According to traffic law, a hit and run accident is a crime in which a driver causes or is involved in a collision with another vehicle, property, or person; then, they fail to stop and provide information required by law. This information includes:
- Their name and contact information, such as their address and/or phone number;
- Their driver’s license number;
- Their insurance information, such as the name of their provider and their policy number;
- Their license plate number; and
- Any other additional information as required by the state in which the accident took place.
All of the required information is to be provided to the injured party, as well as any witnesses and law enforcement. This is so that once fault for the collision has been established the injured parties may obtain monetary damages, either from each other or from each other’s insurance providers. Law enforcement is generally responsible for establishing fault. Additionally, some states require that the responsible party also files a police report.
Before discussing the evidence needed to prove hit and run, it is important to note what would not generally constitute a hit and run accident. In cases in which there is only property damage, and no physical person has been injured because of the accident, it is generally sufficient to leave a note on the damaged property which details the aforementioned information. Doing so would not count as a hit and run due to the fact that the offender did not fail to provide their information in an attempt to evade being held responsible for their actions.
Some examples of evidence needed to prove a hit and run accident include, but may not be limited to:
- Witness statements;
- Dash cam footage;
- Video proof from nearby security or traffic cameras;
- Photographic proof of the property damage;
- Documentation of any recent repairs or improvements made recently, prior to the accident;
- Medical documents and bills; and
- Evidence of missed work due to injuries resulting from the accident.
What Are You Required to Do at the Scene of a Hit and Run?
Because state laws vary, what exactly constitutes a hit and run as well as the associated penalties may also vary. Most state laws are relatively similar in that a person may be charged for a hit and run offense, even if they were not at fault or did not hit another vehicle, if they failed to stop and provide their relevant information.
Generally speaking, parties who are involved in auto accident are required to do the following:
- Remain on the scene of the accident;
- Wait for the arrival of law enforcement;
- Determine whether anyone is injured, and call for medical help if so; and
- Provide all relevant identifying information so fault may be determined.
Depending on the injuries and damage, the driver who is at fault for committing a hit and run may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. It is important to note that failing to provide correct, identifying information can lead to criminal charges on its own.
Whether or not you are at fault, it is advised that you gather your own evidence that may be used when determining who is at fault for the accident. Take your own pictures of the damage, as well as the accident scene as a whole. You may also wish to note any nearby traffic information, such as a stop sign or traffic light that the responsible party failed to adhere to. If possible, gather information from any available witnesses, as they may be able to establish that you were not at fault for the accident. They may also be able to establish that there were, in fact, other parties at fault even if they cannot identify those parties.
How Long After a Hit and Run Accident Can You Be Charged?
How long after a hit and run accident can a person be charged for the crime depends on how exactly the crime was categorized and filed. Misdemeanor hit and run generally must be charged within one year from the date of the accident. If the hit and run was filed as a felony crime, the suspect must be charged within three years.
Whether the crime will be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony is heavily influenced by the facts of each specific case. To summarize, a hit and run will most likely be categorized as a misdemeanor if only property damage occurred. A hit and run will most likely be categorized as a felony if more significant property damage occurred, or if someone sustained bodily injury or death.
It is important to note that in addition to criminal charges, a person found to be guilty of hit and run may also face a civil suit. The victim of the accident may choose to file a lawsuit against the offender in order to recover costs associated with the accident.
Law enforcement will attempt to track down the driver responsible for the hit and run accident. They may do this by using evidence provided by witnesses, as well as footage from surrounding security cameras. Another example of evidence would be paint left behind on the damaged vehicle or property.
Are There Any Legal Defenses for a Hit and Run Charge?
If you are facing hit and run charges, there may be a defense available to you based on the specifics of your case. The three most common defenses that attorneys raise for this specific charge include:
- Involuntary Intoxication: This defense may also be referred to as diminished capacity. Essentially, your attorney will assert that you believe you were drugged, and became involuntarily intoxicated which caused you to become involved in the accident. It is important to note that this defense is unlikely to work unless you have strong evidence to prove your claim;
- Responding To an Emergency: If you fled the scene of the accident because you were responding to an emergency, such as driving to the hospital, you may be able to use that as a defense against hit and run charges. However, you should keep in mind that it is ultimately up to the authorities of each specific jurisdiction to determine whether the circumstances constituted an actual emergency; and/or
- Unaware Of an Injury, or Lack of Knowledge: To reiterate, the crime of hit and run depends largely on whether the offender was even aware of the fact that they caused damage or injury. It will most likely be difficult to establish that you were actually unaware of what occurred because of your actions.
Again, whether you are the victim or the accused, it would be in your best interest to collect and present your own evidence in order to defend yourself. Doing so may make a difference, especially for minor hit and run charges. A strong defense may mitigate the consequences, and will protect your rights.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Hit and Run Defenses?
If you are being charged with a hit and run, you should consult with an experienced and local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. It is important that your legal rights are protected, and that the situation is resolved quickly. Because state laws vary greatly in terms of how hit and run accidents are charged and penalized, a local lawyer will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws regarding the matter.
Further, a criminal defense attorney will also be able to help you determine whether any legal defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, an experienced criminal defense attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.