The definition of a hit and run in California is similar to the same charge in other places. Anytime you're involved in an accident with property damage, you must stop and give your information so that the other party knows who you are. California Vehicle Code 20002 VC defines a misdemeanor hit and run, and Vehicle Code 20001 defines a felony.
If you're responsible, they can pursue you through your insurance company or otherwise. If you hit a car parked and there's nobody around, you can leave a note on the window with all your information. The bottom line is that you can't just hit somebody's vehicle or property and go.
This is where you start to get into the hit-and-run problem. You'll be looking at a criminal charge, probation, and other potential punishment. One thing people don't realize is that regardless of whose fault an accident might be, you still have to exchange information. I've had clients who have been rear-ended and then have fled the scene for various reasons. Maybe they don't have insurance, don't have a license, or claim they didn't think there was any damage.
The bottom line is that if you are in an accident or some property damage occurs, you are involved. You've got to give the other party your information: your name, your telephone number, your driver's license number, and then your coverage.
I see cases where people are getting in an accident and then saying, “I'm going to just wait for the police.” Technically, you don't have to wait for the police. You need to exchange information. If somebody does that to you, you probably want to call the police yourself.
If you're going to leave, maybe the other person is acting crazy, yelling, or screaming. You can call the police and say, “I was just involved in an accident. Here is my information, the other party is going crazy. I don't feel safe staying around them. Here is where the accident occurred.
I want to make sure that I do what I'm supposed to do, but I don't want to jeopardize my safety.” Then you would be covered as far as a hit-run would go. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will explain further below.
How Does A Misdemeanor Hit & Run Charge Differ From a Felony?
There are few differences between felony and misdemeanor hit and run charges. Most hit and runs in Los Angeles County are charged as misdemeanors. It has to do with property damage, the person not giving your information, leaving their car there, fleeing the scene themselves, or fleeing with their vehicle. You get upgraded to a felony in Los Angeles County when there's a bad injury.
If you injure another party related to a hit-run accident, that will be charged as a felony, and you will be looking at possible prison time. Depending on how bad the injury is, they might charge you with significant bodily injury, and this penal code section puts you in a bad situation because it's a 3-year enhancement.
This means that you can also get an additional three years in addition to the sentence for the hit-and-run accident. Suppose it's just severe injury vs. significant bodily injury. It'll just be charged as a felony; you won't be looking at the extra enhancement. The dividing line as far as hit-and-run cases or any case between a severe injury and great bodily injury is difficult to discern.
Typically, broken bones will be both a severe injury and great bodily injury, but there are other injuries that you really can't tell. This is an area where it is essential to have an attorney trying to get rid of that great bodily injury obligation related to a hit and run or any other case.
Because allegation carries three years, it also makes whatever felony issue leads to a strike, and you have to serve 85% of the time. It's a nasty business. Contact an attorney immediately if you get a hit-and-run accident and somebody is injured. Let the attorney work on your case to get you out of the criminal justice system as fast as possible.
Is It Ever Lawful To Leave The Scene Of An Accident In California?
There are reasons to leave the scene of an accident in California. Before you go to the location of the accident, you've got to exchange pertinent information with all parties involved in the accident. That relevant information will have to include your name, your phone number, and your driver's license.
Once you give that information, you're good to leave the accident scene. The only exception is if somebody's been hurt in the accident. Then you want to stay and try to help that person and call 911. The point of the hit-and-run law centers around those individuals causing injuries, property damage and then fleeing.
The other party may be hurt disabled, their vehicle won't move, and they can't get the information they need to make themselves whole from this accident. They can't get your insurance information, they can't get your information, and that is where the crime comes in.
You can leave the scene of a hit-and-run accident; you have to exchange information. The danger comes when the other party claims you didn't exchange information. That's why you have got to be careful, if you know the police are coming, you may want to stay at the accident.
It's best not to put yourself in a position where you've left the scene; the other party is the only one to tell the story, they tell a false report, and you're not there to say something different to the police. Then later, you'll need to prove that you were in an accident, and now you're looking at a hit-and-run charge. See related: How a Prosecutor Proves a Hit and Run Case.
Can I Still Be Charged If There Was No Injury Or Property Damage?
It is possible not to be charged for a hit and run if there was no property damage or injury. If there's no property damage or injury, you don't have to exchange information. The issue is, why take the risk?
If you're in an incident where you think there may be some contact with the vehicle, you've got to stop and exchange information, and then you're good. When you leave the accident scene like that, you open yourself up to potential hit and run charges.
I see people who are claiming I didn't see any damage, I didn't think there was any damage, and the other parties called the police. They've got a picture of some damage to their car; they claim that the person hit their vehicle and didn't exchange information.
You're in the wrong position. You've got to defend yourself and hire an attorney. It's better to practice exchanging information if you're involved in an incident, or the other side can argue that there was an impact or damage to the vehicle. You don't want to take a chance when facing a criminal charge and be in a position where you're looking at time in custody, probation, and a criminal record.
What Can I Do If I Was Not Present In The Vehicle?
There are a couple of steps to follow if you have been charged with a hit and run but weren't present in the vehicle. You'll have to see if you've been arrested, the allegations, and what the other party is saying about the alleged accident. Sometimes, someone loans their car to another person, and that person ends up getting in an accident and then fleeing the scene.
Then law enforcement gets the car's license plate number, they run the car, see that the vehicle is registered to you, use the DMV system to get your picture, and now they think that you're the one involved. They may need to bring identification from another party or a witness saying they were driving the car. It's evident that it's your car, it's registered to you, so there's likely an argument that you were the one driving. However, they will need more than that.
They will need some identification. Often, they will get your DMV photograph or any other photograph that they get of you. They'll put it in a photo pack with five additional pictures and see if the party claiming to be involved in the hit & run accident or any other witnesses can identify you.
If you don't want to cooperate, you're claiming that you were not driving, and they can get an identification; then the police give it to the prosecutors. The prosecutors can file a case against you if they feel you are involved in a hit & run accident. This situation emphasizes why it is essential to have an attorney fighting for you. An attorney can tell your side of the story.
An attorney can get in the details and facts related to your case but won't be given to the police; the police won't go out and obtain them. You don't want to be in a position where you're talking to the police because sometimes they can misrepresent things in a hit & run accident; they can claim that you said something you didn't say.
Your best option is to get an attorney at the beginning. I do these types of cases all the time. I call the police myself, talk to them, give them my client's version of events, or tell them that my client will not make any statement. It depends on what you and I decide to do; then, I execute the plan that protects your rights, freedom, and liberty.
How Can Police Prove That I Was Under The Influence?
The police can prove if you were under the influence of a hit and run. The police are very tough on DUIs and hit & run cases. If they think you were involved, they will come and try to prove it. Often, somebody will get into an accident, leave the scene, and leave a trail back to them, usually the other party or witnesses. If they have a driver's license, the police find that and go to their residence, especially if there are any injuries in the accident.
They'll knock on their door, try to get their hands on them, then go back to the witnesses and ask, “When did you see this person driving? 10 minutes ago?” Now, they can attempt to have you take a breath and blood tests, get a result, and claim that they've got an eyewitness that saw you driving 10 minutes ago. When it comes to DUIs and hit-and-runs, if you get into an accident and think you're driving under alcohol or some other substance, they can do a forced blood draw.
That's how they do it. I've had people get into a hit and run accident; they drive down the street to their house, park their car, then neighbors or witnesses call the police, and they lead them to the person's car, they get to the house, they knock on the door, and try and get the person out so that they can prove that they're drunk. Then they've got to pinpoint when they were driving. As long as they can get them driving close to when they take their breath or blood, they can attempt a DUI.
It depends on the factual scenario when you talk about hit & run DUIs. It's going to be a situation where the police are trying to build a case, the prosecutors will take that case, they'll look at it, and they'll determine whether they can prove through evidence, witnesses, pictures, and statements that the person is DUI has caused a hit & run, and is responsible.
What Are The Possible Defenses To A Hit & Run Charge?
There are some defenses to a hit-and-run charge. First, it's not a defense that the accident was the other party's fault. Anytime you're in an accident, you've got to exchange the pertinent information: your name, your phone number, and your driver's license, then you're good.
Some potential defenses are that it didn't cause any property damage, and I didn't think I had to wait or give any information, which would be a good defense. If the other party claims that you caused some damage, but you didn't cause the accident or didn't cause any harm, they can't prove it.
Another defense is you weren't the one driving the vehicle. Even though a car may be registered to you, if you weren't the one driving it, then they're not going to be able to prove that you were involved in a hit-and-run accident.
Anytime you are talking about a hit-and-run case, you need to look at the specific facts surrounding that particular case. You can't take an approach where you do the same thing every time. We've got to get you into the office, sit down, have you tell me what happened, and I use my 25 years of experience to figure out how best to deal with your particular scenario. We don't do what we usually do every single time.
Some cases are unique; sometimes, some facts don't appear in other cases. That's why it's so important if you think you might be charged or arrested for a hit-and-run accident that you get to an attorney. Give the attorney the information, be honest, be straightforward, and let that attorney guide you through the process to make the right decisions and right choices from the beginning so that you do everything possible to avoid that hit & run charge.