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Hit & Run

Hit And Run

Driving an automobile requires complying with the rules of the road and following proper protocol after being involved in an accident. Drivers have a legal duty to stop and provide identifying information after being involved in an accident. Failure to stop and provide identification after being involved in an accident is known as a “hit and run” and it is a crime in California. Being charged with a hit and run can result in serious legal penalties including expensive fines, gaining a criminal record, and even incarceration. Investing in an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the legal proceedings is the best course of action to avoid conviction and these negative consequences. Southwest Legal employs a top-rated criminal defense attorney in Riverside County with decades of experience defending people who have been charged with hit and runs. If you’ve been charged with a hit and run, call Southwest Legal today for a free consultation and take the first step toward beating your case!

Elements For Hit And Run

A hit and run is defined under California Vehicle Codes 20001 and 20002 as the failure to stop and provide identifying information after being involved in an automobile accident that resulted in property damage or personal injury. After being involved in an accident, drivers must present their driver’s license, vehicle registration, and current residential address to everyone else involved in the accident. If there is an accident involving a parked car and the other driver is not present, the driver who caused the accident must leave a note in an obvious location that contains their name, home address, and a brief description of what happened. 

Vehicle Code 20001 makes it a felony for a driver involved in an accident to leave the scene when someone has been injured or killed.

There are four elements the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant under VC 20001:

  1. The defendant was driving before being involved in the accident.
  2. The accident injured or killed someone other than the defendant.

3.   The defendant knew or should have known another person was hurt by the accident.  

4. The defendant willfully failed to do any of the following:

a. Pull over at the scene of the accident

b. Provide reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured.

c. Provide identifying information to the injured person or a police officer.

The prosecution must prove the defendant was the one driving before the accident to secure a conviction for a felony hit and run. Passengers of a vehicle involved in a hit and run cannot be convicted. The driver need not have caused the accident, merely being involved in the accident requires the driver to fulfill their legal duties. A driver who is not at fault in an accident must still stop and provide their identifying information and provide reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured. For example, a driver is rear-ended at an intersection but suffers no injury as a result. However, the driver who rear-ended them is bleeding out of their forehead. The rear-ended driver must stop, give their identifying information to the other driver (if the other driver is unconscious or otherwise unable to receive the information it must be provided to law enforcement when they arrive at the scene), and provide reasonable assistance to the bleeding driver (e.g. calling the paramedics). 

The prosecution must also prove that someone other than the defendant was injured or killed by the accident. If only the defendant themself is harmed by the accident they cannot be convicted of felony hit and run. Another person must be hurt by the accident for a defendant to be convicted under VC 20001.

The prosecution must prove the defendant knew or should have known, another person was injured or killed by the accident. Drivers have a duty to check in on each other after being involved in an accident. If one driver requires medical attention the other driver is expected to call 911. A driver can still be convicted of felony hit and run even if they don’t have actual knowledge that someone was hurt or killed by the accident if they should have known. For example, a van crashes into a sedan’s driver-side door in the middle of an intersection. The van driver does not stop or check on the sedan driver before fleeing the scene. Even though the van driver could say they didn’t know for certain whether anyone was injured they should have known that “t-boning” another vehicle has an extremely high likelihood of causing serious injury. Therefore the van driver in this example could be convicted of felony hit and run even without actual knowledge that another person was harmed.  

Finally, the prosecution must prove the defendant willfully failed to perform any of the following duties after an accident:

  1. Pull over
  2. Provide reasonable assistance to anyone harmed by the accident
  3. Provide identifying information   

If a defendant fails to perform even one of these duties this element of the crime will be satisfied. “Reasonable assistance” means contacting paramedics to provide medical care for the injured party. A driver does not need to provide medical care themselves however if they do begin treating an injured driver they may be liable for any harm caused by that treatment and they must continue the treatment until professionals arrive. It is generally best not to treat an injured driver because it creates added liability and calling for professional help should always be the first response. This element of the crime requires the defendant to act “willfully” i.e. intentionally. A defendant who only accidentally fails to perform their duties cannot be convicted of felony hit and run. For example, a driver hits a parked vehicle and leaves a note on the windshield before driving off. However, a man was sleeping in the parked vehicle’s backseat and was injured by the accident. Even though the driver failed to provide reasonable assistance to the injured man, the driver did not do so willfully because he had no reason to believe there was someone in the vehicle. Therefore the driver cannot be convicted of felony hit and run because his failure to provide reasonable assistance was not willful.    

Vehicle Code 20002 makes it a misdemeanor for a driver involved in an accident to leave the scene when the property has been damaged.

Four elements must be satisfied to secure a conviction under VC 20002:

  1. The defendant was driving before being involved in an accident
  2. The accident damaged property belonging to someone other than the defendant 
  3. The defendant knew or reasonably should have known someone else’s property was damaged 
  4. The defendant willfully failed to do any of the following:

a. Pull over at the scene of the accident

b. Provide identifying information.

As with felony hit and run, the prosecution must prove the defendant was driving when the accident occurred. Passengers of a vehicle involved in an accident cannot be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run. Also, like felony hit and run, a driver who is not at fault must still stop and provide identifying information.  

The prosecution must also prove the accident-damaged property belonging to someone other than the defendant. If only the defendant’s vehicle is damaged it is insufficient to satisfy this element. However, any damage to other vehicles (including minor dents or dings), public property (e.g. traffic signs, benches, etc.), personal property, or real property (e.g. lawns, gardens, etc.) will satisfy this element. For example, a driver loses control of their vehicle and drives through shrubbery on someone’s property damaging it. The driver must stop and provide identifying information to the homeowner because the vehicle damaged the shrubbery (if the homeowner is not available the driver must leave a note with their contact information.)

The prosecution must prove the defendant knew or should have known someone else’s property was damaged. For example, a driver’s rear bumper is hit by another vehicle while at a stop sign. The driver thinks it wasn’t a big deal and drives away without checking on the status of the vehicle that hit him. Even though the driver was not at fault, they still could be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run if the vehicle that hit them was damaged. Drivers should stop and confirm whether any vehicles were damaged even after minor “bumps.”  

Finally, the prosecution must prove the defendant either willfully failed to stop at the scene or provide their identifying information. As stated above, willfully means intentionally. For example, two drivers get into an accident and pull over to inspect the damage. One driver complains that their bumper was damaged by the accident and the other driver responds “You can hardly even notice it. It’s basically nothing. I don’t have time for this” before getting back in his vehicle and driving away. The driver who left without providing his identifying information has satisfied this element of the crime. 

Legal Penalties For Hit And Run

Felony hit and run can result in up to 4 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. 

A misdemeanor hit and run can result in up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Legal Defenses Against Hit And Run

Three common defenses against felony hit and run are:

1. Showing the accident did not cause any injury or death

2. Showing it was unsafe to stop 

3. Showing the defendant was not the driver

When a defendant can show that no one was injured or killed by the accident they will defeat a felony hit and run charge. For example, two drivers get into an accident and the driver responsible for the accident determines the other driver is unharmed then drives away without providing his information. However, the other driver got the license plate of the responsible driver and calls the police. Upset the responsible driver did not provide his information, the other driver decides to fake neck pain to accuse them of a felony hit and run. However, the responsible driver’s attorney obtains medical records showing the other driver was not injured by the accident. Therefore the responsible driver will not be convicted of felony hit and run (however he may be guilty of misdemeanor hit and run if the other vehicle was damaged by the accident.). 

A defendant can also defend against a hit and run charge by showing it was unsafe for them to stop after the accident. For example, two drivers get in an accident and pull over on the side of the highway. One of the drivers is furious about the accident and exits his vehicle brandishing a knife. The other driver sees the angry knife-wielding driver and immediately drives away in fear. The driver who drove away can defeat a hit-and-run charge by showing it was unsafe for him to stop due to the other driver’s behavior. 

Another way to defeat a hit-and-run charge is to show the defendant was not the one driving at the time of the accident. For example, a man borrows his friend’s car for the weekend and gets into an accident. The man does not stop or provide identification but the other driver gets the license plate number before the man drives away. The other driver calls the police who use the license plate number to track down the friend. However, the friend can show he lent his car to the man and was not driving at the time of the accident thereby defeating the hit and run charge. 

Three common defenses against misdemeanor hit and run are:

  1. Showing there was no property damage
  2. Showing the defendant did not realize there was an accident
  3. The drivers agreed to a civil compromise 

When a defendant can show no one else’s property was damaged by the accident they cannot be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run. If only the defendant’s property was damaged it is insufficient for a misdemeanor hit and run conviction. For example, a driver hits a car while parking and dents his own vehicle. The car he hit however is unscathed. Therefore the driver cannot be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run because only his own property was damaged. 

The defendant can also defeat a hit and run charge by showing they honestly did not know they were in an accident. For example, a driver bumps the rear fender of another vehicle on the highway during a heavy rainstorm. The heavy rain prevents the driver from realizing they hit the other vehicle. If the driver can show the weather prevented them from realizing they were in an accident they cannot be convicted of a hit and run. 

If a defendant can show they reached a civil agreement with the other driver they cannot be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run. For example, two drivers are involved in an accident and pull over to the side of the road. One of the drivers admits fault, expresses a desire not to get insurance companies involved, and offers to pay for the repairs himself. The other driver estimates it will cost $500 to repair his car and the at-fault driver writes him a check for that amount. The other driver accepts the check and they leave without exchanging information. Neither driver can be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run because they reached an agreement. 

What To Do If You’ve Been Charged With A Hit And Run

Failure to stop and provide identifying information after being involved in an accident can result in severe legal penalties. If the accident injured or killed someone, failure to stop and provide identification is a felony that can result in years of jail time. At a minimum, failure to stop and identify oneself after an accident can lead to a costly fine. The best course of action to avoid these negative consequences is to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney to defend you in court. Southwest Legal is staffed by top-rated Riverside criminal defense attorneys who are equipped to advocate on your behalf. If you’ve been charged with a hit and run, call Southwest Legal today for a free consultation and begin the process of beating your case!