Hit and Run Crimes

Under California law, you can be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony hit and run offense.  The difference between the two types of crimes depends upon whether you fled from an accident which only caused property damage or whether you caused injury and/or death to another as a result of the collision.  If you get into an accident, flee the scene, and there was only property damage involved, then the misdemeanor vehicle code section for hit and run applies.  If you get into an accident, cause injury or death to another, and flee the scene, then you could be facing serious felony charges with extremely harsh penalties.

VC 20002- Misdemeanor Hit and Run

Pursuant to Vehicle Code Section 20002(a),

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“The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists.  Moving the vehicle in accordance with this subdivision does not affect the question of fault.” 

Under this section, a driver who is involved in a motor vehicle accident has certain duties to abide by.  Specifically, a driver who is involved in a motor vehicle accident involving property damage must:

(1) If possible, immediately locate the owner of the vehicle or property you damaged.  You must exchange information with this person if they request it, including showing your license and registration and giving your address; and

(2) If the owner cannot be located (i.e. if you hit a parked unoccupied car), you must leave a written note including your name and address.  You must also call the police to notify them of the accident.

Many people mistakenly believe that you cannot be charged with a hit and run if you weren’t at fault concerning the accident.  This is not true.  In California, hit and run charges apply to every motor vehicle accident regardless of who was at fault, the serious nature of the injuries, and amount of damage caused. Hence, the primary issue regarding hit and run offenses is the act of fleeing the scene without providing your contact information and/or leaving a note with your name and address.

Penalties of Misdemeanor Hit and Run

If convicted of a misdemeanor hit and run, you can face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1000.  You may also face additional punishment at the time of sentencing depending on the facts of the case.  Courts treat hit and run charges very seriously.  An accident may happen at no fault of your own.  However, the act of fleeing the scene demonstrates a disregard for the safety of others and/or property.  It also demonstrates an intentional choice made by you which can amount to criminal culpability.

VC 20001(a)- Felony Hit and Run with Injury and/or Death

Under VC 20001(a), the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in an injury to another person, other than him or herself, or in the death of a person, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004. 

This means that if you are involved in an accident involving injury, you must pull over at the nearest safe place, provide the other driver with your contact information including your name and address, and show them your driver’s license; and contact law enforcement to report the accident if the police have not yet shown up at the scene.  Additionally, you are required to give reasonable aid or assistance to any injured persons at the scene.  It is important to note that you can be charged with a felony hit and run even if you did not cause the accident or if you were not at fault. 

Penalties of Felony Hit and Run

A violation of Vehicle Code section 20001(a) is considered a “wobbler” in the state of California.  This means that the prosecuting agency can charge you with a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts of the case, your criminal history or lack thereof, and the extent of the injuries involved. 

A violation of VC 20001(a) as a misdemeanor can amount to up to 1 year in county jail, and a fine of anywhere between $1000 and $10,000.  If the accident resulted in permanent or serious injury or death, the defendant will have to serve at least 90 days in jail.

If you are convicted of a felony hit and run, the maximum penalty is up to 16 months to 3 years in state prison and up to $1000 or $10,000 fine.  If someone other than the defendant was killed or suffered a permanent serious injury, then the maximum penalty of incarceration can be anywhere from 2 to 4 years in state prison.

In addition, if your hit and run conviction is associated with a vehicular manslaughter or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you can face an additional 5 years in prison as a sentencing enhancement.

Legal Defenses to Hit and Run Charges

If you are facing misdemeanor and/or felony hit and run charges, it is imperative that you seek an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney who can fight for you and defend your legal rights.  If you are being investigated for a hit and run charge, it is even more essential that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible who can handle your case from the early stages of the investigation.  In doing so, you are creating a strong legal defense that can potentially prevent criminal charges from even being filed against you.  If charges are filed against you, however, there are a number of legal defenses that may help you in defending against a hit and run charge. 

Potential defenses include:

  • You were not the driver of the vehicle and/or the government cannot prove that you were the driver of the vehicle;
  • You knew that you caused a collision; however, you thought that there was no damage.
  • You didn’t know that an accident had occurred or that another person had been injured.  Keep in mind that this is different that knowing that you caused an accident but not being aware that you were supposed to pull over.  If you knew that you caused an accident, you have an obligation to pull over.
  • You did not willfully flee the scene or fail to identify yourself after the accident;
  • With respect to a felony hit and run, you were the only person injured.

If you or a loved one is being investigated for or charged with a misdemeanor or felony hit and run, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum immediately at (619) 233-4433 to schedule a free confidential legal consultation.  As a former prosecutor, Ms. Yum has extensive experience in successfully defending against all types of hit and run charges.

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