Hit and Run

California’s Vehicle Code 20001 VC Hit and Run involving injury or death & Vehicle Code 20002 VC Hit and Run involving property damage

Hit and run accidents in California are considered a wobbler and are taken very seriously. You could face misdemeanor and/or felony consequences that will stay on your record for the rest of your life. This is why it’s highly recommended you retain an experienced and highly qualified criminal defense attorney who can help fight on your behalf.

Hit and run statutes are defined under two different vehicle codes, VC 20001 and VC 20002. In order to differentiate between the two, we must first look into how California defines each one.

How does California define VC 20001 hit and run involving injury and/or death?

According to the California vehicle code, drivers involved in a traffic accident must stop their vehicle at the incident. It’s considered a crime for them to simply drive away. Under vehicle code 20001, when the driver of a vehicle is involved in a car accident that results in the injury or death of another person and they leave the crime scene without identifying themselves, they violate California’s hit and run statutes. Violating this law is considered a felonious act and carries much heavier penalties/consequences than VC 20002.

How does California define VC 20002 hit and run involving property damage?

Hit and run involving property damage is when a driver is involved in a traffic accident that damages another person’s property and they leave the scene without identifying themselves. Vehicle code 20002 can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony, however, in most cases, it carries misdemeanor penalties.

It’s important to note that hit and run misdemeanors specifically involve property damage of another person while felony hit and run directly involves injury and/or death to another.

Similar/Related Offenses

California’s driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC:

It’s illegal to operate/drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substances/drugs and/or alcohol.

California’s driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC:

The penalties are steeper for operating/driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and your blood alcohol content registers at 0.08 percent or higher.

Driving without a valid driver’s license Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC:

It’s unlawful to drive a motor vehicle in California without a valid driver’s license.

Exhibition of Speed Vehicle Code 23109 VC:

It’s considered a crime to engage in motor vehicle speed ex, otherwise known as the exhibition of speed while on a highway, freeway, or byway and it’s a crime to aid or abet a motor vehicle in such actions.

What Must the Prosecution Prove?

In order for the prosecution to secure a conviction for violating California’s hit and run laws, they must first prove that all the facts or elements of the crime have taken place. Hit and run laws can apply to any car accident, no matter who is to blame, the amount of property damage that resulted, and the seriousness of those injured.

To prove the defendant is guilty of vehicle code 20001, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The defendant was operating the motor vehicle that was involved in the accident,
  • Any injury or death that occurred was a direct result of the accident the defendant caused,
  • The defendant should have knownor did know that the motor vehicle accident likely would have caused serious injury or death to another person, and
  • The defendant did not stop their vehicle at the scene of the crime, nor provide any identification or reasonable assistance to the injured parties.

Stopping at the scene of the incident means that the driver stopped the vehicle as soon as it was reasonably safe.

Properly identifying oneself at the scene of an accident and/or crime means actually stopping and not leaving the scene until you have spoken to the proper authorities.

Providing reasonable assistance to the injured parties means to provide whatever reasonable assistance one is able to under the circumstances, which could include any kind of reasonable medical assistance.

To obtain a conviction for violating vehicle code 20002, the prosecutor must prove these elements of the crime:

  • The defendant was indeed driving the motor vehicle that was involved in the accident,
  • The accident caused property damage to another person’s property,
  • The defendant knew or had a reasonable understanding that the accident would result in property damage, and
  • The defendant willfully refused to stop at the scene nor did they contact the other party or authorities to report the incident.

Who Can Be Charged?

The following examples illustrate who can be charged with violating Vehicle Codes 20001 and 20002.

Valerie was driving home after work and was distracted by her cell phone. She sideswiped a parked car while trying to use her phone. It caused property damage to both automobiles. Scared, she continued to drive away, leaving no note or indication that she committed the crime. A street camera had recorded the whole incident.

Valerie could be charged with misdemeanor vehicle code 20002 VC, hit and run resulting in property damage. Additional charges due to her unsafe and distracted driving could be filed because she was attempting to use her cell phone while driving.

Tom was driving home from the bar when he hit a pedestrian crossing the street. The pedestrian was seriously injured, but Tom continued to drive away knowing that he hit someone with his vehicle. In this example, he is guilty of vehicle code 20001, felony hit and run resulting in serious injury or death.

Tom knew that he hit someone and willfully drove away without stopping. He could also be charged with DUI if there is sufficient evidence to support that he was intoxicated on his way home from the bar and depending on how soon after the collision he was apprehended by law enforcement.

Legal Defenses

An efficient and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer will be able to argue certain legal defenses on your behalf. The following illustrates some of the more common legal defenses when it comes to California’s Vehicle Code 20001 and 20002, felony and misdemeanor hit and run.

Was it a case of mistaken identity?

There have been instances where someone was falsely accused because although they may own the car, they were not necessarily driving the car during the incident in question. Cases like this do happen, especially when it’s easier for the authorities to find the owner than it is for them to find the actual culprit that was behind the wheel.

Example:

Aaron owned the pick-up truck that was implicated in a hit and run resulting in property damage. The intersection where the incident happened had taken video of his truck, clearly showing the license plate. Police arrived at his home and arrested him for hit and run. However, Aaron was able to prove that he had been at work at the time and had let a friend borrow his vehicle.

This is a clear case of mistaken identity. He may be responsible for the truck, but he was not the one that drove that day and could not be guilty of violating vehicle code 20002 VC, hit and run causing property damage.

Did you know or have knowledge that you were in involved in an accident?

In order to be found guilty of misdemeanor or felony hit and run, one must be aware that they actually committed the crime. If you did not know you were involved in a car accident which resulted in property damage or injury/death to another, then you did not willfully leave the scene of the crime.

Example:

John was a truck driver and had taken a right-hand turn onto the highway, not realizing that a motorcyclist was turning as well. The back-end of his long-haul truck barely clipped the motorcyclist, which caused him to lose control of the bike and crash. He was seriously injured and had to be hospitalized.

John was unaware that anything happened and continued to drive down the highway. Police caught up to him and pulled him over, arresting him with vehicle code 20001, hit and run involving serious injury. Although he is still responsible for the accident, he is not guilty of felonious hit and run because he didn’t know that an accident actually took place.

Were you the only injured party?

You cannot be found guilty of misdemeanor hit and run if your property was the only thing damaged. The same is said for felony hit and run. If you were the only injured party, then the act does not fall under vehicle code 20001 or 20002 VC.

Penalties

Violating California Vehicle Code 20001 VC hit and run involving great bodily injury or death can be charged as a wobbler, depending on the details of the case and the prosecution’s discretion.

If convicted as a misdemeanor you face;

Possible fines between one thousand and ten thousand dollars,

Restitution to the injured parties, and

At least 90 days and up to 1 year in a county jail.

If convicted as a felony, which is most often the case when hit and run results in serious injury or death, there are two types of felonious penalties that can arise. If found guilty, you could face any or all of the following:

A felony that did not result in serious or permanent injury;

Fines between one thousand and ten thousand dollars,

Restitution paid to the injured parties,

Sentenced to 16 months, 2, or 3 years in a California state penitentiary,

2 points on your driver’s license, and

Possible strike under California’s Three Strikes Law, depending on the severity of the case.

A felony that did result in serious/permanent injury or death;

Between one thousand and ten thousand dollars in fines,

2, 3, or 4 years in a California state prison,

Restitution to the injured parties, and

2 points on your driver’s license.

If you leave the scene after committing vehicular manslaughter per PC 191.5 or PC 192(c)(1), the punishment that you face regarding the hit and run can be enhanced by a consecutive and additional term of five (5) years in prison.

If the prosecution can get a conviction for California Vehicle Code 20002 VC hit and run, you face misdemeanor penalties, such as;

Informal probation for up to three years,

Possible sentence of a minimum of 90 days and up to one year in the county jail,

Fines of up to one thousand dollars,

Court assessed financial penalties,

Restitution to the victim(s) whose property was damaged, and

Two points added to your California driver’s license.

Penalties for Related Offenses

California’s driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC;

 Misdemeanor;

Three to five years of informal probation,
Up to six months in county jail,

Possibly up to one year in county jail if this is a second or third offense,
Fines between three hundred ninety to one thousand dollars not including additional penalty assessments,
Driver’s license suspension between six and ten months,
Court ordered and approved three to nine-month alcohol/drug education program (for a first-time DUI offense),

Restricted traveling to Canada, and

Additional financial repercussions reflected in your car insurance policy.

California’s driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC;

Misdemeanor;

Three to five years of informal DUI probation,

Minimum fines of three hundred ninety dollars or more,

Driver’s license suspended for six months to three years,

Up to one year in the county jail,

Completing three to thirty-month DUI school,

Ignition interlock device may be installed on your motor vehicle, and

Additional financial repercussions from your auto insurer.

Felony;

Formal probation,

Up to three years in a California state penitentiary,

Driver’s license revoked for up to four years, and

California DMV will designate you as a habitual traffic offender, HTO.

Driving without a valid driver’s license Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC;

Non-Criminal Infraction;

Fines of up to two hundred fifty dollars.

Misdemeanor;

Up to six months in the county jail, and/or

Up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Exhibition of Speed Vehicle Code 23109 VC;

Infraction;

Will not be considered a criminal offense,

Up to two hundred fifty dollars in fines.

Misdemeanor;

Up to 90 days in the county jail,

Fines of up to five hundred dollars, and

Two years of summary probation.

Additional Penalties;

Officers’ discretion to impound your car for up to thirty days,

Two points on your driver’s license.

Hire an Attorney

Hit and run charges are very serious, regardless of whether it is a misdemeanor or felony offense. Attempting to face such charges alone can be detrimental to one's record and your future. Hiring a highly skilled and passionate criminal defense lawyer can significantly impact the outcome of your case especially before law enforcement contacts you. Maintain control of your life by retaining a strong legal defense team.

If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Los Angeles, or Orange County, consider the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Yum understands what it takes to fight for your legal and constitutional rights. She has a unique advantage and knows how to aggressively fight for the best possible results, both in the short term and long-term aspects of your life.

If you or someone you know is facing such charges, don’t hesitate to contact Attorney Yum. If you would like more information or have any questions about California’s hit and run laws, call 619-233-4433. Call or go online to get your free consultation today.

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