The offense of fleeing the scene of an auto accident, also commonly known as hit and run, is a serious traffic offense that can result in misdemeanor or felony penalties, depending on the facts of your case. If you are in police custody or under investigation as a culprit in a hit-and-run case, you should consult a skilled defense attorney to review your case details and legal options.
It could not seem like a big deal when you drive away after hitting an empty parked car on the roadside, but in the eyes of the law, it is a severe crime that could result in a jail term and other detrimental consequences. Fortunately, having an attorney in your corner can ease the stress of being arrested and increase your chances of fighting the charge for a favorable outcome.
Attorneys at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney can review your unique case to build defenses that can help prove your innocence for the best possible outcome of the alleged charge. In addition to the legal representation, we will offer you the legal advice you need to avoid self-incrimination during the prosecution process.
Understanding Hit and Run Charges
Undoubtedly, many motorists involved in a collision or an accident will panic and flee the accident scene without thinking of the consequences of their actions. According to Vehicle Code 20002, any driver involved in an accident that causes damage to a property, including another vehicle, should pull over at the closest location where he/she cannot interfere with traffic.
Even if you believe the accident liability is not yours, fleeing an accident scene is illegal under this statute. After an auto collision that has caused property damage, you should remain at the accident scene and do the following:
- Exchange your contact with the other party
- Exchange your insurance number with the other party
- Show your driver’s license to the other party if requested
- Give out your residence address if requested by the other party
- Leave a written notice with your name, address, and contact number in a conspicuous place in the damaged car if it was parked and empty
- Call the police
If the accident has led to an injury or death, you should remain at the accident scene and call an ambulance. Before an ambulance arrives at the accident scene, you can try your best to offer first aid to the injured victims. According to VC 20002, hit and run is typically a misdemeanor offense.
However, if the alleged hit and run case involves the injury or death of a driver, pedestrian, motorcyclist, or bicyclist, the prosecutor will pursue it as a felony under VC 20001. Depending on your case facts and criminal history, a felony hit and run charge could attract felony or misdemeanor penalties because it is a wobbler offense.
Whether the prosecutor will pursue the alleged crime as a misdemeanor under VC 20002 or a felony under VC 20001 depends entirely on the facts of your specific case. This article will focus on VC 20002 misdemeanor hit and run.
What to Remember When Accused of Hit and Run Offense
If you are under arrest for an alleged hit and run offense, you should remember you have constitutional protections. Typically, there are several restrictions on how law enforcement officers should behave towards you, pending the outcome of the alleged charge.
Knowing your constitutional rights when dealing with enforcement officers is critical to avoid self-incrimination and increase your odds of beating the alleged charge. Here is what to remember when you are in trouble with the law for an alleged hit and run charge under VC 20002:
You Have a Right to Humane Treatment
Upon an arrest, police should treat you in the most humane way possible, even if they believe the allegations you are facing are true. If the police deprive you of water or food after an arrest, you should discuss this issue with your attorney because it is unlawful.
You Have a Right to Stay Free From Unreasonable Searches
The 4th Amendment of the Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure by any law enforcement officer. That means a police officer cannot search your person or vehicle without a court warrant or probable cause.
You Have a Right to Stay Silent
According to the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, you also have a right against self-incrimination, which is possible when interacting with police officers. To avoid disclosing incriminating information to the officers unknowingly, you should remain silent if you are under arrest on suspicion that you are a suspect in a hit and run case.
You Have a Right to Have an Attorney on Your Side
It is also worth remembering that you have a right to have an attorney act as your voice during police questioning or court hearings to counter the alleged hit and run charge for a lighter charge or acquittal of the case.
Unless you are an attorney, you will need the services of a skilled defense attorney to act as your legal counsel and fight the alleged charge in court for the best possible outcome. Ensure the attorney you will decide to hire is:
- Available and accessible
- Friendly and courteous
If you do not have money to retain the services of an attorney, the court can appoint a public defender at your first court appearance to defend your legal rights during the prosecution process.
You Have a Right to a Speedy Trial
According to the 6th Amendment of the Constitution, as a defendant in the criminal justice system, you have a right to have a speedy trial by a jury within 60 days of your first court appearance or arraignment.
If you believe the police have violated your constitutional rights, you should discuss the issue with your attorney for the right cause of action. No matter how friendly a police officer could seem when interacting with you, remember that he/she is not on your side, but your defense attorney is.
Elements the Prosecutor Must Prove to Convict You for Misdemeanor Hit and Run Offense
To successfully convict you for the alleged hit and run offense under VC 20002, the prosecutor with jurisdiction over your case must prove the following facts at trial:
- While driving, you were involved in an auto accident
- The auto accident led to another person’s property damage
- You were aware or should have been aware that the accident led to another person’s property damage
- You willfully refused or failed to stop at the accident scene, or perhaps you failed to give out the following crucial information to the other party:
- Your vehicle registration number
- Your residence address
- Your name or the name of the owner of the vehicle you were driving if it was not yours
- Your vehicle insurance number
For the sake of Vehicle Code 20002, you commit an act “willfully” when you do it knowingly and on purpose. As mentioned in the previous section, if the accident led to the death or injury of another person, the prosecutor will pursue your case as a felony hit and run.
In that case, the prosecutor must prove that the accident led to the injury or death of another person to convict you of a VC 20001 violation. Other elements the prosecutor must prove for a conviction under this statute are similar to the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph for misdemeanor hit and run.
If the prosecutor’s evidence cannot convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the allegations you are up against are true, a conviction under VC 20002 cannot occur. Since this is the most tricky part of the criminal court system, you will rely on your defense attorney to raise defenses to convince the court to drop or reduce the alleged offense.
Best Defenses for a Hit and Run Charge
Generally speaking, there are several legal defenses that an experienced and skilled defense attorney could apply to counter a misdemeanor hit and run charge. Although every charge is unique, your defense attorney could raise unbeatable arguments using the following common viable defenses to counter the alleged hit and run offense for the best desirable outcome:
You Were Unaware an Accident Occurred
If you were unaware of your involvement in a collision or accident, a conviction for VC 20002 violation could not occur. Therefore, it would be reasonable to argue that even though you did flee the accident scene, you did not do so intentionally for dismissal of the hit and run allegations you are facing or a less severe charge.
You Unaware of the Property Damage
For a conviction under VC 20002, the prosecutor must prove that you were aware the accident caused another person’s property damage or should have known under those circumstances. Therefore, if you were unaware the accident led to property damage, the prosecutor cannot convict you for the alleged hit and run charge under VC 20002.
For instance, you could fail to notice the property damage on another person’s property if the accident’s impact was minor. Your defense attorney can raise doubt on the prosecutor’s case by arguing that you were unaware that the accident led to property damage for acquittal of the alleged case or a lighter charge.
You Were Not the Driver
To obtain a guilty verdict against you for VC 20002 violation, the prosecution team must convincingly prove to the jury that you were driving. Just because you are the registered legal owner of the involved car does not mean you were the one on the wheel when the alleged accident occurred.
For instance, your attorney can argue that you are the legal owner of the car involved in the crash, but you had loaned it to a cousin or a friend to run some errand when the alleged hit and run accident occurred.
Leaving the Accident Scene Was Undeliberate
It is also possible to challenge hit and run allegations by arguing that you did not leave the accident scene willfully. For instance, your attorney can argue that the accident scene was unsafe or you had an emergency health situation, necessitating you to leave immediately without exchanging your details with other parties involved.
Only Your Car Was Damaged
Of course, if the accident damages your property like your car, you cannot be guilty of the alleged hit and run offense under VC 20002. For instance, when you accidentally hit another vehicle in a parking lot, causing damage to your car headlight, the prosecutor cannot convict you for VC 20002 violation.
You Were Misidentified
The nature of most hit-and-run accident cases is that the suspect drives away too fast before anyone at the accident scene identifies his/her face. That means there are chances that an eyewitness could misidentify you as the culprit in the hit-and-run incident if he/she did not have a clear and closer look at the actual culprit.
An attorney with significant experience defending clients charged with various driving crimes, particularly hit and run, can apply several defenses to counter the allegation you are facing for the best possible outcome. The specific legal defenses your defense attorney will raise at trial will depend on the facts of your unique case.
Even if the alleged crime of hit and run was a felony, a skilled defense attorney could use the defenses explained above to achieve a less severe charge or dismissal of the case. With a skilled and dedicated defense attorney in your corner, you could manage to avoid criminal prosecution by working out a civil compromise with the owner of the damaged property.
A civil compromise is typically a legal process where the court can dismiss the criminal allegations you are facing if:
- The alleged crime is a misdemeanor and
- The victim of the offense has received adequate compensation from you for the damaged property
If the other party is willing to work out a civil compromise, you should be happy because doing so can help you avoid the lengthy criminal prosecution process, which could end with a conviction. In many cases, you could be eligible for a civil compromise under Penal Code 1377 if you are under arrest on suspicion that you are a suspect in a hit and run case unless:
- Being under the influence of alcohol or other controlled was the substantial cause of the accident
- You were driving beyond the designated speed limit of that location (speeding) which is illegal under VC 22350
Penalties for Misdemeanor Hit and Run Charge Conviction
The offense of hit and run under VC 20002 could result in the following penalties upon conviction at trial:
- Up to six (6) months jail term
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
- Payment of restitution to the owner of the damaged property
- A misdemeanor or informal probation for up to three (3) years
If you are eligible for misdemeanor probation instead of spending your sentence behind bars, the court will require you to comply with particular terms and conditions, including:
- Stay away from alcohol or any controlled drugs substance
- Perform community service
- Pay the required restitution to the owner of the damaged property
- Enroll in a counseling session
It is worth noting that the court could terminate your probation when you violate any of these conditions. When that happens, you will have to serve your remaining sentence for the hit-and-run conviction in jail. It could seem unjust or unfair to spend six months behind bars for accidentally hitting another person’s mailbox or fence, but as they say, “it is the law.”
Hence, it is wise to hire a dependable defense attorney to represent your best interest in court if you or a loved one is under investigation or arrest as a suspect in a hit-and-run case. A skilled and aggressive defense attorney could help you minimize or avoid the statutory consequences of a misdemeanor hit and run charge conviction.
Other Consequences of a Hit and Run Charge Conviction
Unfortunately, apart from jail time and hefty fines, a hit and run charge conviction could also result in other negative consequences. Regardless of whether your case is a misdemeanor or a felony, a conviction for a hit and run offense will result in the following negative consequences:
A Criminal Record
Even a misdemeanor hit and run charge conviction could result in a criminal record. Since this offense involves driving, finding reliable employment and housing could be challenging even after successfully serving your sentence.
Two Points on Your Driving Record
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) typically records all traffic accidents and convictions for future reference. A conviction for a misdemeanor hit and run under VC 20002 will attract two (2) points on your driving record. If you receive two or more points within the same 12-month period, the DMV will suspend or revoke your driver’s license.
It helps to work with an attorney if you are under arrest or investigation as a suspect in a hit-and-run case. Apart from being the only person you can trust during these confusing times, your defense attorney will be your voice at every stage of the criminal court system to fight for a favorable outcome on your behalf.
Crimes Related to Hit and Run
Depending on your specific case’s facts, the prosecutor could also file any of the following crimes under various sections of the Vehicle Code against you instead of or alongside the alleged hit and run offense:
Drunk Driving Under VC 23152(a)
As you could be aware, driving under the influence of alcohol or drunk driving is a criminal offense. According to VC 23152(a), you commit a drunk driving crime when you drive with any amount of alcohol in your blood system, regardless of your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) level.
That means you can be charged with a drunk driving offense when you display signs of impairment, even if the prosecutor has no evidence to prove that your BAC level was 0.08% or more. All a prosecutor needs to prove to secure a conviction against you for a drunk driving offense is:
- You were driving at the time of the arrest
- You were driving while impaired by alcohol
To prove you were driving while impaired by alcohol, the prosecutor will rely on circumstantial evidence like:
- Slurred speech
- Watery or glassy eyes
- Failed sobriety tests
- Alcohol odor in your breath
A conviction for a first-time drunk driving offense under VC 23152(a) will attract the following potential penalties:
- License suspension for not more than six months
- Up to six months jail term
- A fine ranging between $390 to $1,000
- Attend a DUI (driving under the influence) school
- Three to five years of informal probation
Remember, the above penalties could grow harsher if the following facts are true:
- You have a prior DUI conviction on your record
- There was an accident causing injury or death of another person
- You had a minor or child in your car
Driving Without a License Under VC 12500(a)
VC 12500(a) is the law that makes it unlawful to operate an automobile without a valid and legit driver’s license. Since the offense of driving without a driver’s license is a wobbler, the prosecutor could submit your case as either an infraction or a misdemeanor.
As an infraction, this offense could attract a sentence of not less than six months in jail upon conviction and a fine of not more than $1,000. However, when charged as an infraction, a conviction for VC 12500(a) violation will attract a fine of not less than $250 but no imprisonment.
Find a Chula Vista Defense Attorney Near Me
Even when you are certain that someone has misidentified you in the alleged hit and run case, you must prove your innocence beyond a reasonable doubt in court for acquittal of the charge or a lighter charge.
We invite you to call credible attorneys at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney at 619-877-6894 if you or someone dear to you is under investigation or arrest for an alleged hit and run offense.
Our skilled defense attorneys have what it takes to help you achieve a favorable outcome on the alleged charge.