What You're Facing if Involved in Fatal Hit and Run Accident?
Los Angeles County, where my primary practice is, has a lot of hit-and-run cases. The police prioritize them depending on what ended up happening in the accident. Felony hit and runs are defined under California Vehicle Code 20001 VC, and misdemeanor cases are defined under Vehicle Code 20002 VC.
Those accidents involving only property damage are put in a massive stack with multiple detectives working on the cases and sometimes take weeks and even months to investigate. On the other hand, cases involving death are put at the top of the stack and are usually dealt with right on the spot.
For example, I've had cases where an accident occurs, my client flees the scene, but somebody gets the license plate number, the police come out, and if somebody dies in that situation where there's a hit-and-run, the police will immediately start to search for whoever they believe is the driver of the car.
For example, if they got a license plate, they're going to find out who the car's owner is, and they're going to send officers to try to capture that person.
I've had hit-and-run accidents where the person is in San Diego, but the accident occurs in Los Angeles. LAPD will call San Diego PD, and they will send somebody right out to wherever the person's home is, talk to the family, find out where they are, and gather as much information as possible. They make hit-and-run accidents a high priority.
In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, we will examine this topic in further detail below.
Felony Hit and Run Law in California - Vehicle Code 20001 VC
Vehicle Code 20001 VC defines felony hit and run with injury and makes it a serious crime to leave the scene of an accident when somebody was injured or killed. It doesn't matter if you were not at fault for causing the accident.
You can be facing criminal charges under VC 20001, felony hit-and-run if someone else caused the collision and you fled the scene. Vehicle Code 20001 VC is defined as:
- “Any driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to another person, other than themselves, must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident...”
The related statute is California Vehicle Code 20002, which defines the misdemeanor crime of hit-and-run. Under California law, drivers involved in an accident must stop their vehicle nearby and exchange contact and insurance information.
Failure to stop at the scene of an accident is a crime. If the collision resulted in injuries or the death of another person, then failing to stop could be filed as a serious felony case under Vehicle Code 20001 VC.
If the collision only caused some property damage and no injuries, it would be considered a VC 20002 misdemeanor hit-and-run. Some common examples of violations of VC 20001 felony hit and run charges causing death are:
- Striking and killing a pedestrian at an intersection crosswalk and immediately fleeing the scene in their vehicle;
- Driving under the influence driver involved in a severe car accident that killed the other driver and fled the scene on foot.
To obtain a conviction for VC 20001 felony hit-and-run charges, the prosecutor must prove all the “elements of the crime” listed under CALCRIM 2140 Jury Instructions.
What Are the Legal Penalties for a Fatal Hit and Run Conviction?
As far as what the person is facing, I don't think there's any way to sugar-coat it. That person is facing prison time. The issue will be whether or not the prosecutors or police can put them behind the wheel through witnesses, evidence – or not – and why the accident occurred.
Sometimes accidents are just accidents, and sometimes it's the person who has been killed at fault for the accident. So, you have to evaluate that next. Finally, they're going to look at the person's criminal record, who that person is, their driving record, and probably the most significant factor, in my opinion, is who your attorney is.
California Vehicle Code 20001 is a “wobbler” that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony crime. Prosecutors have broad discretion in pursuing hit-and-run offenses.
If you are convicted of a felony hit and run, the penalties include a maximum punishment of four years in the California state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. It should be noted that the judge has the discretion to impose felony probation instead of time in prison.
What Are the Related Crimes?
- Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC – driving under the influence,
- Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC - DUI of drugs,
- Vehicle Code 23153 VC – DUI causing injury,
- Penal Code 192(c) PC – vehicular manslaughter,
- Penal Code 187 PC – DUI Watson murder.
What Are the Best Legal Defenses?
You've got to get a great attorney who has the experience and has done these cases before and gotten great results. So, sometimes it's difficult to say exactly what your sentence will be with all these things swimming around.
The bottom line is if you're involved in a hit-and-run accident, and somebody passes away, some statutes cover that situation – Penal Code sections, Vehicle Code sections – that allow the prosecutors to give multiple years in prison depending on a lot of those factors.
If you were charged with VC 20001 felony hit-and-run, we could use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome, such as:
- Insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction,
- You waited at the scene,
- You were not the driver,
- It was not safe to stop at the scene of the accident,
- False accusation.
In some borderline cases, it might be possible to get the felony charges reduced to a misdemeanor or even a case dismissal. Through prefiling intervention, which is negotiations with law enforcement and the District Attorney, we may be able to convince them not to file formal criminal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.”
So, if you or a loved one was involved in a hit-and-run accident and death occurred, you've come to the right place as far as seeking advice and help. I've been doing this for 30 years.
I started working for the District Attorney's office in the early 1990s. Then I worked for a Superior Court judge, and finally, I've been a criminal defense attorney defending people just like you since 1994.
I've handled thousands of hit-and-run accidents and multiple accidents involving death, and I know precisely what has to be done so that you can get the best result.
I encourage you not to do anything about it. Pick up the phone. We'll go over everything in the privacy of my office, you'll retain me, and we'll start to develop a strategy for exactly how we're going to handle your case. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County, and we offer a free case review by phone or by filling out the contact form.
Related Content: Results and Strategies in Hit and Run Cases