If you have been accused of a hit and run offense in Los Angeles or throughout California, seek out a highly experienced defense lawyer. Depending on what you do for a living and other circumstances of your life, a conviction for a hit and run can have serious repercussions. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we know how to build you a solid defense and maximize your chances of a favorable outcome.
HOW IS A “HIT AND RUN” DEFINED?
In California, Vehicle Code Sections 20001 and 20002 define and criminalize hit and run accidents. The former—typically a felony—covers situations in which an injury or a fatality occurred in the accident in question. The latter—typically a misdemeanor—applies to cases where only property damage was involved.
Many times, hit and runs are associated with other crimes as well. For example, those driving on a suspended license or committing a DUI will fear to stop at the scene of an accident. In other cases, the offender flees because he/she wishes to escape responsibility for property damage or injuries caused.
WHAT MUST THE PROSCUTOR PROVE FOR A MISDEMEANOR HIT AND RUN?
To gain a conviction for a misdemeanor hit and run, the prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime beyond all reasonable doubt:
- You drove the vehicle that was involved in the car accident in question;
- The accident was the cause of damage to someone else's property and/or the bodily injury or death of another person;
- You knew that the accident occurred;
- You intentionally chose to flee the scene of the accident and did not carry out the duties that are expected of all drivers involved in auto accidents.
WHAT MUST THE PROSECUTOR PROVE FOR A FELONY HIT AND RUN?
To gain a conviction for a felony hit and run under Vehicle Code section 20001, the prosecutor must prove the following facts:
- You were involved in an accident that resulted in injury or death to another;
- You knewan accident had occurred;
- You knew EITHER:
- that someone (other than yourself was injured or killed, OR
- that the accident was of such a nature that it was probable that it caused injury or death to another person, and
- And you willfullyfailed to perform one or more of the following duties:
- Immediately stopping their car at the scene;
- Providing identifying information for driver and diver’s injured passengers to the other involved party/parties and to any on-scene law enforcement officers. Identifying information includes: accurate names and addresses, the vehicle's registration number, and the name and address of the car's owner (if other than the defendant);
- Providing reasonableassistance to any injured person(s) in order to help secure medical attention, including transporting (or arranging transportation for) any injured person who obviously needs or requests medical assistance; AND
- Upon request, providing driver's license and the driver's license or other identification of your injured passengers to the other involved party/parties and/or to any on-scene law enforcement agency.10
These above duties apply to any accident caused an injury or death no matter who was at fault or how serious the injury. Failure to comply with any of these responsibilities can result in conviction for felony hit and run.
Lets examine the above elements more closely.
You were “involved” in an accident
For purposes of VC 20001, “involved” does not necessarily mean that you literally collided into another vehicle. It means only that you directly or indirectly caused the collision with another vehicle.
For example, Jack makes an abrupt and unsafe left turn at a yellow light. Jill, who is driving in the opposite direction, slams her foot on the break to avoid hitting Jack’s car. Jill loses control of her car and collides into a pedestrian crossing the street. Jack’s car never touched Jill’s car. But Jack’s actions caused Jill’s later collision with the passenger. Jack was therefore “involved” in the accident.
You “knew” that an accident occurred and that it caused injury
The code requires that you have actual knowledge that an accident occurred and that you knew or reasonably should have known that it resulted in injuries upon another person. The specific facts of the accident—i.e., the severity of the collision and the damage to your car—indicate whether you should have known that others involved in the accident were injured or killed.
For example, Jack collides into Jill’s car. The impact of the collision causes Jill’s car to spin out of control and crash into a light poll. Jack leaves the scene of the collision. Given the severity of the collision, Jack should have known that Jill was likely injured or killed.
You “willfully” failed to perform one of the duties
This means that you intentionally failed to engage in one of the duties (listed below) expected of you when you are involved in an accident. For example, Jill collides into John’s car. She steps out of the car and gives John her full name. When she sees that John was not hurt and that the damage to his vehicle is minor, she leaves the scene of the accident. Even though Jill stepped out of the vehicle and introduced herself to John, she is guilty of a hit and run because she intentionally failed to provide her identifying information.
WHAT DUTIES MUST THOSE INVOLVED IN ACCIDENTS PERFORM?
California law requires all motorists involved in an auto accident to stop and carry out certain defined duties, regardless of who (if anyone) was at fault and the results of the accident. These duties are to be performed as soon as possible and include:
- Stop without delay at the scene and assist anyone who sustained an injury in the accident.
- Be ready to reveal your driver's license number, vehicle registration data, full name and address, and other pertinent information to the other driver and to police.
- Notify law enforcement officers of any property damage, injuries, and especially of a death that may have occurred due to the accident.
Information can be given directly to police or other drivers/passengers or via a written notice placed (securely) on any property that was damaged. (The note method is typically used when a parked car was run into.)
Note that the prosecutor must prove that you “willfully” failed to perform the duties indicated above—i.e., that you acted intentionally or on purpose. For example, Jack sideswipes a car on the freeway. This takes place at night and on a dimly lit freeway. Jack is playing loud music and is completely oblivious to what has just transpired. Jack is not guilty of a hit and run because he did not realize that he had sideswiped another vehicle and, as such, he did not intentionally or on purpose drive away from the scene of the accident.
Now consider the following: Jack sideswipes another vehicle. He stops, gets out of the car, and greets the driver of the vehicle. Because the damage on the hit vehicle was so minor, Jack offers the driver cash in compensation. Jack then quickly drives away without providing his identifying information. Jack can be charged with a hit and run because he willfully failed to provide his information and thus willfully failed to perform his duties under the code section. As this example illustrates, you can be charged and convicted of a hit and run even if you performed some of the duties outlined above.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we use a wide variety of defense strategies in hit and run cases and customize each defense based on the details of each case. Nonetheless, there are common basic defenses that we often utilize, including these:
You did not realize that you had been involved in an accident, and there was no way that you could reasonably be expected to have known. This is often argued when no collision took place.
The occurrence of the accident was known you, but the results of it (property damage, injury, or death) were not, nor could be expected to have been known.
There are a few ways that this defense would typically come into play.
The first would be in a situation where your car was not involved in the actual collision. If your driving caused others to collide, you were still "involved" (defined above) in the accident for purposes of this law.3 However, you would not necessarily know you were involved if the accident took place behind you, for example.
The second would be if, for instance, you were driving a large SUV, but you backed into a compact car. Although someone in that car may have been slightly injured, you may not have realized that you had even hit the car.
A third way for this defense to apply would be if you knew you were involved in an accident, but had no reason to know there were any injuries. Suppose, for example, that you knew you were in an accident, but (1) you weren't hurt, (2) the other driver said no one else was hurt, and (3) you then drove off before providing your information. In this case, you would only be liable for misdemeanor (not felony) hit and run, even if it was later alleged that the other party's passengers did sustain injuries.
While the vehicle owned by you was in the accident, you yourself were not. The car was stolen or was being driven by a friend or family member.
You left the scene but not "willfully." The scene may have been dangerous, you could not find a good place to pull over, or you may have been rushing to the hospital during an emergency at the time.
For VC Section 20002, where only property damage occurred, hit and runs are always misdemeanor offenses and can be punished by a maximum fine of a thousand dollars and a maximum jail term of 6 months.
The penalties for California felony hit and run involving (non-permanent, non-serious) injury may include any or all of the following:
- A fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000) to ten thousand dollars ($10,000),
- Up to one (1) year in a county jail if the offense is prosecuted as a misdemeanor,
- Sixteen (16) months or two (2) or three (3) years in California state prison if the offense is prosecuted as a felony
- Restitution (if the "victim's" injuries were caused or exacerbated by the fact that you left the scene) and
- Two (2) points on your driving record.
If convicted of California felony hit and run involving death or permanent, serious injury (defined as a loss or permanent impairment to one's body), penalties may include any or all of the following:
- A fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000) to ten thousand dollars ($10,000),
- At least ninety (90) days and no more than one (1) year in a county jail if the offense is prosecuted as a misdemeanor
- Two (2), three (3), or four (4) years in California State Prison if the offense is prosecuted as a felony)
- Restitution (if the "victim's" injuries were caused or exacerbated by the fact that you left the scene), and
- Two (2) points on your driving record.
Possible sentencing enhancements can occur in hit and run cases if there are specific aggravating factors. Here are two of the most common situations where an enhanced sentence can be handed down:
- The defendant not only failed to stop at the scene of the accident but also committed "vehicular manslaughter," which is itself a felony covered under 20001c of the California Vehicle Code. It is possible to receive as much as 5 additional years in prison if convicted of both hit and run and vehicular manslaughter.
- The defendant not only committed hit and run but also was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or an intoxicating drug. DUI is usually a misdemeanor offense in California, but even a first-time DUI conviction can get you from 4 days to 6 months in jail, a fine of between $390 and $1,000, and a driver's license suspension of from 6 to 10 months.
HOW WE CAN HELP YOU
In People v. S.I. (2NW02014), S.I., a well-respected and well-known member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, was charged and prosecuted for a misdemeanor hit and run. The charge of hit and run against Mr. I subjected him to confinement, loss of driving privileges, and termination from employment. Negin relentlessly and rigorously defended Mr. I at a jury trial. After 9 days of trial and 18 hours of deliberations, the jury came back “hung” (seven of the jurors voted not guilty, and five voted guilty). Over the prosecution’s vehement objection, the judge dismissed the case with prejudice. That was due largely to Negin’s ability to tear apart the prosecution’s case in chief. The outcome saved Mr. I his job and employment benefits with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Negin Yamini thoroughly examines all defenses relevant to your case. As demonstrated by the case above, she will not hesitate to take your matter to trial if the prosecution is unreasonable in their proposed disposition of your case.
To learn more or for a free legal consultation, call us anytime 24/7 at 424-333-0943.