When a traumatic event like a car accident occurs, people sometimes panic. People may even do things they later regret.
Sadly, this momentary panic may cause people to flee the scene of an accident and therefore commit a felony hit-and-run in California.
When someone leaves the scene of an accident, they can face criminal charges.
If after your car accident (either with a pedestrian, another car, or a fixed object) you leave the scene without stopping and taking additional actions, it is a crime. The California Vehicle Code outlines hit-and-run laws, and law-enforcement heavily enforces them.
Our criminal defense attorneys have gone to trial over 150 times, helping defendants accused of all sorts of crimes preserve their freedom.
If you would like more information about California hit-and-run laws, keep reading.
Understanding What Hit-and-Run Means
The term “hit-and-run” is interchangeable with leaving the scene of an accident or fleeing an accident. Whether a person caused an accident is usually the focus of a car accident investigation. But in felony-hit-and-run California cases, the law addresses what someone does in the aftermath of an accident.
The Basics of California Hit-and-Run Laws
California Vehicle Code sections 20001-20003 address California hit-and-run laws. You may have violated the law if you:
- Are involved in an automobile accident that results in property damage or injury;
- Fail to immediately stop and exchange information or to leave information in a place where it will be discovered; and
- Fail to render aid and call authorities as needed.
Below are some detailed answers to FAQs regarding these violations.
What Are Your Duties After an Accident?
Under California law, if you are involved in an accident resulting in injury or death, you are required to:
- Stop your vehicle and remain at the scene,
- Provide identification and insurance to the other parties involved,
- Provide identification and insurance to police officers, and
- Provide reasonable help to any injured party.
Even if the accident was another driver’s fault, you still have a duty to stop, report, and render aid if you can do so.
If you do not complete these requirements, law enforcement may charge you with a hit-and-run crime.
Even if you only damage someone’s property in an accident, you still have a duty to stop.
In that case, you need to either inform the person or leave a written note explaining what happened.
Your notice should include your contact information.
What Is the Punishment for Hit and Run in California?
California law defines hit-and-run as a felony or misdemeanor. The penalties are more significant if your actions are a felony versus a misdemeanor.
Hit-and-Run Felony in California
Leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death as a felony hit and run in California.
If someone was injured but not killed, the prosecutor has the discretion to charge the crime as a misdemeanor.
Punishment for a felony hit and run when a person was permanently injured or killed includes (California Vehicle Code Section 20001):
- Up to four years in prison and
- Up to a $10,000 fine.
If someone was seriously injured or killed in an accident, you must request emergency help or you may be charged with a felony hit and run.
Hit and Run Misdemeanor in California
Punishment for a misdemeanor hit and run when a person was injured or killed includes (California Vehicle Code Section 20001):
- Up to a year in jail and
- Up to a $1,000 fine.
The hit and run California driver may receive an additional five years in prison if either of these conditions applies (California Vehicle Code Section 20001):
- The driver was intoxicated, killed someone in an accident, and fled the scene, or
- The driver was driving unlawfully, with gross negligence, killed someone in an accident, and fled the scene.
Punishment for a hit and run may involve lesser penalties.
Court’s Penalty Considerations
When ordering fines for a hit and run, the court considers the defendant’s ability to pay the fine.
The hit-and-run law says that “in the interests of justice” the court may reduce the fine to less than the law mandates.
To take advantage of the court’s potential leniency, you will benefit from having an experienced criminal defense attorney.
A skilled hit-and-run California attorney can persuade the judge or jury that justice in your case requires a lower penalty than is required by the statute.
Your financial and freedom interests depend on convincing the judge or jury that you deserve leniency.
An experienced criminal lawyer can help you make a convincing argument.
What Are the California Law Hit-and-Run Elements?
To convict you of a hit and run involving injury or death, the prosecutor must prove these four points:
- You were involved in an auto accident,
- You were aware that you were involved in an accident,
- You knew that someone was injured or killed in the accident or would likely be injured or killed, and
- You intentionally did not complete one or all of the statutory requirements (stop, notify police, exchange information, render aid).
If the prosecutor does not prove one (or more) of these elements, the court likely will drop or dismiss the charges or you will be found not guilty at trial.
What Are Examples of Defenses to Felony Hit-and-Run in California?
When you are involved in a felony hit-and-run in California, your lawyer will work to have your charge reduced or dismissed. Some common defenses include lack of knowledge or the presence of an emergency.
For instance, the following defenses may apply to a case.
The Driver Was Not Aware That They Were in an Auto Accident or Violated a California Hit-and-Run Law
In this day and age, many people drive large SUVs and pickup trucks. These vehicles absorb impact well. Therefore a heavy vehicle may back up and hit another car. The SUV driver may feel little or no impact and pull away from the scene, considering it a minor issue, only later to find that they did in fact injure someone.
This also may occur if a driver pulls away, not knowing that someone was in the other car (for instance, swiping a vehicle parked on the side of an expressway that they assumed is abandoned) and that they have caused an injury.
An impact that one driver may consider minor may be jarring enough to cause nerve damage or even brain trauma to another, unbeknownst to that driver.
The Driver Left the Scene of the Accident to Avoid Immediate Harm
It may be defensible for a driver to leave a scene before help arrives if the other driver or their passengers threatened them. Also, a defense could be leaving because the driver felt unsafe in the area where they were waiting for police help.
The Driver Had to Take Someone to the Hospital or Faced Another Emergency
Sometimes in a true emergency, a driver leaves the scene to take someone to the hospital. For instance, if they were driving a person in labor to the hospital at the time or if they needed to seek immediate care for a severely injured victim of the crash, this could serve as a defense to felony hit-and-run in California.
There are many legal strategies available for your hit-and-run charge. Our team at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, knows California hit-and-run laws and how to defend you fairly and legally.
We are experienced criminal attorneys and will use every available legal defense to get your hit-and-run charge reduced or dismissed
Do You Need a California Hit and Run Attorney?
A California hit and run attorney can help you prepare a strong defense to your hit and run charge.
The experienced team at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC is ready to discuss your hit-and-run legal options.
Our attorneys have defended hundreds of clients against criminal charges, and we can assist you, too.
We’ll discuss your case and let you know how we can help get your case reduced or dismissed.
If you need compassionate, skilled criminal defense, give us a call today to schedule a free consultation.