The statute of limitations for hit-and-run accidents has been extended to six years in California after the perpetrator committed the offense. Prior to the new law, if someone were to flee the site of an accident that resulted in permanent, severe injury or death, prosecutors had only three years after the perpetrator committed the offense, to file a criminal action if the punishment was a prison sentence; they had one year after the perpetrator committed the offense, to file a criminal action if the punishment was neither death nor a prison sentence.
The new law states that prosecutors may file a criminal action using the same guidelines as in the previous law, or they may file an action one year after law enforcement first identifies the person as a suspect, whichever occurs later; however, they may not file a claim more than six years after the crime was committed. The new law is codified as California Penal Code §803(j), and is effective as of January 1, 2014.
The new law does not extend the time to file a civil action for a hit-and-run accident. If you would like to bring a civil claim for a hit-and-run issue in California, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim.
If you are severely injured as a result of a hit-and-run accident, you will now have more time in which to bring a criminal action so that the suspect can be prosecuted. Prior to enactment of this law, many hit-and-run accidents were never prosecuted, partly because the statute of limitations ran out.
Victims of hit-and-run accidents often suffer severe injuries that have dire consequences for their personal and professional lives, as well as the lives of their families and friends. They may be unable to work for extended periods of time, and incapable of having a normal life as they did before the accident. The additional time within the statute of limitations would enable law enforcement to prosecute the suspects for their crimes, and bring a sense of closure to the victims and their loved ones.
The new law will likely result in a decline in the rate of hit-and-run accidents, especially in cities such as Los Angeles, in which there are almost 20,000 hit-and-run collisions recorded on a yearly basis by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to an investigation by L.A. Weekly. In 2009, hit-and-run crashes comprised 48% of all motor vehicle collisions, while they made up only 11% of such crashes across the country. It has been reported that on an annual basis, 4,000, or 20% of, hit-and-run accidents in the city limits of Los Angeles result in injury or fatalities.
Increasing the time in which you can bring a criminal action in a hit-and-run accident will, in all likelihood, enable prosecutors to convict the perpetrator. As more perpetrators are convicted of such crimes, any would-be offenders would be deterred from committing a similar crime.
If you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident, you should consult a California criminal lawyer.