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California Hit and Runs Explained

Misdemeanor vs. Felony

If you are involved in a car accident which ends up causing damage to someone else’s property, and you leave the scene without properly identifying yourself to the other parties involved, you could be arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor hit and run.

A misdemeanor hit and run (Vehicle Code section 20002) can be punishable by:

  • Up 6 months in jail;
  • 2 points on your driving record;
  • A fine not exceeding $1,000 (plus fees and assessments);
  • Victim restitution; and
  • Up to 3 years of informal probation.

If the car accident results in injury to a person, you can be convicted of a felony hit and run. The consequences of which are similar to a misdemeanor, but more severe.

A felony hit and run (Vehicle Code section 20001) can be punishable by:

  • Up to 3 years in prison;
  • 2 points on your driving record;
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000 (plus fees and assessments);
  • Victim restitution; and
  • Up to 5 years of formal probation.

If you are the perpetrator of a hit and run, the amount of damage caused to person or property doesn’t matter; if there is any damage at all, the accident can be a V.C. 20002, and if there is any bodily harm, the accident can be a V.C. 20001.

If You are Guilty of a Hit and Run

If you are found guilty of a hit and run, you will incur 2 points on your driver’s license. If you receive a total of 4 points on your driver’s license over one year, 6 points over 2 years or 8 points over 3 years the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) will automatically issue a 1-year suspension of your license.

In order to be found guilty, a prosecutor must prove that:

  • You drove and were involved in the accident.
  • The accident caused damage to someone else’s property or injury to someone other than yourself.
  • You knew you were in an accident that caused damage to someone else’s property or injury to someone other than yourself; or you knew you were in an accident and should have known from the nature of the accident it was probable that damage to someone else’s property or injury to someone other than yourself was caused; and
  • You failed to stop and/or provide your personal information to the property owner and/or injured party.

When to Involve the Police

If the owner is present, and you exchange necessary information with them, there is no requirement for either party to contact the police, although either party may request police take a report.

If you have an accident with a parked car, fence, telephone pole, or other situation where the property owner is not physically present, you are required to leave your name and address on a note in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or damaged property, AND without delay notify the local police or Highway Patrol.

It is not a crime merely to have an accident, but it is a crime not to tell the police about the accident if you caused property damage and the owner was not physically present to exchange information with.

You’re NOT guilty of a hit and run if:

  • You were not the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident.
  • You did not cause any damage or injuries to another party (damage or injury only to yourself is ok).
  • You didn’t know you were in an accident.
  • You knew you were in an accident, but didn’t know (and should not reasonably have known) that the accident resulted in damage or injury.
  • You provided your name and address to the property owner or injured party at the scene.
  • No one was present or injured, and you left a conspicuous notice on the damaged property, and you without delay called the police and acknowledged causing said property damage.

A Hit and Run case may also have other affirmative defenses as well, such as: emergency/necessity, duress, self-defense/defense-of-others, involuntary intoxication insanity, etc . . .

Know Your Rights

If the victim got a good look at your license plate, police may show up at your house and attempt to question you. You do not have to open the door. You do not need to step outside of your home and speak with police. You do not need to answer any of police’s questions. If police inform you they have an arrest warrant, at most, you should go outside and let them arrest you, but you should still not answer any interrogation questions. Often, all an officer needs to arrest you without a warrant after a Hit and Run is reported by a possible witness is your admission that the car outside is yours, or that you’ve driven it recently, or even ever. If you find yourself in this scenario, it’s important to get in contact with an experienced hit and run attorney.

5 factors to remember:

  1. Always give your name and contact information to the other driver/owner of the property at the scene of the accident.
  2. Be sure to get the other driver/ owner of the property’s contact information so you have evidence that you stopped and spoke with them.
  3. If the property owner isn’t present, leave a note AND contact the police.
  4. If suspected of a crime, do not answer any police questions (“I refuse to answer any questions without an attorney present”).
  5. Do not go outside to speak with police if you have reason to believe that you are under investigation for a hit and run.

Contact the Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse

If you have been arrested for, charged with, or have reason to believe you are being investigated for a hit and run, contact our law firm today. We are skilled attorneys who can help you fight your hit and run case.

Call us today at (888) 865-0741 or contact us onlinefor a FREE case consultation.