Representation for hit and run offenses by expert Southern California DUI lawyers and criminal defense attorneys
California Hit and Run Law makes it a crime to leave the scene of an accident (in which you were involved) without providing the other party your identification and, in some cases, providing assistance to the other party. This obligation exists regardless of whether you were at fault for the accident.
What Makes a California Hit and Run Charge a Felony vs. Misdemeanor?
California Vehicle Code 20001 VC makes the crime of hit and run a "felony" if the other party was injured or killed. If the accident caused mere property damage, but no injuries, then the charge can only be a misdemeanor under Vehicle Code 20002.
For the charge to be a felony under Vehicle Code 20001 VC, the injuries must be to a third party-usually a driver or passenger in the other vehicle, or a pedestrian. If the only person injured was the driver who fled the scene of the accident, then felony hit and run may not be charged.
If I am in a Traffic Accident Causing Injury or Death to Someone, What Must I Do?
Under Vehicle Code 20001, California Hit and Run law imposes several duties on a person involved in a traffic collision causing injury or death to a third party:
- Stop immediately at the scene where the accident occurs;
- Upon request, show your drivers license or any other alternative identification to the other parties involved in the accident, or to any police officers at the scene;
- Provide "reasonable assistance" to any persons who were injured in the collision; and
- Provide to the other parties to the accident (and to the police) the following information:
(a) Your name and current residence address;
(b)The registration number of your vehicle; and
(c)If the vehicle does not belong to you, the name and current resident address of the true owner.
If the accident resulted in someone's death, Vehicle Code 20001 imposes an addition requirement that you must, without unnecessary delay, notify either the local police department (or the headquarters of the local CHP office, if an unincorporated area).
What Does it Mean "To Provide Reasonable Assistance"?
According to California Jury Instruction 2130, which defines Vehicle Code 20001 "Felony Hit and Run" Law:
To provide "reasonable assistance" means the driver must determine what assistance, if any, the injured person requires and make a reasonable effort to see that such assistance is given, either by the driver or someone else. Reasonable assistance includes transporting anyone who has been injured for medical treatment, or arranging the transportation for such treatment, if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if an injured person requests transportation.
The driver is not required to provide assistance that is unnecessary or that is already being provided by someone else. However, the requirement that the driver provide assistance is not excused merely because bystanders are on the scene or could provide assistance.
What are the Penalties and Punishment for Felony Hit and Run in California?
If the injuries from the hit and run were relatively slight, California Vehicle Code 20001 VC imposes penalties that can range from probation with no jail time, to up to 3 years of state prison.
If the hit and run accident killed someone or caused serious, permanent injury, Vehicle Code 20001 penalties range from probation with a minimum 90 days jail to up to 4 years in state prison.
If the person flees the scene of an accident after committing what amounts to Vehicular Manslaughter, Vehicle Code 20001 imposes five years of prison (in addition to the penalties arising out of the vehicular manslaughter charge itself).
What Factors Determine the Severity of the Punishment in a California Felony Hit and Run Case?
A person can be convicted of Vehicle Code 20001 VC Felony Hit and Run in California only two ways: (a) by pleading guilty or (b) by being found guilty at trial. If he pleads guilty, this usually happens through a negotiated plea bargain with the prosecutor (and the punishment is agreed upon upfront as part of the deal). If he is convicted at trial, the judge then determines the punishment afterwards at sentencing.
In either case, the degree of punishment is likely to be influenced by several factors:
- The extent of the other person's injuries:
- The number of other person injured;
- Whether the defendant was intoxicated, or driving recklessly when the collision happened;
- Whether the defendant, some time after the accident, came forward to take responsibility;
- Whether the defendant called 911 or took any measures to secure aid for the victim(s);
- The defendant's prior driving and criminal record, if any; and
- Whether the defendant was adequately insured to compensate the victims for their losses.
What If It Is Not Safe to Stop at the Scene of the Accident?
We've seen a number of cases where, for example, the driver hits a pedestrian and then an angry mob forms. If the driver stops immediately and tries to render aid, he will probably be attacked by angry bystanders. If he flees the scene under these circumstances, will he be liable for felony hit and run?
Vehicle Code 20001 VC doesn't make a clear exception for this situation-though perhaps it should. In practice, however, the issue turns on whether the driver performed some comparable means of satisfying his duties. For example, he might call 911 and go immediately to the police station to report what happened. Under these circumstances, the prosecutor will usually not file hit and run charges.
What Should I do if I Just Hit Someone and Then Fled the Scene?
Contact a good criminal defense attorney immediately. We can guide you in the proper course of action, and often do things to help mitigate the situation. But the longer you wait, the harder it may be for us to help. Our criminal defense and DUI lawyers stand by 24 hours per day to assist people with exactly these types of situations.