Hit and run is a serious criminal offense in California that can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. A hit and run crime occurs when a person hits another car, property, or pedestrian and does not stop and flees from the scene of the accident. The law requires a person that has been involved in a collision to stay, check with the other driver, property owner, or pedestrian. By doing this, you give them your details or any crucial personal details. It is an offense to leave the scene without informing the police or waiting for their arrival. But, if you were wounded and were taken to hospital, the law understands the circumstances. If you are accused of a hit and run offense, a conviction of the crime can have severe consequences. Engaging a lawyer, however, will help you fight these allegations and give you a chance of better outcomes. At Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are committed and passionate in defending our clients from these allegations.
What the Law Requires of a Driver Following an Accident
The law of California recognizes two kinds of hit and run offenses. The first one is defined in VEH 20002. This describes accidents where the damage is only of property, and in most cases, it is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The second offense of a hit and run is as described under VEH 20001. This is when a hit and run results in injuries or death of a victim. Typically, the offense is prosecuted as a felony.
It is essential to understand what the law requires of a person involved in an accident. The law requires a driver to stop immediately after being involved in an accident, but at a safe location to avoid other accidents and to impede traffic. Moving your vehicle out of danger or from the road does not affect the issue of fault. In addition to this, the driver is expected to act in the following manner:
- Look for and inform the property owner or the one in charge of their name and address
- If the property is another vehicle, after finding the owner, they need to display to them their driver’s license and the registration number of the car
- Not to give false information instead provide details of your current residence as well as the registered owner of the vehicle. Should the owner or driver of the other car be at the scene, they are also expected to give the necessary information to you
- If the car you hit is empty or parked, it may be challenging to locate the driver. You are required, in this case, to leave a note in a visible place that includes your name and contact details. Additionally, you must report to the nearest police department of the accident so that you are not accused of a hit and run
- The law does not discriminate on the kind of property a person hits. Whether a mailbox, a pet, or another vehicle, the requirements are the same. The law requires the offender to perform the necessary duties as found under VEH 20002. These duties do not matter who was at fault. For instance, when you hit a pet, you should rush it to a vet clinic, or if it is an accident where people were injured, you need to call for help even if you feel the other driver was at fault.
- Even when there were no injuries, but property damage occurred, the failure to stop and identify yourself may lead to misdemeanor charges. If the accident resulted in death or an injury, there are additional requirements for the driver. These are:
- The driver is expected to provide necessary help to the persons injured as a result of the accident
- You must immediately inform the police department nearest to you or other essential law enforcement departments
If, after an accident, a driver flees the scene and ignores the duties discussed above, he or she is guilty of a hit and run offense. The prosecution of the case, however, depends on the factors of the case. It can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense based on the criminal history of the driver.
Getting a Hit and Run Conviction
Being accused of a hit and run offense is one thing, but being convicted of the crime is another thing altogether. The prosecutor must prove various elements for a person to be convicted of violating VEH 20001 and VEH 20002 in California. Hiring an attorney is crucial if you want to challenge the evidence provided by the prosecutor and avoid wrongful convictions. The various elements to a hit and run offenses include:
- The defendant was involved in an accident while driving
- Someone’s property was damaged as a result of the accident
- The driver was aware of the damage caused or the probability of causing damage
- The driver intentionally failed to perform a duty or more as discussed above
- The accident resulted in a fatality or a significant injury to another person
- The defendant was aware that the accident they were involved in might have caused significant injuries to the victim or death due to its nature but fled the scene
When the prosecutor can show evidence supporting the above elements, the defendant will be convicted.
Hit and Run Offenses as Described by the Law in California
The law describes various hit and run offenses that can be performed by drivers. The nature of the crime, the criminal record of the offender, and the circumstances, make the violation prosecutable as a misdemeanor or a felony. Here, we discuss various offenses that can fall under hit and run offenses, the penalties, and legal defenses if accused of them.
VEH 20002 Violations
Under this statute, it is illegal for a driver to hit and damage property belonging to another person and fail to stop but instead flee the scene. For a conviction, the prosecutor needs to prove various elements, as discussed above. He or she must prove the defendant was the driver, and while driving, he or she hit and damaged the property. Additionally, he must show evidence that the defendant was aware of the damage and intentionally fled the scene of the accident.
Your lawyer must, therefore, challenge the evidence provided and create reasonable doubt. If your lawyer is unable to convince the court of your innocence, you can be convicted on misdemeanor charges.
Penalties for VEH 20002 Violations
A misdemeanor conviction, in this case, will carry the following penalties or punishments:
- The defendant may face a county jail sentence of not more than six months
- Additionally, the defendant may be ordered to pay a fine of $1,000
- The defendant may be sentenced to summary probation instead of a jail time
- The judge can decide to sentence the defendant to jail time or the fine
Legal Defenses for VEH 20002 Violations
When you face accusations for this offense, you must get a defense lawyer to fight the allegations on your behalf. With excellent legal defense strategies, the charges can be reduced or dismissed altogether. There are various defense strategies your attorney can use if accused of this crime. They include:
There was no Damage to any Property
The law under VEH 20002 indicates that a driver is guilty if he fails to stop after hitting another vehicle or property and causing damage. If there were no damages, the driver would not be found guilty of this crime. This defense is reliable if the defendant can show that despite their leaving the scene after the accident, he or she caused no damage. If the damage was only on the defendant’s car, they could not be guilty of damaging another person’s property, but their own, and this is not a punishable offense.
There are many instances where individuals are prosecuted on falsified allegations. A person can be falsely accused due to jealousy, anger, or revenge on the part of the plaintiff. This makes false accusations a solid defense if the defendant can prove this. Sometimes a person can be accused of the offense by mistake. When this happens, the defendant needs to prove that they were not the ones involved in the accident but have been mistakenly identified.
Illegal Search and Seizure
Based on the fourth amendment, every person has a right to refuse an unlawful search and seizure by police officers. If you are searched illegally, and evidence is obtained, the said evidence cannot be used in a court of law. If your lawyer can show the court that evidence presented by the prosecution was obtained unlawfully, the hit and run charges against you can be dismissed or reduced.
VEH 20001 Violations
Under this statute, it is a criminal offense for a driver to be involved in a hit and run offense that results in an injury. When a person flees an accident scene where another person dies or gets injured as a result of the accident, they face felony charges. A conviction, in this case, carries with it severe penalties.
The law requires a person involved in an accident that causes injuries to another person or death to stop and carry out the duties of the law as earlier discussed.
For a driver to receive a felony conviction for this offense, the prosecutor must prove various elements of the crime, as earlier discussed. Aside from showing the defendant was the driver of the vehicle, a prosecutor must prove that the accident was the cause of death or injuries to a victim. Proof that the driver was aware of the accident, and they willingly fled the accident scene is also crucial for a guilty verdict.
The prosecutor must also prove that the driver intentionally fled and neglected to carry out any of the duties. These duties are as described by the law in the event of an accident. The proof does not require a person to have had prior intention to violate the law, injure, or kill another. The most crucial evidence is that the driver is the one that caused the accident that resulted in injuries or death, and he or she fled the scene.
The law requires the defendant to stop even when they are not responsible for the accident and give their information to law enforcement officers and the victim where possible. Regardless of who caused the accident, the duty to stop by a driver applies. Even when the accident happened on private property, the duty, as described by the law applies.
Penalties for VEH 20001
Violations to this offense are wobbler. This means the offender can be prosecuted on misdemeanor or felony charges. If a driver is convicted of misdemeanor charges, he or she is likely to face the following penalties:
- A county jail prison sentence of not more than a year
- The defendant may be ordered to pay a fine of $1,000 to $10,000
- The defendant may be ordered to a summary probation
- The judge can sentence the defendant to either a prison term or a fine or both
A felony conviction, on the other hand, carries more severe penalties. These penalties include:
- The defendant is sentenced to a state prison term of four years or less
- The defendant is ordered to pay a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000
- The judge can decide to sentence the defendant to formal probation instead of a jail sentence
- The defendant can be sentenced to both jail time and a fine or either of them.
Legal Defenses for VEH 20001 Violations
As indicated in the penalties, this offense carries severe penalties when a person is convicted. It is, therefore, necessary for a driver facing these charges to hire a lawyer to fight the allegations. With an excellent legal representation, one can get the charges dropped or reduced.
The common defenses for this offense are different from those of a standard misdemeanor hit and run offense. The strategies your attorney can use in your defense may include:
The Accident Resulted in No Injuries or Death
The law can only find the accused guilty of this crime if he or she failed to stop after the accident. The law requires a person to stop after causing an accident, whether there were injuries, death, or none at all. If the defendant can show that the accident resulted in no injuries or death even when they fled the scene, they cannot be found guilty of this offense. If the driver fled the scene, they should be prosecuted for a lesser crime of a misdemeanor hit and run as stipulated in VEH 20002 but not VEH 20001 violations. This is also only applicable if the collision resulted in the damage of property regardless of their value.
There are cases where a person is falsely accused of a crime or is accused of mistaken identity. A person may accuse another of the crime if they are known to them wrongly out of anger, jealousy, or revenge. If a driver had a bad relationship with the accuser or witness to the alleged crime, he or she would need to prove it in court. If you can convince the court you are falsely accused because of this, the charges can be dropped or dismissed.
On the other hand, a witness can give a wrong account of the crime. They may describe the vehicle involved in the hit and run, and without being sure of the driver’s identity, they identify him or her anyway. A defendant, in this case, must prove that they were not near the accident scene, or were not the ones involved in the accident. In such a case, the prosecutor must prove that your car was involved in an accident, you were the driver, and you fled after causing injuries or death.
Your lawyer can challenge the evidence presented by offering this defense. If the jury or court believes your lawyer’s argument, the charges against you may be dropped.
The law in California prohibits the police from using extreme measures to get a confession from a suspect. If through your lawyer, you can convince the court that you were forced to a confession, the judge can do either of the following:
- He or she may decide to exclude the forced confession as evidence
- The judge might call for a dismissal of the case if the defendant was forced to confess to a crime they did not commit.
You, the Defendant, Suffered Injuries
If, as a result of the accident, only the defendant was injured, then they cannot be found guilty of VEH 20001 violations. The elements of this offense state that another person must have suffered significant injuries or death for a defendant to be guilty of the offense.
The Defendant did not know they were involved in an accident
In the elements discussed previously for a prosecutor to get a conviction, the defendant must have had the knowledge that they were involved in an accident. If the defendant did not know that they were involved in an accident that caused injuries or death, they are not guilty of the offense. The defendant can argue that they thought they hit a log on the road, and because the location was isolated, they were afraid to stop and inspect.
The Defendant was not the Driver
If the defendant is the registered owner of the vehicle but was not the driver at the time the accident happened, they cannot be guilty of the crime. As earlier discussed, to be guilty, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant was the driver at the time of the accident. It is possible that the car was stolen and the thief caused an accident or the owner had given the car to someone else or leased it.
Offenses Related to Hit and Run Crimes
Misdemeanor VEH 20001(b)(1) Violations
Sometimes in a hit and run accident, the injuries a victim suffers may not be very significant. If this is the case, the defendant will be charged with the offense but prosecuted on misdemeanor charges. This offense is a lesser one carrying lesser penalties compared to that of VEH 20001, where significant injuries or death results from the hit and run.
VEH 23152a Violations
This statute makes it a criminal offense for a person to drive while intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol. This is a related offense to a hit and run offense. A person driving under the influence can also commit a hit and run offense either as a misdemeanor or a felony offense.
A defendant may have been driving intoxicated, causing an accident, and flees the scene. In this case, they will be charged with a hit and run besides driving while under the influence. The penalties for driving under the influence are severe in California, with one of them being the suspension of a driver’s license.
If your license was suspended due to a DUI offense and you drove causing an accident, it is a criminal offense by itself. Fleeing the accident scene enhances the penalty. For a conviction of a hit and run while intoxicated, the prosecution must prove the above-discussed elements of a hit and run offense. Additionally, there must be evidence that the defendant was intoxicated at the time they committed the offense.
VEH 12500 Violations
This is another offense related to a hit and run offense. The law states that it is a criminal offense for a person to drive without a license. A person’s license can either be suspended or invalid and when they cause an accident, they flee the scene. However, if you are arrested for a hit and run without a license, you will be charged with both crimes concurrently.
If convicted of both these crimes, the defendant may face penalties for both offenses, which can be very severe.
Finding a Lawyer Near Me
Various reasons can make a person flee from an accident scene. However, regardless of the reasons, a hit and run is a serious offense punishable by the laws of California. A person accused of this offense needs to engage excellent legal representation to fight the allegations and avoid severe penalties. At Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are experienced in giving our clients the best legal representation on these allegations. Call our office at 714-740-7866, and let us discuss your case.