Immediately after you are involved in an accident, you should pull over and provide your particulars to the motorists involved in the crash or law enforcement authorities. These particulars include your name, contact, address, driver’s license number, insurance policy information, and vehicle registration number. This is the expected action regardless of whether the crash affects other people, stationary objects like traffic signals, or other vehicles. You are also expected to remain at the crash scene. Fleeing the scene without meeting these requirements is considered a hit-and-run.

The consequences of a hit-and-run charge are serious. Fines, probation, license suspension, and even imprisonment are possible penalties if convicted of the offense. Penalties vary depending on the gravity of the incident. When faced with hit-and-run charges, it is best to seek legal representation. A capable criminal defense attorney can aid you in navigating the legal process and building a strong case. You can count on us at the Monterey Criminal Attorney to help defend you if you are facing hit-and-run allegations.

What To Do After An Accident Under Vehicle Code 20002

If the accident only causes property damage, California Vehicle Code Section 20002 mandates that you immediately stop your vehicle and remain on the scene. You should stop at the nearest location and not obstruct traffic or compromise your safety or that of other motorists or passengers. Subsequently, you must:

  • Locate and inform the owner or person in charge of the damaged property. You should provide specific information about yourself and the vehicle owner.
  • If you are not the vehicle’s owner, present your driver's license and vehicle registration to the other parties involved if requested. Registered owners must also provide their driver's license information, if available.
  • Alternatively, if you cannot locate the damaged property’s owner, leave a written notice on the damaged property. Include your details and a statement of the circumstances. You should further inform the police department.

The Different Charges You Could Face for a Hit-and-Run Accident

The charges for a hit-and-run accident can result in misdemeanor charges, depending on the circumstances of the incident.

Misdemeanor Charges

​Should you be involved in a car accident that results solely in property damage, you could be subject to a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge under Vehicle Code 20002. However, these charges are likely if you neglect to adhere to the abovementioned duties. The property under consideration includes fences, vehicles, gates, and traffic signs.

Felony Charges

Should an accident lead to the injury or death of another person, you could potentially face felony charges according to California Vehicle Code 20001. The duties outlined above also apply.

Additionally, even if the injured party is your passenger, you are criminally liable under Vehicle Code 20001.

When Am I Guilty of Hit-and-Run?

You are innocent until proven guilty. The court process determines whether you are innocent or guilty. During the trial, the prosecution bears the burden of proof. They must provide evidence and arguments that will convince a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. The prosecutor presents their case, which includes facts and witness testimony, to prove your guilt.

A criminal defense attorney will cross-examine witnesses, present our evidence, and offer a defense to the allegations. Some of the fundamental issues that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt include:

  • Show that you were engaged in a motor vehicle collision, including those that resulted in property damage, injury, or death.
  • You did not stop your car at the accident scene: This shows a failure to comply with the legal requirement to stop immediately.
  • Determine that you were aware of your involvement in the accident
  • Show that you meant to avoid accountability by leaving the scene: Your actions will demonstrate a purposeful failure to meet legal requirements.
  • Show that you failed to submit the information to the other party or police authorities. This includes your name, contact information, and insurance information.
  • Show that you failed to notify the police department promptly as required.

Note: In a hit-and-run criminal trial, the primary focus is whether you fulfilled your legal obligations following the accident rather than assigning blame for the accident itself. The responsibility for the accident is assessed through a separate legal process, a civil trial. (Fault is also determined through insurance claims). Civil processes seek to establish fault. In these cases, the jury or judge decides on liability and provides compensation for damages.

It is also important that those involved in a car accident or at the scene offer reasonable aid to those affected. All motorists involved in the accident bear this duty which involves:

  • Rendering reasonable assistance - Providing aid to anyone injured to the best of your ability. This involves offering basic first aid or ensuring injured individuals receive appropriate medical care. If you are unfamiliar with offering first aid, contacting emergency services suffices.
  • Contacting emergency services - Contact emergency services, for example, call 911 to report the accident and request medical assistance for injured people.

Hit-and-Run Cases Involving Pets

Pets are considered personal property. Certain responsibilities must be addressed if you hit a dog or another domestic animal with your vehicle. As the driver, you must:

  • Stop immediately and remain at the accident scene.
  • Locate and notify the owner - You should take reasonable measures to locate and inform the owner of the injured animal.
  • Contact authorities - If you cannot trace the owner, inform the California Highway Patrol or other local law enforcement authorities and inform them of the incident.

Failure to take these steps could result in hit-and-run charges.

Hit-and-Run Cases Involving Single Crashes Without Injuries or Property Damage

You could crash your vehicle but cause no property damage or injure another person. You could then decide to leave the scene. However, before you do so, stop and assess the situation. Check to see if your car is damaged and the extent of it all.

The law does not require you to remain at the crash site. However, you could face civil liability should you leave the scene and there is evidence of property damage. This happens in cases where there is damage to public property, which includes traffic signs or lights. In most cases, these damages are not immediately apparent. Thus, this requires an assessment before leaving the scene.

The lack of a legal obligation to remain at the scene does not eliminate the need for reasonableness. You should take appropriate action, which includes the following:

  • Checking for damages to your car or the crash site
  • Document the scene of the accident
  • Report the incident to law enforcement officers if necessary.

Additionally, be sure to inform your insurance provider about the accident. Most insurance policies require policyholders to notify the insurance companies of the accident as soon as it happens or as reasonably possible. This helps initiate the claims process. As the policyholder, you are expected to inform your insurance provider even if the crash was minor and there were no apparent injuries. Failure to report gives insurance companies a reason to deny your request.

Most insurance policies stipulate when you should report an accident or incident. Failing to report an accident within the specified time frame outlined in your insurance policy could affect your ability to file a claim. It also affects the compensation you could receive for the damages. Be sure to provide accurate information to your insurance company.

Penalties Following a Hit-and-Run Conviction

Before addressing the defenses you can use to challenge the hit-and-run charges, let us look at the potential penalties if convicted.

Misdemeanor Penalties

The misdemeanor penalties are outlined under Vehicle Code 20002. According to the law, if you are convicted of the misdemeanor, you could face the following consequences:

  • You could be subject to confinement in the county jail for no more than six months.
  • You could be liable for a fine not exceeding $1,000.
  • You could also be subject to summary probation guidelines. Instead of serving time in jail, you would be required to comply with specific conditions set by the court.

Felony Penalties

If you are involved in a hit-and-run accident that causes another to sustain injuries or die, you will be subjected to the penalties outlined under Vehicle Code 20001. If the jury finds you guilty of the crime, a conviction will result in the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment in a state prison or county jail for a period of up to one year
  • You will additionally face a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 or both.

If the accident results in death or permanent, serious injury, the consequences include:

  • Imprisonment in the state prison for 2, 3, or 4 years, or in a county jail for 90 days to one year
  • The fine remains between $1,000 and $10,000.
  • Additionally, the court can reduce or eliminate the minimum imprisonment for justified reasons.

Vehicle Code 20001 is specific to permanent or serious injury. A permanent or serious injury is the loss or permanent impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ.

Ideal Defenses To Challenge Hit-and-Run Charges

Despite the gravity of the charges and the potential penalties, you can challenge the charges. Your defense attorney is best suited to help you fight the charges. He/she, while leveraging his/her experience, will evaluate your case and settle on the ideal defense. Below is a look at some common defenses applicable to hit-and-run charges:

You Were Falsely Accused

It is possible to be falsely accused of a hit-and-run. Several contributing factors could lead to this, including:

  • Mistaken identity
  • Unreliable witness accounts, or
  • Misunderstandings about the circumstances of an accident.

In many instances, misunderstandings lie at the core of these inaccurate accusations.

Witness memory is prone to imperfections. It can result in faulty recollections of accident details, including vehicle colors, event sequences, or travel speeds. Accidents are inherently chaotic. Witnesses following an accident often confuse the order of events, travel directions, or the roles of involved parties.

The stress and trauma individuals experience can further compromise their recollection of the events following and after the crash. They can be confused about the actual events. Actions taken by those involved, for example, leaving the scene temporarily to seek medical assistance, could be misinterpreted as hit-and-run. You can be accused of wrongdoing despite your well-intentioned efforts to seek help.

Incomplete information about an incident contributes to misunderstandings and misjudgments. Limited visibility, adverse weather conditions, or other external factors are some of the contributing factors. What witnesses perceive may not always align with the factual reality of the situation.

During trial proceedings, attorneys strategically cross-examine state witnesses to unearth inconsistencies in their statements. By meticulously highlighting these disparities, attorneys aim to create reasonable doubt in the prosecutor's case. A successful execution of this strategy results in dropped or dismissed charges.

A Claim of No Property Damage

Vehicle Code Section 20002 explicitly addresses hit-and-run cases involving only property damage. If there is no evidence substantiating property damage, you are not in violation of Vehicle Code Section 20002. The absence of proof regarding property damage can significantly undermine the prosecution's case, as this constitutes a crucial element.

You can acknowledge that your car sustained damage in cases where it was a single crash incident. However, it is crucial to highlight that no other property was affected by the collision.

You Did Not Know About the Accident

You can argue in your defense that you did not know about the accident. The following issues could have contributed to your unawareness of the accident:

  • External or internal distractions - These include loud music, conversations, or environmental factors. These can contribute to your lack of awareness during the accident.
  • Minimal physical impact awareness - If you were involved in a minor collision or driving a larger vehicle, you could not have felt the impact. This, then could result in an honest lack of awareness of the crash.
  • Witness testimonies - Eye-witness accounts about the accident, or factors hindering your awareness can significantly support your defense.
  • Surveillance footage - Examination of surveillance footage from nearby cameras can demonstrate that you were not immediately aware of the accident. This will add weight to your defense.
  • Physical or mental conditions - If you have a medical condition impacting awareness or are in shock post-accident, you must present relevant medical records. Expert testimonies also become instrumental in supporting your defense.

Furthermore, emphasizing that lack of awareness is more plausible in older vehicles without modern safety features reinforces your defense. Your attorney will highlight the vehicle's limitations in providing immediate feedback or warnings.

The Crash Scene Was Not Safe

Some situations could force you to leave the accident scene. Your attorney could use these scenarios to challenge the hit-and-run charges. He/she will argue that leaving promptly was necessary due to safety concerns. Your attorney could emphasize the following key issues:

  • Emergencies - You were forced to leave the crash site if the accident coincided with a medical emergency or urgent situation.
  • Immediate danger - The accident scene posed immediate dangers, like oncoming traffic or hazardous conditions. This informed your choice to leave the scene for your safety.
  • Hostile environment - The accident occurred in an area with potential hostility or threats. You thus reasonably decided to leave to avoid harm.
  • Communication attempts - Show any efforts made to communicate or signal to others at the scene that your departure was crucial for safety reasons.

You should provide evidence, like photos or eyewitness accounts, proving the accident scene was unsafe. This evidence should show that leaving the crash scene was a prudent decision for personal safety.

You Were Not the One Driving the Vehicle At the Time of the Crash

Amidst the commotion of a chaotic accident scene, especially one marked by confusion or involving multiple parties, the risk of a false claim implicating you as the driver is significant. In these situations, video surveillance, particularly from dashcams, becomes helpful. They will establish your non-involvement in a hit-and-run incident.

Video from dash cams gives you a clear view from the driver's seat. As the video will demonstrate, you will not have been in control of the car during the event. It provides a strong alibi if the camera clearly shows the driver leaving the scene and not you. The video's timestamp significantly strengthens your defense. It verifies where you were when the accident occurred and displays the timeline of events.

Video forensics verifies the footage's legitimacy, improves it, and looks closely for important features. This protects the evidence's integrity. By not allowing any tampering or alteration, it guarantees that it stays pure.

Vehicle ownership data also supports your defense. Records will identify the owner and driver of the car at the time of the hit-and-run. This confirmation supports your assertion.

There is Insufficient Evidence of Someone Being Injured

In contesting felony hit-and-run charges, you can assert that the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence of any actual injuries sustained. By emphasizing this absence of concrete proof regarding injuries, your attorney aims to undermine the severity of the alleged offense.

Your defense attorney could introduce counter-evidence, expert testimonies, or question the credibility of the prosecution's evidence. All he/she will seek to do is cast doubt on the prosecutor’s assertion of the alleged victim sustaining injuries. The ultimate goal is to persuade the court to consider a reduction in charges from felony to misdemeanor. This reduction can significantly alter the potential penalties and consequences tied to the case.

You Waited at The Accident Scene

It is plausible that you stuck around at the accident scene before any eyewitnesses appeared. Just because someone claimed they saw you leaving does not automatically erase the possibility that you initially waited. The aftermath of an accident can be chaotic, especially for less experienced drivers. This could lead to some head-scratching moments about what to do next. This confusion could contribute to misunderstandings, where an eyewitness interprets the situation differently.

Your defense attorney could focus on this potential confusion. He/she will underline that actions resulted from novice uncertainty rather than a calculated evasion of responsibility.

Statute of Limitations for Hit-and-Run Cases

According to Assembly Bill 184, if the hit-and-run caused another person to sustain injuries or die, prosecutors should file charges within one to three years after the incident occurred. Alternatively, if you are identified as a suspect in the hit-and-run, the charges should be filed within one year after this identification.

Prosecutors cannot file charges more than six years after the hit-and-run incident.

Plea Bargain Negotiations

When dealing with felony hit-and-run charges, plea bargain discussions are crucial. Your criminal defense lawyer can actively look into possible agreements or negotiate with the prosecution. Finding a compromise that lessens charges or fines is the goal of this procedure. With the ability to drastically affect the outcome of your case, your attorney's main objective is sometimes to obtain a reduction of charges from a felony to a misdemeanor hit-and-run.

Attorneys seek plea agreements for various reasons, frequently related to worries about the quality of the evidence or possible obstacles at trial that would compromise the likelihood of obtaining a conviction. Plea agreements offer conviction certainty without the unpredictability of a trial result. You may need to enter a guilty plea to a misdemeanor hit-and-run as part of the negotiated arrangement.

This is a typical plea bargain tactic. The state requires you to enter a guilty plea to a less serious offense to receive a lighter term or less harsh consequences.

It is best to avoid entering into plea bargain agreements without the help of your criminal defense attorney. Participating in plea bargain discussions without the support of an attorney could result in unintended repercussions, such as agreeing to terms that are not in your best interest or neglecting potential defense strategies.

Contact a Defense Attorney Near Me

Hit-and-run charges could interrupt your life significantly if you are convicted. The charges are grave. Given the serious nature of hit-and-run charges, you should engage the services of a well-known and experienced criminal defense attorney.

Our lawyers at Monterey Criminal Attorney have the combined experience you need for your case. We will examine your case to determine the best strategy to secure a dismissal or reduce charges. We invite you to work with us today. Contact us at 831-574-1791 for further assistance if you are facing hit-and-run charges in Monterey.