California continues to record one of the highest numbers of accidents in the country. One of the common crimes that most people commit in road accidents is hit and run. Hit and run is a situation where a driver commits an accident and leaves the scene of the crash without identifying themselves with the police or the crash victims. This crime can lead to a severe conviction if one does not seek the right legal representation. We at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm will provide the proper legal advice and representation that suits you. Even so, you need to learn a few aspects of hit and run crimes to be clear of the services you should expect.
The Legal Definition of Hit and Run According to California Laws
According to the California Vehicle Code 20002 VC, hit and run is a misdemeanor offense that involves a driver failing to stop after causing an accident, which led to damage of property. The statute states that a driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in damage to property, including another car, should immediately stop at the nearest location without impeding traffic or otherwise end up jeopardizing the safety of other motorists.
The VC 20001 sets forth the legal definition that makes the offense a felony. It makes the offense a felony when the person causing the accident flees the scene of the crash after causing injuries or killing other motorists.
The Duty of Fault for a Misdemeanor Hit and Run
The California laws require the parties involved in the accident to consider the following after an accident.
- Look and notify the person in charge of the property about the accident and provide his or her address or the address of the person owning the vehicle involved in the crash.
- After locating the person or driver owning the property or car involved in the accident, the person responsible for the collision should present the vehicle’s registration details and their driver’s license upon request.
- The information provided to the property or car owner should include the current address of the registered driver or owner.
- If the owner of the vehicle responsible for the accident is within the scene, the person should present information about his or her driver’s license. The offender should also provide any other identification to the parties involved.
The California Vehicle Code 20002 VC has a closer requirement if the vehicle involved in the accident was parked and empty. It requires the responsible driver or owner to write a notice providing his or her names and addresses, and a statement about the collision.
It also provides that the driver should notify the police department of the city where the collision happened. If the crash occurred in an unincorporated area, the driver or owner should report to the Department of California Highway Patrol.
The statute provides that the duty applies to all types of properties, such as the gate, fence, and car.
Duty of Fault for a Felony Hit and Run
It does not matter whether the collision was accidental or intentional. The driver responsible for the accident has a duty over the parties involved in the incident. The law requires the person responsible for the accident to :
- Provide reasonable assistance to any injured person in the crash
- Notify the police or the city department without any unnecessary delay
Note that the duty also applies to the injured passenger inside the defendant’s car. Therefore, if the driver flees the scene, injuring the passenger in the vehicle, the person becomes guilty of the offense.
What Makes a Hit and Run Perpetrator Legally Liable
The vehicle Code 20002 is the statute that makes it an offense when one fails to stop his or her vehicle after being involved in an accident. However, for a prosecutor to successfully prosecute an offender, the section provides that he or she must prove that:
- The defendant got involved in the crash while driving
- The collision caused damage to another person’s property
- The defendant knew or reasonably knew that he or she got involved in the accident
- The defendant willfully failed to stop at the scene of the crash and was unable to provide the required information that identifies him or her
There might be some exceptions if you committed the hit and run offense to receive urgent medical care for yourself or any other party involved in the collision. However, it is best to give out your information to the other driver before you head to the hospital.
Take note that a hit and run offense does not define who was responsible for the accident. Even if you were not at fault, and you leave the accident scene without providing the necessary information, the act counts as a hit-and-run. Running away from the scene suggests that there are chances of being guilty. Your actions may make it difficult to prove your innocence to the court or your insurance provider.
Penalties for Hit And Run Cases
The punishment for a hit and run offense depends on the severity of the accident. The sentence also varies if it is a related crime. A misdemeanor crime is punishable by a maximum of $1,000 and imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months. Note that in addition to the jail time, the judge might award the defendant with summary probation.
Penalties for Related Crimes
There are three related crimes related to misdemeanor hit and run offenses. They include:
- Felony Hit and Run
- Driving Under the Influence
- Driving without license
All these associated crimes have different charges stated as follows:
Penalties for a Felony Hit and Run
Vehicle code 20001 defines a felony hit and run as an act of fleeing the scene of the accident after injuring or killing another person. Even though the law classifies this crime as a felony, violation of the code 20001 VC makes it a wobbler offense. This means that you can end up charged with a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
If one gets charged as a misdemeanor, he or she faces imprisonment in a county jail for up to a year. On the other hand, a felony hit and run charge is punishable by a prison sentence, adding up to three years in the state prison.
Penalties for Driving Under the Influence
Vehicle Code 23152(a) provides details related to driving under the influence. The term under the influence means the incapacity of a driver to operate a vehicle with caution due to mental and physical impairment caused by alcohol or any other drug intake.
The California laws prosecute anyone driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol content that exceeds 0.008 %. Charges vary from the first, second, and third offense.
A first, second, or third offender faces a misdemeanor charge which carries penalties such as:
- Misdemeanor probation
- Mandatory DUI school with varying timelines depending on the number of prior offenses
- Driver’s license suspension
- Fines that vary according to the subsequent crimes
- Mandatory installation of an interlocking ignition Devices (IID) in the car
Penalties for Driving Without a License
Code 12500(a) VC makes it a crime to drive a vehicle without a valid driver’s license in California. The driver’s license does not necessarily have to be from California but can be from other jurisdictions as long as:
- It is valid for the vehicle that one is operating
- Was issued by the state where the driver resides in
The California laws define driving without a license as a wobbler crime. This means that the judge can prosecute the offender with a non-criminal infraction or a misdemeanor.
If the offender gets charged with a misdemeanor, one risks punishment by imprisonment of up to six months in a county jail or a fine that can amount to $1,000. On the other hand, an infraction can attract a $250 penalty on the licensed carrier.
Legal Defenses for Hit And Run
A professional attorney should provide relevant and reasonable defenses for a hit and run crime to reduce your sentence or have the charges dismissed. Some of the legal defenses that the attorney can use include:
Claiming that there was no Property Damage
Your attorney can claim that you did not damage any property despite causing the accident contrary to the provisions under the California code 20002 VC.
The attorney can also claim that you did not cause any damage to the plaintiff’s car, even though you fled from the scene.
Claiming that the Accusations were False
Using false accusations as your defense is uncommon, but it can be an ideal way to defend yourself. Your attorney can prove that the charges were fabricated based on jealousy, anger, or revenge from another person. The defendant should provide relevant evidence that indicates that these aspects were the cause of the false accusation to validate the defense.
The Charges were Based on an Unlawful Search and Seizure
According to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S Constitution, every citizen has a right from unreasonable search and seizure by law enforcement. Therefore, if the authorities obtain their evidence unreasonably or unlawfully, the evidence can get excluded or lead to a dismissal of the charges.
This defense could be ideal if the evidence related to your hit and run charges were collected unlawfully, leading to the dismissal of the charges or reduced sentences.
Claiming that you Satisfied the Required Procedure after Hitting another Person’s Property
The California Vehicle code 2002 VC states that an offender becomes legally liable after failing to notify the person in charge or the owner of the damaged property. It also provides that one should give a written note if the driver or owner of the damaged car or property is not around.
Therefore, if you caused an accident and satisfied the required notification procedure, then you are not liable for a hit and run offense. All you need to do is prove that you followed the necessary steps after damaging another person’s property.
Claim that you were not Driving the Vehicle during the Accident
If there are possibilities that your car was stolen and got involved in an accident, it might be a reasonable way to prove your innocence. However, it requires you to confirm that you had reported about your stolen vehicle, and you did not possess it during the time of the accident.
Claim that you Lacked Knowledge about the Accident
A prosecutor should prove that the offender knew about the crash and fled as a result. However, if you show that you were not aware of the accident, then the prosecutor does not have any evidence against you. For instance, if the accident is minor to the point of not realizing that there was damage to another person’s property, you might fail to acknowledge the accident.
Other defenses a defendant can use include:
- A claim that you sustained injuries to the point of failing to provide reasonable notice to the other person or driver
- The accused could not reasonably comply with the procedure required after a hit since he or she went on to seek medical care
- A claim that the assistance provided to the injured person was reasonable enough based on the circumstances of the accident
- The accused made reasonable attempts to contact the police, but due to one thing or another, the other could not reach out to their services
Note that these defenses do not entirely lead to dismissal of your charges but can help in reducing your sentence. They can also change or fail to work based on the facts about the case and evidence provided by the prosecutor.
Seek a Legal Compromise
You can still end up innocent from the charges by seeking a legal settlement. A legal arrangement involves contacting the person who owns the damaged property and compensate them for the damages incurred without notifying the court. This means that you might end up paying for the lost earnings, medical bills, and rental car expenses.
In most cases, compensation occurs between the insurance companies insuring the vehicles and properties involved in the accident. Soon after signing a legal compromise, your case becomes dismissed even when presented to the court.
Statute of Limitations for Hit and Run Cases
A statute of limitations is the law that sets the period a person should take to present a case to a court of law after an offense. The statute of limitations sets the period for a hit and run case at six years, according to Assembly Bill 184.
Assembly Bill 184 considers the limitation active after incurring the accident according to the discovery rule. The discovery rule states that the clock starts ticking as soon as the necessary authorities have discovered the offense.
Therefore, if the offense becomes discovered one year after it happened, the discovery rules consider an additional year on the statute of limitations on the charges.
Previously, the statute of limitations was set at three years until the amendments made on 1st January 2014, which extended the years to six. The additional years intended to create enough time for the prosecutor to track down the suspects and prosecute them. It also aimed to prevent the perpetrator from avoiding prosecution when they manage to go into hiding for three years after committing the offense.
Other Related Cases
An offender can incur additional charges from related cases based on the circumstances of the accident. Other similar crimes in a hit and run incident include:
- Driving without license
- Felony hit and run
- DUI hit and run
- DUI with injuries
Driving without License
The California Vehicle Code 12500 requires every driver operating a vehicle to have a valid driver’s license. Therefore, anyone found without a valid driver’s license can face a misdemeanor conviction or infraction.
A misdemeanor offense is punishable by confinement in a county jail for six months or a fine that can add up to $10,000. The judge can also impose both jail time and penalty if the accident is severe.
If one gets charged with an infraction, he or she faces fines totaling to $250.
For the jury to prove one is guilty of the crime, the prosecutor must prove that one was driving on a highway and did not hold a valid license. An example of driving without a valid license offense includes an older adult driving a vehicle without realizing that the license has expired or forgets to carry it.
DUI with Injuries
The California Vehicle Code 23153 applies when a driver causes an accident that results in injuries while under the influence of alcohol or any drugs that cause driving impairment. The sentence might vary depending on whether the case is a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th offense, which makes it a felony.
For a misdemeanor DUI, the offender faces charges that include:
- 3 to 5 years of probation
- Fines that range between $390 to $5,000
- 1 to 3 years driver’s license suspension
- imprisonment in a county jail from 5 days without exceeding one year
- Restitution of the damages caused by the property or victim
- Participation in a rehabilitation program for 3, 9, 18, and 30 months depending on prior offenses.
If the offender gets convicted with a felony, one risks a sentence that includes:
- 2 to 4 years of imprisonment in a state prison
- Additional one-year imprisonment for every injured victim which can add up to 3 years
- Fines from $1,000 to $5,000
- 18 to 30 months participation in a rehabilitation program
- 5 years revocation of the driver’s license
- Listing as a Habitual Traffic Offender for three years
For the prosecutor to prove that the defendant is guilty of the charges, he or she must prove that the individual was under the influence of alcohol or any other drugs while driving. Also, the prosecutor must prove that the driver neglected to perform a legal duty, which led to injury to the other person.
Exhibition of Speed
The California Vehicle Code 23109(c) prohibits one from engaging in a motor vehicle speed contest on a highway. As provided in the section, the motor vehicle contest includes motor vehicle contests as racing against another motor vehicle, a timing device, or a clock. The section states that the time covered through the prescribed route should be more than 20 miles. Therefore, if the vehicle exceeds the required speed limit within this distance, the event becomes an offense.
The California laws consider such an offense as a misdemeanor, which usually pleads down to a DUI if the driver’s BAC was above the recommended levels or there were other mitigating factors. A driver might get convicted with a sentence that includes:
- Imprisonment in a county jail for at least 24 hours or more, but less than 90 days
- A fine of $355 to $1,000
- Both imprisonment and fine
- Suspended license for 90 days to 6 months
- 40 hours of community service
For the prosecutor or jury to sentence the offender, they must prove that:
- The driver caused an accident during the exhibition of speed
- The accident caused damage to another person’s property
- The offender failed to perform one or more of the duties required by Vehicle Code 20002. This includes providing necessary information about the owner of the vehicle responsible and failing to stop immediately at the scene of the crash.
Find an Los Angeles Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me
Going through a hit and run charge can be a tough task. It requires professional legal representation to ensure your rights are guarded and you get a fair conviction. Failing to involve an expert lawyer can lead to harsh charges more than reasonable expectations or higher fines. An excellent legal firm should provide their clients with the right attorney for such offenses and put enough effort into ensuring that everything turns out per your expectations.
We at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm will provide the best services that match your expectations. Contact us today at 310-935-1675 to get the help that you need.