What Is A Hit And Run?
Under California law, the driver of a vehicle;
- Involved in an accident;
- Resulting in property damage or injury to someone other than the defendant;
- Must immediately stop; and
- Provide specific information. (The information required will depend on whether someone other than the driver was injured).
Fault doesn’t matter
A hit and run occurs when any driver (regardless of who was at fault) involved in an accident doesn’t stop or give the required information. So, for example, if you are stopped at a light and another driver rear-ends you, causing damage, YOU must immediately stop and provide information even though you are not at fault. If you don’t, you can be charged with hit and run.
Only “involvement” is required
It is important to note a driver need only be “involved” in an accident, which doesn’t mean that the driver was involved in the collision. So, for example, if you pull onto a busy roadway and cause traffic to abruptly halt, which results in other cars colliding with each other, then you are “involved” in the accident even though your car wasn’t hit. Therefore, you have a duty to immediately stop and provide specific information. If you don’t, you will likely be prosecuted for hit and run.
Any property damage or injury is enough
The property damaged can be any kind of property—real or personal. It is usually another car that is damaged but often it is a fence, tree, mailbox, sign post, etc. In any case where property not belonging to the driver is damaged, the driver must stop and furnish information.
“Immediately” doesn’t always mean right away
The requirement that you “immediately stop” is not literal. In fact, the Vehicle Code specifically says that the driver shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists.
The information that the defendant is required to leave depends on whether there is an injury to anyone other than the defendant or if there is only damage to property.
Property Damage Only
The specific information that a driver must present depends on whether someone is hurt. If there is only property damage and no injuries to anyone other than the driver, then the driver must;
Present the other driver or person in charge of the property with the driver’s name and residential address. If the driver doesn’t own the car, then the driver must also present the name and residential address of the owner of the car the driver is driving. If requested, the driver must also present their driver’s license and insurance information.
In the case where the other driver is not around (a parked car, for example) or where the property damaged is not another car and the owner or person in charge can’t be found (e.g., damaging a fence on uninhabited property), then the driver must:
- Leave in a conspicuous place the name and address of the driver and/or owner and a statement of what happened; and
- Call the police and report the accident without “unnecessary delay”.
If someone other than the driver is hurt in the accident, the driver must present their (and the owner’s) name, residence address, the registration number of the vehicle, as well as the names and residential addresses of anyone hurt in the driver’s car to any person struck or the driver of the other car and to the police if they are there. Again, if requested, the driver must also present their driver’s license and insurance information.
Defenses To The Charge Of Hit And Run
Your criminal defense lawyer will carefully scrutinize every aspect of your case and explore every possible defense to the charge. The facts of each case determine what defenses are available. Some of the most common defenses used by Orange County criminal defense attorneys to hit and run charges are:
In order to convict a driver of hit and run, the District Attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver KNEW they were involved in an accident and that they KNEW that property had been damaged. If it is reasonable that a driver didn’t know that property was damaged or that they were even involved in the accident, then this is a defense that your hit and run attorney can raise.
For example, Dan was backing up a fully-loaded cement truck when it barely struck the bumper of a small car, barely scratching it. Dan never felt the impact and never even knew he had been involved in a collision.
Damage only to the driver’s vehicle
When a driver is involved in an accident and the only damage sustained is to the driver’s own vehicle, this does NOT trigger a duty to stop and present information. So, for example, if Denise rear-ends another car, damaging her own car but not the other vehicle, then she is not required to stop and present information.
No proof of who was driving
Often, a hit and run driver is tracked down after a witness describes the vehicle or copies the license number. But a vehicle description or license number can only identify the vehicle that was involved in an accident, not who was driving the vehicle. Just because the vehicle is registered to a particular person doesn’t mean that that person was the driver. And in order to convict a person of hit and run the prosecutor must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the accused was actually driving at the time of the accident. If the driver has not admitted to driving, this can be difficult for the DA to prove. Moreover, an admission may be suppressed if made in violation of the driver’s Miranda rights.
Penalties For Misdemeanor Hit And Run (Property Damage Only)
Jail, Probation and Fines
A hit and run prosecuted under Vehicle Code §20002 (Duty where property is damaged) is punishable by up to six months in the Orange County jail and a fine of up to $1,000.00. It is common in hit and run cases for the driver to also be prosecuted for DUI, which also carries possible jail time. If the judge sentences you to less than the six-months in jail, you will be put on probation for up to three years. Usually this is “informal” probation and you will have no probation officer to report to but if you commit another crime or violate the terms of your probation during the three-year period you could be given the remainder of the jail time.
The court will also impose the condition that the defendant must make restitution to the victim for any loss. Even if the accident turns out to be the “victims’” fault, the court can still make the defendant pay for damages as a deterrent and a punishment.
A conviction for hit and run carries a two-point penalty on your driver’s license.
In misdemeanor cases not involving alcohol or drugs, an experienced hit and run lawyer will explore options to get the hit and run dismissed. One possibility is for your criminal defense attorney to negotiate a plea deal with the District Attorney whereby the case gets dismissed if the driver attends a class. This is called Deferred Entry of Judgment and it is an extremely valuable plea option because it allows the driver to escape ANY conviction on their record as long as the driver successfully complies with the terms of the agreement.
Another favorite option for The Law Offices of EJ Stopyro is the “Civil Compromise”. (California Penal Code Section 1377) In this case, if the facts aren’t bad and the defendant has a good record, the District Attorney can be persuaded to dismiss the charges altogether if the defendant makes restitution to the victim and if the defendant’s hit and run lawyer gets a statement from the victim stating that he or she does not desire prosecution.
Felony Hit and Run (Injury or Death)
Jail, Probation and Fines
Hit and run prosecuted under Vehicle Code §20001 (Duty to stop at scene of injury accident) is punishable by imprisonment in the Orange County Jail for up to one year or by imprisonment in the California state prison for a period of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years. That’s why it is important to consult with a hit and run lawyer as soon as possible. Conviction also includes a fine between $1,000.00 and $10,000.00. Of course any fine imposed by the court will include a “penalty assessment” which is essentially a court-imposed tax of about 200%. If you do not receive the maximum sentence, you will be placed on probation (or parole) for up to five years. This could be informal probation if it is charged as a misdemeanor or formal probation for a felony.
If you are facing charges for hit and run, you need to talk to an experienced Orange County hit and run lawyer who works in the Orange County courthouse where your case is being prosecuted. Judges and DAs all have their own policies and procedures so you need a criminal defense lawyer who knows the judges and DAs who will be handling your case.