Anything can happen to you while out on the road. California traffic rules are in place to ensure that at least everyone using public roads is safe at all times. The list includes pedestrians, bikers, all motorists, and also properties in and around the streets. However, accidents do happen, and California statutes have provisions on what should be done if an accident occurred. If you got involved in a crash, the law requires you to stop, offer help, and to call the police at least.
Many people panic, and others feel that getting out of the accident scene fast is the only way they can avoid being arrested. This is a severe offense in California and can leave you serving time in jail and paying hefty penalties. If you are facing Hit & Run charges today, the San Diego Criminal Attorney can help you get reduced charges.
Legal Definition of Hit and Run
Hit and Run is legally defined as leaving the scene of an accident without offering help, leaving your personal information, or calling the police. The offense is charged on both people who are at fault for the accident and those who are not. As long as you have been involved in a crash, the law requires you to remain a little longer on the accident scene until it is safe to leave for everyone. This should be done even if you are not responsible for the accident, you did not get injured, or no one was injured in the crash.
Hit and Run laws in the state of California are covered under Sections 20001 and 20002 of the state Vehicle Code for both felony and misdemeanor Hit and Run. The laws consider all accidents. It, therefore, follows that the party at fault, the severity of the injuries sustained, and the degree of property damage will be considered. The above considerations inform the decision to have severe penalties as provided for in the laws punishing hit and run offenders. This helps retain people in accident scenes to offer help before law enforcement officers arrive to take their statements.
Section 20002 of California Vehicle Code covers Hit and Run cases in accidents that only involve property damage. The offense is convicted as a misdemeanor, but the penalties can be hefty, including at least six months behind bars and a fine of at least $1000. Section 20002 of California’s Vehicle Code, on the other hand, applies to car accidents involving injuries or even death of another person or people. This is usually charged as a felony and will attract heftier penalties, including several years in prison plus payment of hefty fines and restitution to the injured victims or the family of the departed.
The Legal Duties of a Driver who gets Involved in an Accident
Sections 20001 and 20002 of California vehicle Code have clear guidelines on what a driver should do once they get involved in an accident on a public road. There are mainly three duties of a driver who has been involved in a car accident that has caused property damage or injuries on another person or even death:
- The person should stop their vehicle immediately,
- The driver should provide the other person or people with his/her identifying information, including his/her name and address, and
- Provide the parties to the crash with the details of your driver's license and your vehicle's registration number. If the vehicle you were operating belongs to another, provide the name and the address of the vehicle's owner. The information is inclusive of your personal information to the other party.
If this is not done, your actions could result in Hit and Run charges. Note that this must be done regardless of who is at fault in causing the crash. It follows that you can still face Hit and Run charges if you fail to stop and offer help or provide your identifying information to those at the crash scene.
There are several reasons why this is important. From the public's point of view, violating your first duty as a driver causes a lot of concern. Leaving the accident scene immediately could be interpreted as disregarding other people by the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and members of the public. That is why the court will be tough on anyone that fled the accident scene without stopping to confirm that everyone else was safe.
By not giving out your identifying info to the people at the accident scene, you automatically invite the Hit and Run charges. This should be done if you crashed into another car on the road, a parked vehicle at the side of the road, a stationery property, or even a pedestrian. This second duty of the driver must be done even if the owner of the damaged property is not present at the scene of the accident. You could write your name and current address on a piece of paper and leave it on the stationery property you have hit, then drive off or call the police.
Note that California law on Hit & Run is never concerned with the kind of property that has been damaged in the accident. A driver could hit another car, someone's fence, another person's dog, someone else's mailbox, among others. Any property will serve, and your responsibilities should stay the same.
If, for instance, you accidentally hit a dog and do not stop immediately until the dog’s owner flags you down, you could be charged with misdemeanor Hit and Run for not stopping immediately when you caused the accident. This will still apply even if you provided your identifying information to the pet’s owner after they stopped you.
Another thing you should note is that the scene of the accident can be anywhere, on private property or public road. If an accident occurred in a private parking lot, for instance, the duties of a driver remain the same.
Lastly, concerning the third duty of a driver on an accident scene, the driver should at least provide their vehicle registration and driver's license upon request. The law does not state that you should provide your insurance information to the other party, but if it feels necessary, depending on the kind of accident you have been involved in, you could offer the other driver your insurance provider's information. The requirement to provide insurance information is provided on a separate part of the law, under Section 16025 of California vehicle Code. Failing to provide your insurance details to people who have been involved in an accident in which you are at fault is an infringement. A maximum fine of $250 penalizes the infraction.
Elements of a Hit and Run Offense
Section 20002 of California Vehicle Code is the one that brings out the true definition of a Hit and Run as an offense in California. According to this statute, there are certain elements that the prosecutor needs to demonstrate for an offender to be found guilty of Hit and Run. These are:
- That the offender was involved in a road accident while on the road
- That the crash resulted in damage to another person's property or that someone else was injured or killed in the collision
- That the driver was well aware that the collision had caused havoc on another person's property or that the nature of the crash was capable of causing substantial damage to another person's property, or that another person had been injured as a result
- That the driver willfully failed to stop the car immediately and provide their identifying information to the other parties involved in the accident
Willfully, as used in this case, means that the driver failed to stop and provide his information intentionally or even on purpose. This does not necessarily mean that you did so intending to violate the law or for selfish gains.
If, for instance, you got involved in an accident with another car and the other driver was at fault, but you failed to stop because you could clearly see that the other driver's car was damaged more than yours. A driver in such a situation can even drive off to avoid putting more financial burden on the driver at fault. California laws address the situation differently, even though the driver leaving the scene’s intentions are good. As long as you did not stop to talk and exchange information with the other driver, you could face Hit and Run charges even if you were not at fault.
Your good intentions will not be considered at trial, but your failure to willfully perform your duties as a driver in accordance with Section 20002 of California Vehicle Code will leave you facing misdemeanor Hit and Run charges.
A California Hit and Run offender could also face charges even if they performed some of the duties listed above. If, for instance, you only stopped but did not provide your identifying information to the other parties involved in an accident, you may still be charged with Hit and Run according to the law.
However, for a driver who fled the accident scene fast but decided to come back and provided their identifying information to the other parties, the prosecutor will consider a few more factors such as your criminal history before determining whether to charge you with a Hit and Run offense.
Penalties for California Hit and Run
Their criminal history determines the kinds of penalties a Hit and Run offender gets in California and whether or not the offense is a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanor Hit and Run offenses are charged under the state’s vehicle Code Section 20002. If you are found guilty of this offense, the following are the possible penalties you could face:
- Informal probation for a maximum of three years,
- Imprisonment in a county jail for a maximum of six months,
- A fine of a maximum $1000,
- Mandatory requirement to pay restitution to the owner of the damaged property, or
- Two points will be added to your driving records as per the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Informal probation in the state of California is granted to offenders who have not committed any drug or violence-related offenses. The probation lasts for between 1 to 3 years and could be given to offenders who are facing up to a five-year prison sentence. If you are lucky to get this type of probation, it means that you could spend your time out of prison, but as long as you follow the following rules:
- All the local, state and federal laws must be abided by,
- The offender must complete every court-mandated community service,
- All fines must be paid in full, and
- You must regularly report to a judge within the probation period so that they can know your progress.
Unless there are aggravating circumstances involved in the collision, such as DUI, your penalties for misdemeanor DUI Hit and Run will not be very serious.
Nonetheless, you will still face jail time and penalties and will have an entry added in your criminal history. That is why you should do your best to fight any Hit and Run charges, however minor they may seem. Working closely with an experienced criminal attorney will make a massive difference in the outcome of your case.
Civil Compromises in California Hit and Run Cases
First-time Hit & Run offenders whose cases do not have any aggravating factors such as drunk driving, can be allowed to take part in a civil compromise. According to Section 1377 of the California Penal Code, a civil solution is available for an injured person who has sustained injuries as a result of another person's misdemeanor conduct. In that case, the misdemeanor case will be civilly compromised, but only if the judge agrees that you can participate in the civil compromise. If this works for you, your criminal Hit and Run charges will be terminated once you pay all the damages the other person suffered on their property as a result of the crash.
Felony Hit and Run and Its Penalties
California Hit and Run is a wobbler and so, can be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Hit and Run offenses that involve property damage are generally sentenced as misdemeanors, while those that result in injury or death of another person are convicted as felonies. California felony Hit & Run is provided under Section 20001 of California Vehicle Code. According to this statute, felony Hit & Run is defined as any traffic crash in which another person is seriously injured or killed, but the driver decided to flee the accident scene instead of waiting to help, call the police, or provide his personal information.
Elements for felony Hit and Run are the same as those of misdemeanor Hit and Run only that a felony offense will involve injured or dead people as a result of the collision. In that case, a driver who gets involved in an accident where another person gets hurt or is killed must stop and remain on the accident scene until it is safe for everyone to leave or at least until they have provided their identifying information to the injured or other people at the accident scene.
In addition to their duty as drivers in an accident scene, the law requires the driver to offer help to any injured person, including administering first aid or calling an ambulance. If a person died on the scene of an accident, the driver is required to call the police immediately.
Many people find themselves facing severe felony Hit and Run offenses because they believe that they should not have stopped since they were not the ones that caused the accident. This is not true, and you might face even severe charges if you left an accident scene without leaving your contact information.
Penalties for California felony Hit and Run offense will vary greatly, based on the number of injuries the other person sustained. If the injuries sustained were not severe and no one died in the accident, your charges could be reduced to a misdemeanor. For this, you will only face similar penalties as those listed above.
If a person suffered severe bodily injuries or they died as a result of the crash, the Hit and Run offender will face severe punishment that could include a prison sentence of up to 36 months. You could also lose your driving privileges and be required to pay more in fines and restitution.
Aggravating factors, such as fleeing the accident scene while drunk or drugged-driving, are punished by an additional five years to your prison time that should be served consecutively.
Possible Defenses for Hit & Run Charges
Both felony and misdemeanor Hit and Run charges are categorized among the most severe offenses in the state of California. What this means is that they can drastically change your life in so many ways. What you should do is to try and fight the Hit and Run charges with the help of the best criminal attorney. A competent attorney will look into the details of your case to determine ways in which they can help fight your charges to either get them reduced or dismissed. Some of the defense strategies that can be used in this case include:
Your Car was the only Property that was Damaged in the Accident
This is something that could happen, and in such a case, California law allows a driver to flee the accident scene under such circumstances. If, for instance, you were driving a smaller car and you got involved in a crash with a larger, much stronger car, the chances are high that your little car will be hit more than the other one. If the other vehicle was not damaged, then you will not have a duty as a driver to stop and provide your personal information to the other driver. The same thing will happen if you hit someone's fence, and the fence was not damaged.
You Were the Only One that got Injured in the Accident
Similarly, if you are the only person that was injured in the crash and you needed immediate medical care, the law allows a driver to leave the scene of an accident under such circumstances.
You did not know about the Accident
It is possible to get into an accident and leave without knowing that you hit another car or were hit by another vehicle. If you were not aware that you were involved in the crash, the court might not find you criminally liable for fleeing the accident scene. This defense may not work if the accident was significant, and another car or stationary property incurred substantial damages. However, the law agrees that it is possible to hit another car or an animal and not notice.
It was not you
This defense strategy can be used if you were not the one that was driving the car at the time of the accident. If someone else had access to your vehicle or your vehicle was stolen, you may not be found guilty of Hit and Run. This defense can work well if there is no eyewitness to identify you as the driver or you had filed a report with the police about your missing or stolen car.
Find a San Diego Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Fleeing an accident scene without offering help or providing your identifying details is legally wrong and punishable under California Vehicle Code. Punishments for both misdemeanor and felony Hit and Run are severe, which is why you need the best legal defense to avoid paying the hefty fines or serving a long time in prison or jail. The San Diego Criminal Attorney could help you fight the charges you are facing, compelling the prosecutor to either reduce or drop them altogether. If you or your loved one is facing Hit and Run charges today, call us at 619-880-5474 to get our reliable legal services.
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