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 in an action known as hit and run.
When someone leaves the scene of an accident, they can face criminal charges. If you’ve been in a felony hit and run in California, you need legal help immediately. Call Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC. 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.
What Are Your Duties After an Accident?
Under California law, a person involved in an accident can be charged with a crime if they leave the scene too early.
If you are involved in an accident that injures or kills someone, 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, you could be charged with a hit and run crime.
Even if you just 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 hit and runs can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor.
Hit and Run Felony
Leaving the scene of an accident involving the injury or death of a person can be charged 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
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 when the only property was damaged 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 Elements of a California Hit and Run?
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).
The prosecutor must prove each of these elements of a hit and run charge beyond a reasonable doubt. If one of these elements is not proven, you may have your charge reduced or dismissed.
What Are Defenses to a California Hit and Run?
Your defense attorney will attempt to prove that one of the hit and run elements is missing or cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If your defense attorney proves that you did not meet one element of a hit and run charge, your charge can be reduced or dismissed.
For instance, the following defenses may apply to your case:
- You were not aware that you were in an auto accident;
- You weren’t aware that your actions caused an accident;
- You notified a police dispatcher, but officers never showed up;
- You had to leave the scene of the accident to avoid immediate harm;
- You had to take someone to the hospital; or
- You were the only one injured in the accident.
There are many legal strategies available for your hit and run charge. An experienced criminal attorney 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. Call the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, to discuss your hit and run legal options. Our attorneys have defended hundreds of clients against criminal charges, and we can assist you, too.
Contact our criminal defense attorneys for a free consultation. 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.