California Criminal Hit and Run Law

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 What Is the Legal Definition of a Hit and Run in California?

A hit and run in California refers to the act of leaving the scene of an accident without first identifying oneself to the other party or parties involved, as stipulated under California Vehicle Code Sections 20001 and 20002. This applies whether the accident resulted in damage to property, injury, or death.

The statute of limitations (SOL) is the maximum amount of time that a prosecutor can file criminal charges against a person who committed a crime. The statute of limitations for hit and run in California depends on whether the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony.

  • A misdemeanor hit and run is when the accident only causes property damage and no injuries. The SOL for misdemeanor hit and run in California is six years from the date of the accident.
  • A felony hit and run is when the accident causes injury or death to another person. The SOL for felony hit and run in California is also six years from the date of the accident.

What Are the Elements of a Hit and Run in California?

The core elements of a hit-and-run offense in California include being involved in an accident, causing damage or injury, and failing to stop and provide necessary information or assistance.

Involvement in an Accident

The first element is the involvement in an accident. The prosecution must prove that the defendant was indeed involved in the incident that led to damage or injury.

  • Explanation: This involves establishing that the defendant was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
  • How it’s proven: Evidence may include witness testimonies, surveillance footage, vehicle damage, and sometimes forensic evidence like paint smudges or glass fragments matching the defendant’s vehicle.
  • Example: If a surveillance camera captures the defendant’s car colliding with another vehicle or property, this evidence can establish involvement in an accident.

Causing Damage or Injury

The next element is the causation of damage or injury. This doesn’t necessarily mean severe damage or injury; even minor dents or scratches can qualify.

  • Explanation: It needs to be shown that the defendant’s actions led to the damage or injury.
  • How it’s proven: Evidence like medical reports, photographs of the damage, repair bills, and witness testimonies can be used to prove this element.
  • Example: If a witness saw the defendant’s car hit a pedestrian, causing an injury, or if there are medical records showing the injury was a result of the accident, this element could be proven.

Failing to Stop

Failing to stop after an accident is a critical aspect of a hit-and-run offense.

  • Explanation: The law requires people involved in an accident to stop at the scene or as close to the scene as possible without obstructing traffic.
  • How it’s proven: Witnesses who saw the defendant drive away, surveillance footage showing the defendant leaving the scene, or the defendant’s own admission can be used to prove this element.
  • Example: If a witness testifies that the defendant sped away without stopping after the accident, this element could be proven.

Failing to Provide Necessary Information or Assistance

The law requires providing personal identification and rendering reasonable assistance to any injured parties.

  • Explanation: This includes sharing your name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle and assisting injured individuals, which might involve calling an ambulance or the police.
  • How it’s proven: Lack of a police report, witness testimonies, or the injured party’s statement can be used to prove that the defendant did not provide necessary information or assistance.
  • Example: If the victim testifies that the defendant did not provide any contact information, nor did they offer help or call for medical assistance, this element could be proven.

Each of these elements intertwines to form the foundation of a hit-and-run charge. A California criminal defense lawyer can meticulously scrutinize the evidence against each element, challenging the prosecution’s case and working towards either reducing the charges or having them dismissed altogether.

Can I Be Charged With Felony Hit and Run?

Felony hit and run is a crime that involves fleeing the scene of an accident in which another person has been injured or killed. The injury or death of the victim is what makes the crime a felony. If the accident only causes property damage but no injuries, then it is a misdemeanor hit and run.

Can I Be Charged With Felony Hit and Run If I Was Not at Fault?

Even if you were not at fault for the accident, you could still face felony hit-and-run charges if you leave the scene without providing the required information or assistance. This is especially true if the accident resulted in injury or death.

What Is the Penalty for Felony Hit and Run?

The penalties for felony hit and run in California can vary depending on the severity of the injury or death and the prior criminal record of the driver. Generally, the possible penalties are:

  • As a misdemeanor: Spending up to 1 year in jail (with a 90-day minimum if the accident resulted in death or a permanent, serious injury) and/or $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.
  • As a felony: 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison and/or $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.

In addition, the driver may also face civil lawsuits from the victims or their families, restitution for the damages caused, suspension or revocation of the driver’s license, and increased insurance rates.

What if My Car Is the Only One Damaged?

Even if your car is the only one damaged, leaving the scene without reporting the accident can still constitute a hit-and-run. However, the charges in such cases are typically less severe compared to situations where other individuals or property were harmed.

Are There Any Defenses Available to a Charge of Hit and Run?

Certainly, different defenses can be used to challenge hit-and-run charges. A local California lawyer can aid in exploring all viable defenses to either mitigate the charges or work toward dismissal.

Not Involved in the Accident

One of the fundamental defenses to hit and run is proving that you were not involved in the accident in question. This defense aims to demonstrate that either a case of mistaken identity occurred or false accusations were made.

Surveillance footage or eyewitness testimony could show that a different vehicle was involved in the incident, or perhaps your car was stolen and involved in a hit-and-run without your knowledge.

Lack of Knowledge

A defendant may argue that they were unaware of the accident or the damage caused. This defense can be particularly effective if the damage was minimal or if the accident occurred in a manner that could reasonably go unnoticed by the defendant.

If you bumped into a parked car without realizing it, or if the damage was so minor that you didn’t notice the collision, this defense might be applicable.

Provided Necessary Information or Assistance

If you adhered to the legal obligations of providing your contact information and assisting the injured, you could challenge the hit-and-run charge on this basis. This defense asserts that you complied with the law before leaving the scene.

You could present evidence like witness statements or surveillance footage showing that you provided your contact information to the other party. You could also present that you called for medical assistance before leaving the scene.

Emergency Situation

In some cases, leaving the scene of an accident might be justified if there was an emergency that required immediate attention. This defense is complex and would require substantial evidence to prove the urgency and necessity of leaving the scene.

If you were rushing someone to the hospital or if there was a life-threatening situation that required your immediate departure from the scene, this defense might be considered.

Lack of Intentional Conduct

If the accident was not caused by your intentional conduct, or if it was unavoidable even with due caution, such a defense might be used to challenge the charges. This defense delves into the circumstances surrounding the accident.

Each of these defenses requires an understanding of the law and an examination of the evidence and circumstances surrounding the hit-and-run incident. Hiring a California criminal defense lawyer can significantly enhance your chances of successfully defending against hit-and-run charges.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer With My Hit and Run Charge?

Absolutely. Hit-and-run charges can have severe legal and financial consequences. Reach out to a seasoned California traffic violation lawyer through LegalMatch to ensure that your rights are protected. With the right legal assistance, you can work towards a favorable resolution.

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