?
A criminal defense lawyer can present various arguments, in defense of your misdemeanor or felony hit and run charges, in court. These defenses will be based on the facts surrounding your case. Some of the legal arguments that may suffice in court are as follows:
- You Were the Only Injured Party in the Incident
The conditions highlighted under Vehicle Codes 20001 and 20002 wouldn't apply to your case if you were the only injured person in an accident. Both laws state that it's your responsibility to help the injured person get medical help only when you haven’t suffered an injury. Your lawyer may argue for a case dismissal or press charges for the party responsible for your damages.
- Your Vehicle Was the Only Property Damaged During the Accident
Since misdemeanor hit and run cases in California solely focus on property damage, this defense can be used to argue your innocence. The accident may involve your compact car hitting a large sports utility vehicle (SUV). Once your vehicle suffers the damage, you don’t have any duty to stop or share your identifying information as stated in Vehicle Code 20002.
- Someone Else Had Your Car
Your attorney can prove that your vehicle was stolen or someone else got access to your car. Since the law requires you to file a police report once you lose your vehicle to theft, you'll have to present to the court the police report detailing that your car is missing. Such a defense may help if the accident scene had no eyewitnesses, who may identify you. You may also be prosecuted if you filed a false police report while trying to avoid liability for your offense.
- You Didn’t Flee the Scene or Fail to Share Your Identifying Information Willfully
Certain circumstances may deem it unsafe for you to stay at the accident scene for long. For instance, if your case involves hitting a pedestrian, you'll have no other choice than to flee as soon as an angry mob approaches the scene. Your lawyer can have your charge dismissed or reduced if the provided evidence/facts support this argument. Expect the court to assess the efforts you made to comply with Vehicle Codes 20001 and 20002.
- Lack of Knowledge
One of the terms used by prosecutors to charge you for a felony or misdemeanor hit and run offense is "knowledge." Your lawyer may argue that you weren't aware of any injuries experienced by the other party or you didn't have any reason for suspecting that someone else suffered injuries. The court may be convinced if the accident occurred behind you or the other driver confirmed that no one was hurt when you presented your identifying information.
Offenses Related to California Misdemeanor and Felony Hit and Run Offenses
Depending on your lawyer’s arguments, your felony hit and run charge can be dropped to a misdemeanor hit and run charge. Consequently, if your lawyer convinces the court to dismiss your misdemeanor charge, the prosecutors may build another case against you for committing an offense related to hit and run. Here are some of the crimes they may consider:
You may face California DUI charges with or without a hit and run conviction if the prosecutors prove that you were under alcohol/substance influence when the accident occurred. Your DUI offense may be prosecuted under Vehicle Code 23152(a) or Vehicle Code 23152(b). VC 23152(a) asserts that driving under alcohol/substance influence is unlawful while VC 23152(b) states that having a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.08 percent or greater while driving is illegal.
VC 23152(a) and VC 23152(b) violations are considered as misdemeanors, which are punishable by a fine ranging from $390 to $1,000. You may also face a county jail sentence ranging from 96 hours to six months. The California DMV may initiate a six to ten-month restriction or suspension on your driver’s license for a DUI conviction.
- Vehicular Manslaughter or Gross Vehicular Manslaughter Caused by Intoxicated Driving
A felony hit and run offense that results in someone else dying can attract vehicular manslaughter charges under Penal Code 192(c). The prosecution team should show proof of you driving illegally or driving in a legal yet dangerous way. Their evidence should also indicate that you caused the accident knowingly for financial benefits. A misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter offense is punishable by a state prison sentence ranging from two to ten years while a felony vehicular manslaughter offense is punishable by a state prison sentence of up to ten years.
- Watson Murder or DUI Murder
A felony hit and run offense that leads to someone else's death may qualify as a DUI murder charge. Also known as Watson Murder, a DUI murder charge may apply to your case if you killed the person while driving under substance/alcohol influence. The prosecutors have to prove that you're a repeat DUI offender or you were given a "Watson advisement" (education on the DUI dangers) before your DUI conviction. California Penal Code 187 highlights the rules for prosecuting Watson murder cases.
- Driving Without a Driver’s License
Operating a motor vehicle without your valid license is a misdemeanor offense as highlighted under Vehicle Code 12500. Once you’re arrested for a hit and run offense, the prosecutors may build your case on the fact that you committed a misdemeanor/felony hit and run. They may also charge you for driving with an expired license or without a license based on the information given by the arresting officer. A VC 12500 violation is punishable by a fine not more than $1,000 or a maximum county jail sentence of six months.
- Evading an Officer
Evading a peace officer while operating a car is a misdemeanor offense as explained under Vehicle Code 2800.1. Prosecutors may accuse you of this offense if they don’t have enough evidence for their hit and run allegations against you. They should prove that the officer was in a car with distinct markings or a sounding siren. Punitive measures that apply to this offense include a maximum fine of $1,000 or a county jail sentence not exceeding one year.
You may be charged with felony reckless evading if you evaded a peace officer with disregard for other people’s safety. Under Vehicle Code 2800.2, the elements of this crime include intent to evade the officer, an officer’s car having distinctive markings and an officer having a distinctive uniform. A felony VC 2800.2 violation can attract a fine of up to $1,000 or a state prison sentence of sixteen months, two years or three years.
- Causing Injury or Death While Evading an Officer
Vehicle Code 2800.3 highlights that this crime is as a result of evading a peace officer in a car and causing death or serious bodily injury to someone else in the process. Prosecutors will still use elements of VC 2800.1 and VC 2800.2 violations to charge you with this offense. A misdemeanor VC 2800.3 violation is punishable by a county jail sentence of not more than one year. A felony VC 2800.3 violation is punishable by a state prison sentence not exceeding ten years and a fine not exceeding $10,000.
If you are being charged with a crime feel free to contact our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for a free consultation.