Hit and Run
Hit and run accidents usually bring to mind an image of a vehicle recklessly fleeing the scene of a collision without stopping or exchanging information. While this situation is indeed a hit and run, California hit and run laws actually encompass a more diverse range of actions. According to California Vehicle Code 20000 – 20018, a motorist can be accused of a hit and run if they fail to do any of the following after an accident:
- Immediately stop the vehicle
- Provide their name and address
- Provide their driver’s license and vehicle registration information upon request
Even if you stop your vehicle following an accident, someone can still accuse you of a hit and run if you fail to identify yourself or provide contact information. These laws are in effect regardless of who was at fault, the extent of the damages, or how minor the injuries were. Even if the owners of the damaged property are not present during the accident, California law still requires the immediate exchange of information either in person or by note. If you willfully left the scene of an accident that caused property damage without first identifying yourself, you could face a misdemeanor hit and run charge. If you flee the scene of an accident that caused injury or death to someone other than yourself, you are susceptible to a felony hit and run charge. Depending on the nature of the charge, penalties for a California hit and run can be anywhere from six months to four years of jail time. Your punishment could also include a three-year probation period and/or a $1,000 to $10,000 fine.
Hit and run charges can be very unforgiving in California. Charges can even result from minor fender benders and accidents when you did not collide with another vehicle, but drove in a manner that caused another accident. This strictness in policy makes it imperative that you contact a hit and run attorney immediately after someone makes allegations against you. At Spolin Law, attorney Aaron Spolin has reach successful outcomes on hundreds of cases. We will investigate your case thoroughly and file legal motions to protect your rights.
If you are facing possible hit and run charges and are in need of counsel, contact Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816 to discuss your case.
Punishments for Hit and Runs
Criminal consequences for hit and runs vary depending on how the prosecutor chooses to charge the crime. Defendants are charged with a misdemeanor if the accident only resulted in property damage. As a misdemeanor, possible penalties include three years of probation, six months in a county jail, up to $1,000 in fines, restitution to any victims, and two points on your driving record. Any or all of these penalties could occur if you are convicted.
If the accident resulted in injury to other parties, the hit and run amounts to a felony. As a felony, you could face up to three years in state prison (four if the accident resulted in death or severe injury) and fines ranging from $1,000 – $10,000. Additionally, a prosecutor may choose to charge you with both a felony and a misdemeanor if the accident resulted in both injury and property damage. This tactic usually occurs if prosecutors anticipate that a guilty conviction for a felony charge will be difficult. Penalties increase if the hit and run occurred while the driver was intoxicated or driving without a license.
However, if the hit and run is your first offense charged as a misdemeanor and you were driving legally, the court may allow a civil compromise. In a civil compromise, your misdemeanor hit and run charge can be dismissed after you reimburse the cost of the damaged property to any victims.
Illegally leaving the scene of an accident can also result in suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, as well as increased damages if the other motorist decides to raise a lawsuit against you. Many insurance companies do not cover hit and run accidents, so any damages awarded to the plaintiff would likely need to come out of pocket. Furthermore, it is common for insurance companies to go so far as to cancel your automobile insurance if you are found guilty of a hit and run.
Legal Defenses Against a Hit and Run
Hit and run charges rely on the fact that you willfully left the scene of an accident knowing there was damage or injury. With this assumption in mind, possible defenses for a hit and run allegation can include:
- Only my property was damaged – If the damage sustained was only to your own vehicle, you could argue that California law does not require that you stop and identify yourself. For example, if you backed into a neighbor’s fence, but realized upon inspection that the fence is undamaged and only your car sustained damage, then you may not be charged with a hit and run offense.
- Lack of knowledge – If you were not aware that you were in an accident, you may not be held liable for a hit and run. Although this defense might seem like a stretch, there are many instances where an accident can occur without the driver’s knowledge. For example, if you were in a large SUV and hit a small animal but did not feel the impact, you could argue that you were oblivious to the accident.
- Mistaken identity – Even if your vehicle was involved in an accident, this is not enough to prove that you were the perpetrator of a hit and run. Perhaps your vehicle was stolen and the driver subsequently fled the scene of an accident they caused. If there were no witnesses to identify you, or if you previously filed a stolen vehicle report, you could argue a mistaken identity defense.
- You were not driving – In hit and run cases, only the driver is held liable if they fail to stop and exchange information. If you were knocked unconscious following an accident and a passenger drove away panicked to the nearest hospital, you may not be held liable for a hit and run.
If you were unaware of the fact that an accident occurred or that there was subsequent injury or damage, you could use this information in your defense. However, cases that plead ignorance are notoriously difficult to prove, so the defense of a skilled attorney will undoubtedly help you achieve a non-guilty trial verdict. To learn more about defenses to a hit and run charge, contact Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816.
Speak to a Hit and Run Attorney
By California law, hit and run charges can result in multiple long-term penalties. A guilty charge could jeopardize your ability to have a license, increase the cost of your insurance coverage, and leave you susceptible to expensive lawsuits. The assistance of a successful attorney can mean the difference between a civil compromise and a maximum jail sentence. Our willingness to fight for you and your rights is what makes our firm special. Spolin Law has a history of filing effective legal motions and providing effective defense. A qualified attorney makes all the difference, so if you or someone you know is facing hit and run charges, call our offices at (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation.