California Vehicle Code stipulates actions to be taken by a driver involved in an accident. The law requires a driver to stop at the accident scene, provide aid to injured parties, provide insurance details, and even report the accident to authorities. However, most drivers panic after an accident, thereby fleeing the accident scene without providing the necessary information as per the law. If this happens, the driver could face a California hit and run charge.
Hit and run accidents can result in both misdemeanor and felony charges. A misdemeanor hit and run occurs if the accident only caused property damage. If the accident caused injury or death to another person, it can be charged as a felony offense.
At Koenig Law Office, we understand the complexity of hit and run cases and the potential consequences involved. Our criminal defense team is dedicated to protecting your rights and helping you navigate the legal system. We will work tirelessly to investigate your case, gather evidence, and build a strong defense strategy to help you achieve the best possible outcome. Get in touch with us if you are facing charges of hit and run in Bakersfield, CA.
What the Law Require Drivers to Do After an Accident
California Vehicle Code sections 20001, 20002, 20003, and 20004 outline the legal obligations of a driver involved in an accident, and failure to comply with these requirements can result in criminal charges and legal consequences.
Stopping at the scene of the accident
Under Vehicle Code section 20001, if you are involved in an accident where there is injury or death to another person, you must stop immediately at the accident scene. A driver is required to stop even if they are not the one who caused the accident or injury.
You are also required to stop if you damage property. The duty to stop applies even if the accident happens on private property.
Providing aid to any injured parties
If there is injury or death to another person, you are required to provide reasonable assistance or transportation to any injured parties, including calling for medical help if necessary. This is outlined in Vehicle Code section 20003.
Exchanging contact and insurance information
Under Vehicle Code section 20002, if the accident only caused property damage, you are required to provide your contact and insurance information to the other parties involved in the accident or to law enforcement.
Furthermore, Vehicle Code 16025 requires drivers to carry evidence of financial responsibility for their vehicles. This law mandates that drivers keep proof of insurance coverage in their vehicles at all times and present it to a law enforcement officer upon request.
Under Vehicle Code 16025, the evidence of financial responsibility can take the form of an insurance policy, a certificate of self-insurance issued by the DMV, or a cash deposit of $35,000 with the DMV. Proof of insurance must include the name of the insurance company, the policy number, and the dates of coverage. Failure to comply with this regulation is an infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of $250.
Reporting the accident to law enforcement
If the accident caused injury, death, or property damage over $1,000, you must report the accident to law enforcement within 24 hours. This is outlined in Vehicle Code section 20004. Failure to report the accident can result in criminal charges and legal consequences.
In summary, if you are involved in an accident, the law requires you to stop at the scene of the accident, provide aid to any injured parties, exchange contact and insurance information, and report the accident to law enforcement if necessary.
While the above steps seem straightforward, you cannot be presumed guilty — the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. The prosecution should prove all elements of the crime to convict you of a hit-and-run offense. Let’s look at felony hit & run and misdemeanor hit & run and what the prosecutor must prove.
Hit and Run under VEH 20001
A felony hit and run under VEH 20001 is a criminal offense that occurs when a driver involved in an accident fails to stop and provide necessary information or render aid, and the accident results in injury or death to another person. Because of this, felony hit & run is sometimes known as hit & run with injury. This means that the driver caused bodily harm to someone else and failed to fulfill their legal obligations under the California Vehicle Code section 20001.
A hit and run can be charged as a felony if it resulted in injury or death to another person, regardless of whether the injury is minor or severe.
The prosecution must prove:
- You were involved in an accident.
- The accident resulted in injury or death to another person.
- You knew or should have known that the accident resulted in injury or death.
- You fled the scene, failed to render aid or assistance to any person injured in the accident (including transporting them to a hospital or physician if necessary), or acted with criminal negligence (meaning you acted in a reckless or careless manner that created a high risk of death or injury to another person).
A violation of VEH 20001 is a wobbler. A felony hit & run typically occurs if another party (apart from the defendant) died or received permanent or serious injury. In this case, the defendant can be punished by:
- Two, three, or four years in jail.
- A fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.
- Felony probation instead of prison term.
A misdemeanor typically occurs if only property was damaged, and no other party (apart from the defendant) was injured or died. Thus, if you are charged with a felony hit & run, your defense attorney can help have the charges reduced to a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor carries 90 days to one year in county jail (or misdemeanor probation) and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.
Misdemeanor Hit and Run under VEH 20002
A misdemeanor hit & run occurs if the accident resulted in only minor property damage. The defendant should have known that the accident resulted in property damage but fled the scene without providing the necessary information.
This offense is punishable by:
- Up to $1,000 in fines.
- Up to 6 months in county jail.
Other Penalties for Hit and Run Charges
Apart from the criminal penalties for hit and run, there can be other consequences as well. These consequences can include civil liability for damages caused by the accident, higher insurance premiums, and the loss of driving privileges.
Civil liability can result in the driver being sued for damages caused by the accident, including property damage, medical bills, and lost wages. The driver may also be required to pay for any other damages that resulted from the accident, such as damage to public property or other vehicles.
In addition, the driver's insurance company may increase their premiums, as hit and run is considered a serious offense that increases the risk of future accidents. The driver may also have difficulty finding insurance in the future.
Finally, hit and run convictions can result in the loss of driving privileges. A driver's license may be suspended or revoked, making it difficult to get to work, school, or other important activities.
Possible Defense Strategies
There are various defense strategies that can have your charges dropped or reduced.
There was an Emergency that Would Make it Impossible to Stop
This defense applies when you reasonably believed that someone involved in the accident needed immediate medical attention, and leaving the scene was necessary to get that help.
For example, let's say that you were driving home late at night and suddenly hit a pedestrian who appeared out of nowhere. You stop your car, but the pedestrian appears to be unconscious and is bleeding heavily. You realize that you are in a remote area without any cell phone reception, and the nearest hospital is miles away. In this situation, you may decide to leave the scene of the accident to get help for the pedestrian as quickly as possible.
For this defense to be successful, you must demonstrate that leaving the scene of the accident was the only reasonable option to get help and that you did not cause the accident intentionally or through gross negligence.
Lack of Intent
In this defense, you must demonstrate that you did not have the intent to avoid responsibility or cause harm and that you had no knowledge that an accident had occurred.
As an example, John is driving his car on the freeway when he hears a loud noise but doesn't feel an impact. He assumes that the noise was just a blown tire or some other issue with his car, so he continues driving. Later, he finds out that the noise was actually an accident with another vehicle, and that he had hit the other car without realizing it. In this situation, John may be able to use the defense of lack of intent because he did not know that he had caused an accident and did not intentionally leave the scene.
Mistaken identity occurs many times in criminal cases. Here is an example:
Sarah is driving her car on a busy street when she hears a loud crash. She pulls over to see what happened and realizes that another car has been in an accident. As she approaches the scene, a bystander points at her and tells the police that she was the one who caused the accident and fled the scene. Despite her protests that she wasn't involved, Sarah is arrested and charged with hit and run.
In this situation, Sarah may be able to use the defense of mistaken identity to prove that she was not the driver who caused the accident. She could argue that the bystander misidentified her as the driver, and she was not even in the vicinity at the time of the accident.
To use the mistaken identity defense, Sarah would need to provide evidence that supports her claim, such as surveillance footage from nearby businesses or testimony from witnesses who can verify her whereabouts at the time of the accident.
No Injury or Death
This defense can be used if you are facing felony hit and run charges. If successful, you might have the charges dropped or reduced to misdemeanor hit & run with no injury.
You will need to provide evidence to support the claim that there was no injury or death. This can include police reports, witness statements, or other documentation. Note that even if there were no injuries at the time of the accident, injuries may arise later, and you could still be held liable.
Crimes Related to California Hit and Run
There are different driving crimes that can be charged alongside or instead of hit and run. Here are some of these offenses.
Driving without a license – VC 12500a
Driving without a valid driver's license is a violation of Vehicle Code Section 12500(a). This offense occurs when a person operates a motor vehicle on a California roadway without a valid driver's license or with an expired license.
The penalties for a violation of VC 12500a can include fines and/or imprisonment. For a first offense, the fine can be up to $250, and the court may also impose a penalty assessment, which can significantly increase the total amount owed. A second or subsequent offense can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail.
Driving under the influence (DUI) – VC 23152a
Under Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), DUI occurs when a person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, or when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
The penalties for a violation of VC 23152a can include fines, jail time, and a suspension of the driver's license. For a first offense, the penalties can include a fine of up to $2,000, up to six months in jail, and a license suspension of up to six months. For a second or subsequent offense, the penalties can be more severe, including longer jail time, larger fines, and longer license suspensions.
In addition to the criminal penalties, a DUI conviction can result in increased insurance rates, mandatory attendance at an alcohol treatment program, and other consequences that can impact a person's life and future opportunities.
Vehicular manslaughter – PC 192c
Vehicular manslaughter occurs when a person causes the death of another person while driving a vehicle and engaging in negligent or unlawful behavior.
There are two types of vehicular manslaughter under PC 192(c): misdemeanor and felony vehicular manslaughter.
Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter occurs when a person causes the death of another person while driving a vehicle and engaging in ordinary negligence, which is a lesser degree of negligence than gross negligence. The potential penalty is a maximum of one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Felony vehicular manslaughter occurs when a person causes the death of another person while driving a vehicle and engaging in gross negligence, which is a higher degree of negligence than ordinary negligence. Gross negligence can include actions such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, reckless driving, or excessive speeding. Felony vehicular manslaughter can result in up to six years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
DUI causing injury — Vehicle Code 23153
This offense occurs when a person causes bodily injury to another person while driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
The penalties for a violation of VC 23153 can include fines, imprisonment, and a suspension of the driver's license. For a first offense, the penalties can include a fine of up to $5,000, up to one year in county jail, and a license suspension of up to three years. For a second or subsequent offense, the penalties can be more severe, including longer jail time, larger fines, and longer license suspensions.
In addition to the criminal penalties, a conviction for DUI causing injury can also result in increased insurance rates, mandatory attendance at an alcohol treatment program, and other consequences that can impact a person's life and future opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Hit and Run in California
Can a hit and run conviction impact my ability to obtain a professional license or secure employment?
Yes, a conviction can have significant consequences beyond the criminal penalties. Depending on the specific profession or industry, a conviction for hit and run may prevent you from obtaining or renewing a professional license, such as a license to practice law, medicine, or real estate. Additionally, some employers may view a hit and run conviction as a red flag and may be hesitant to hire someone with this type of criminal record. Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you understand the potential consequences of a conviction and explore your options for minimizing the impact on your future.
If I was not aware that I was involved in an accident, can I still be charged with hit and run in California?
You can still be charged with hit and run in California even if you were not aware that you were involved in an accident. California law requires drivers to stop immediately at the scene of an accident and provide their contact information, insurance information, and driver's license information to any other involved parties or law enforcement officers. Failure to do so, regardless of whether you were aware of the accident or not, can result in hit and run charges. However, if you can demonstrate that you were genuinely unaware of the accident, you may be able to defend against the charges.
Can a hit and run conviction be expunged from my criminal record in California?
It is possible to expunge a hit and run conviction from your criminal record. Expungement is a legal process that allows you to petition the court to remove the conviction from your record. If the court grants your petition, the conviction will be set aside and the charges will be dismissed. However, even if the conviction is expunged, it may still appear on certain background checks and may impact your ability to obtain certain jobs or licenses. Consult with a criminal defense attorney to determine if expungement is a viable option for your specific situation.
What are the potential civil liabilities for a hit and run accident, in addition to criminal penalties?
In addition to criminal penalties, a hit and run accident can result in significant civil liabilities. In some cases, the damages may be significant, particularly if the victim suffered serious injuries or death. Thus, you may be sued by the victim or their family for damages, including medical expenses, wrongful death, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If I am injured, can I still face charges for hit and run?
The law requires all drivers involved in an accident to remain at the scene. However, you may suffer injuries that need immediate medical attention. In such a case, you should call 911 or have someone do so (or call an emergency medical team) for you. If you can, take photos of the scene and report the accident to authorities.
How does the severity of the injuries or damages caused by a hit and run accident impact the potential penalties?
The severity of the injuries or damages caused by a hit and run accident can impact the potential penalties for the defendant. If the accident resulted in minor injuries or property damage, they may face misdemeanor charges with penalties that may include fines, community service, and possible jail time. If the accident resulted in serious injury or death, they may face felony charges with more severe penalties, including longer prison sentences, larger fines, and a potential strike on their criminal record.
Find a Hit and Run Attorney Near Me
It is normal to panic after an accident, leading a driver to flee the scene. You might have also left the scene because of an emergency or it just wasn’t practical or safe to stay there. Either way, you will find yourself facing charges for hit and run. You will need an expert defense attorney to represent you and explain the circumstances that led to your action. An attorney can also study the charges leveled against you to devise a suitable defense strategy. If you are in Bakersfield, California, and need legal assistance after being charged with a hit and run, contact the Koenig Law Office at 661-793-7222 today.