A California driver who gets involved in an accident has two options. Either, they can provide their identification details to the other parties involved, or they could drive away hurriedly, hoping nobody noticed. However, driving away without giving identification information is an offense punished severely under the law. Still, it’s not uncommon for drivers to leave the scene of an accident they are involved in. They may do so for several reasons, which include unsafe environment or conditions to remain at the scene. This, however, will not prevent a prosecutor from pressing hit and run charges. Thus, if you must leave the scene of an accident, ensure you hire an experienced attorney to defend your decision.
If you have been charged with hit and run, attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group will work to defend you. Because they understand California hit & run laws, they will develop a strong defense strategy that will guarantee the best probable outcome.
The Definition of Hit & Run
A hit and run offense is leaving or fleeing an accident scene without identifying yourself to the party/parties involved in the accident or waiting for the authorities to arrive. A California hit and run offense is categorized into two and is charged under two different laws. The categories are; felony hit & run charged under VC 20001, and misdemeanor hit & run charged under VC 20002. Each of these offenses has different elements as we are going to see in the following sections.
Misdemeanor Hit and Run (Vehicle Code 20002)
A misdemeanor hit and run offense refers to leaving an accident scene, which another person’s property was damaged without identifying yourself to the party/parties involved. This law applies to any car accident irrespective of who is the at-fault party, the extent of damage caused, or the severity of the injuries inflicted. Consequently, the law, in most cases ensnares many drivers who do not understand the California criminal justice system and those that do not have any idea they were committing an offense. For instance, you may face a misdemeanor hit & run charge if you flee after knocking down another person’s fence.
What to do In Case You Get Involved in a Car Crash
VC 20002 provides the steps you should take in case you get involved in an auto crash that results in the damaging of someone else’s property. It provides that you should:
- Stop your car immediately
- Give your identifying details to the other involved party/parties. Identifying information includes your name, address, phone contacts, etc.
- In case the other involved parties are present on the scene (in contrast to a case where, for example, you knocked a parked car), give your vehicle registration and driver’s license when requested.
- If you were operating another person’s car, you have to give the name of the registered owner of the car as well as their contact address.
Failure to comply with any of the steps above could lead to misdemeanor hit & run charges. Note that you have to take all these steps irrespective of who is to blame for the auto accident. This means even if nobody was at fault or the fault was entirely the other driver’s, you may still be charged under VC 20002 if you do not adhere to the stipulated requirements.
Not stopping your car raises concern from the public’s point of view. Immediately driving off from the accident scene can be seen as an obvious disregard for other people by the prosecutor, jury, and judge. Thus, prosecutors and judges may be quite tough on you in case you left the scene without stopping first.
Failing to provide your identifying details could easily lead to you being charged with hit and run. This is true, especially when you hit and damaged a parked vehicle or any other static property and the owner of the property was not on the scene.
In case you hit and damaged a parked vehicle or any other property in the absence of the property owner, you still have to comply with the requirements. In this case, VC 20002 stipulates that you do the following:
- Leave a noticeably placed note which states an account of how the accident happened and your identifying details.
- Call highway patrol or your local law enforcement department as soon as possible.
With VC 20002, the type of damaged property does not matter. It may be someone’s mailbox, a car, a fence, or someone’s pet. Additionally, whether the auto accident takes place on public property like a highway or street, or private property such as a privately-maintained parking lot, you still have to comply with the requirements in both cases.
Elements of VC 20002
The prosecuting attorney has to prove certain factors beyond a reasonable doubt for you to be found guilty of VC 20002. These factors are what we call the elements of a misdemeanor hit & run. They include:
- You got involved in an auto accident when driving
- The accident resulted in damage to another person’s property
- You were aware that either another person’s property was damaged or the accident happened in a way that would probably have someone else’s property damaged.
- You deliberately failed to adhere to either of the requirements outlined above. Deliberately failing to adhere to the requirements means you intentionally refused to comply with them. It does not necessarily mean you had the intent to gain an advantage or violate the law.
Note that you may still be guilty even if you comply with a few of the requirements mentioned above. For instance, in case you remained at the accident scene but failed to give your identifying details, you may be guilty of VC 20002.
In case you left the accident scene, but the went back quickly and provided the necessary information, the prosecuting attorney would probably consider several facts, which include your criminal history and driving record when deciding whether or not he/she will file charges.
Penalties for VC 20002
If found guilty of VC 20002, a judge may impose any of or all these penalties:
- A maximum of three years of summary probation
- A maximum of six months in jail
- A maximum fine of $1,000 plus assessments
- Restitution to the victim/victims (if any) whose property was damaged
- The DMV will add two points on your driving record.
If there are no aggravating factors in your case, for example, an allegation that you were operating the vehicle while intoxicated, chances are the judge will not impose any significant sentence for a misdemeanor hit & run offense, especially if it is your first offense.
Legal Defenses to VC 20002
There are three common defenses that apply to VC 20002. Your attorney can prove your innocence by successfully arguing out these defenses during the hearing of your case. The defenses include the following.
It was only your car that sustained damage
If, for instance, you were operating a medium-sized car then rear-ended a large crossover SUV, chances are it is only your vehicle that will be damaged. If that was the case, then you did not have a duty to remain at the scene or exchange identifying details under California VC 20002 law.
Similarly, in case you hit another person’s property that is not a car, for example, an iron fence and the crash resulted in your car being damaged, but the fence was left intact, you wouldn’t be guilty if you did not stop at the scene under VC 20002.
You were not aware you got involved in the crash or that another person’s property was damaged
If you did not know your car was involved in a crash, there can’t be any criminal accountability for a hit and run. However, this defense is not valid in a situation where significant damage was done to someone else’s car or immobile property. This is because the damage would be obvious for any person to notice it occurred.
However, it may apply in case you hit a pet and did not notice, or in case the damage caused to someone else’s property was so minor that you did not feel its impact. For instance, in case you were driving a large SUV then rear-ended a small-sized car, the chances are you might not have noticed that you hit the car.
It was not you who got involved in the crash
Your attorney may succeed in arguing out this defense in case another person accessed or stole your car. This argument can be most convincing if you had filed a report about a stolen car, or if there were no eyewitnesses to testify about your identity.
Felony Hit and Run (VC 20001)
VC 20001 is the law on felony hit & run. This law prohibits a driver from leaving an accident scene in which someone else (other than them) has been injured or killed without providing identifying information. What differentiates VC 20001 from VC 20002 is property and individuals. While VC 20002 deals with damage to someone else’s property, VC 20002 deals with injury or death of someone else.
Just like in misdemeanor hit and run, you do not need to have caused the auto accident or be at fault for you to be convicted. You may still be charged even if nobody was to blame for the accident or if it was entirely the fault of the other driver.
What to Do After an Auto Crash That Causes Death or Injury
In case you get involved in a car accident, and another person dies or is injured, VC 20001 requires that you take the following steps:
- Stop your vehicle immediately
- Give your identifying details together with the details of your injured passenger(s) to the other party/parties involved as well as to any police officer who is present at the scene. These details include names, addresses, and the registration number of the vehicle. You can also provide the address and name of the owner of the vehicle in case the vehicle you were driving was someone else’s.
- Give reasonable help to the injured persons. Reasonable assistance means you have to determine the kind of assistance that’s necessary to provide to the injured party/party and make sure that you or another person provides that assistance. For instance, you can help them to secure medical care. This includes arranging transportation or transporting injured victims who need medical help to a medical facility. Even though you aren’t required to help if another person is already actively doing so, you won’t be exempted from this duty due to the mere fact that other people are present and can provide the assistance.
- When requested to give your license as well as the license or any other identification document of your injured passenger/s to the other party/parties involved and to any police officer on-scene
Additionally, in case the accident led to someone’s death, and no police officer comes to the accident scene, after performing the above duties, you are also required to contact highway patrol office or local law enforcement department and report the death.
The above duties apply to any accidents that result in an injury or death irrespective of the party at fault or the severity of the injuries. This means even if it was entirely the other driver’s fault or if the driver suffers only a minor bruise or cut, you can be charged under VC 20001 if you do not comply with the requirements.
Also, it means you ought to carry out the same duties for your passengers in case they are killed or injured. You also can be charged with felony hit & run if you drive away from the scene of the accident in which your passengers are killed or injured.
Elements of VC 20001
For the prosecuting attorney to show that you are guilty of VC 20001 felony hit & run, he/she has to prove these facts:
You got involved in a vehicle accident which led to the death or injury of another person
Being involved in a crash means you were linked to the crash in a natural or logical manner. It does not necessarily mean you came into contact with property or another vehicle; rather, it was only your driving that contributed to that accident.
You were aware the accident had taken place
The prosecutor would assume you knew about the crash in case, at any time, you made statements that showed you were aware the accident occurred. The prosecutor may also presume that you knew about the accident in case your vehicle was damaged as a result of the accident. This could happen, for instance, in case an investigator claims the damage on the vehicle you were supposedly driving matched with the damage the other party/parties involved sustained.
You were aware that either another person was killed or injured, or the crash happened in a way that would have probably led to another person’s death or injury
In case it’s concluded you were aware of the accident, the seriousness of the crash will define whether you should have been aware that another person was likely killed or injured due to the accident.
You willfully did not carry out any of the required duties
A deliberate act does not mean you necessarily had the intent to hurt another person, violate the law, or gain any advantage. It means you had the intent not to carry out your duties as required. In case you knowingly fled the accident scene without exchanging identifying details or providing reasonable help with the intent to do so, then your act was willful.
Even if you performed some of the duties but left out others, you may still be guilty of VC 20001 for not doing even a single one of what you are obligated to do. For instance, if you stopped immediately but did not help the injured victims, neither did you provide identifying details you may still be convicted.
However, before you can be convicted of a felony hit & run, the jury has to unanimously agree that you did not carry out at least one of your required duties. Additionally, they have to agree unanimously on one duty at the minimum, which you did not perform. If the accident led to a permanent severe injury or death, the jury has to determine that it was the accident, and not something else, which led to the death or injury before voting that you are guilty. The jury has to adhere to these instructions even if the crash was entirely your fault.
Note that VC 20001 may be charged against the car owner (in case he or she was a passenger in the vehicle) and the driver. This could be so when the car owner advises or encourages the driver to flee.
Penalties for VC 20002
VC 20002 can be sentenced in two different ways. Accidents that result in minor injuries are sentenced differently from accidents that result in permanent severe injuries or death. Additionally, VC 20001 is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor’s decision is based on the facts of your case and your criminal history.
If you are found guilty of VC 20001 hit & run that involves minor injuries, you may be subjected to the following penalties:
- A fine ranging between $1,000 and $10,000
- A maximum of one year in jail (if it’s a misdemeanor)
- Up to three years in State prison (if it’s a felony)
- Two points will be added on your driving record as per the DMV
In case the accident led to permanent severe injury or death, the penalties will be as follows:
- Between $1,000 and $10,000 in fines
- Up to one year in jail (if it’s a misdemeanor)
- Up to four years in State prison (for a felony)
- Addition of two points on your driving record
Legal Defenses to VC 20001
Your attorney may present several defenses to fight for your case. These defenses depend on the facts surrounding your case. They include:
It was not you who drove the vehicle
If another person accessed your vehicle or if it was stolen and had already filed a stolen vehicle report, this defense may work for you. This defense applies if there weren’t any eyewitnesses to testify that you were the one driving.
If you claim that your car was stolen, the police report you provide as evidence has to be valid. Note that fabricating a police report is an offense in itself. The defense will only work in case you filed a valid police report before the hit & run accident took place.
You weren’t aware of the accident
If you were not aware you got involved in an auto accident, you might not be held accountable for this offense. Similarly, in case you were not aware, there were injuries sustained or did not have any reason to believe or suspect there were injuries, you cannot be found guilty of felony hit & run.
You did not willfully flee the scene or fail to provide your details
There are cases when it is not safe to be at the accident scene for a long time to fulfill your duties. In case, for instance, you knocked down a pedestrian then angry eyewitnesses charged at you, it might have forced you to leave the scene before giving your details. If there is proof to support this, your attorney may get your charges dismissed or reduced. It would also depend on the efforts you employed to comply with your requirements. For instance, did you contact the police immediately after fleeing the accident scene?
The injuries were only limited to you
In case it was only you who got injured, VC 20001 requirements don’t apply. This is because this code section specifies that you are obligated to the duties we mentioned only when another person (other than you) sustains an injury.
Find a Hit and Run Attorney Near Me
Hit and run is no simple crime even when charged as a misdemeanor. Thus, it’s important to seek the services of an experienced attorney immediately after you are arrested. The attorneys at the California Criminal Lawyer Group have a deep understanding of the California criminal justice system and the court processes. If you or a person you love is facing hit and run charges, they should hire an attorney who knows how to fight against the charges and deliver the best probable outcome. Call us now at 408-622-0204 for a free consultation or to share the details of your case. Call today!