What Is a Hit and Run in California?
Accidents happen, but when you leave the scene, things can take a turn for the worst. In most cases, getting into an accident is not a crime unless you committed a traffic violation or other offense that resulted in the accident. Absent these factors, causing a car collision alone is not a crime. It can become a crime, however, if you leave the scene of the accident.
A hit and run offense is generally the same thing as leaving the scene of an accident, as long as no information is exchanged with the other parties involved in the collision. If such information is exchanged, however, then a driver can avoid hit and run charges. It’s important to note that drivers can be charged with hit and run regardless of whether or not they caused the accident. California law does not consider this element.
In California, a hit and run can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. If a hit and run involved property damage only, the consequences are generally less severe than if the offense caused injuries or death. That said, we explain hit and run charges in California below.
Penalty for Hit and Run with No Injuries
A driver involved in an accident that results in damage to any property, including vehicles, must follow certain steps to avoid criminal liability. The driver should follow the steps below:
- Pullover in a safe location
- Locate the owner or manager of the property
- Notify the owner or manager of the driver’s name and address
- If requested by the property owner or manager, the driver should present their license and vehicle registration
What if you hit another person’s property and they aren’t at the scene? It is common for drivers to accidentally collide with other vehicles, mailboxes, bikes, and other types of property, but when the owner of such property is not around, drivers still have responsibilities to comply with. That said, drivers and other parties involved in an accident should follow these steps to best avoid hit and run charges:
- Leave a written note containing their name, address, and a statement of the circumstances in a noticeable place on the vehicle or other damaged property (i.e., on the windshield)
- Notify the police about the accident
Failing to follow these steps is a misdemeanor hit and run punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. In other words, a hit and run involving property damage in California is generally charged as a misdemeanor.
For example, let’s say you enter a parking garage and attempt to squeeze into a tight parking space. In doing so, you rear-end a vehicle parked next to the space you’re trying to fit into and shatter the brake light. If you evade the scene without leaving a note and/or notifying the police, the driver of the damaged vehicle could attempt to locate you and get the police to charge you with hit and run.
Hit and Run with Injuries or Death
While a hit and run with property damage is typically a misdemeanor in California, you can get charged with felony hit and run if injuries or death are involved. Any drivers who are involved in the accident are expected to follow certain steps after the collision to best prevent getting felony charges. Those steps include:
- Safely pullover
- Exchange information including their name, current address, and vehicle registration number
- Render reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident, such as calling an ambulance or fulfilling requests made by the injured person
- When the police arrive at the scene, drivers involved in the accident should give their name, address, and vehicle registration number to the officer
Failing to follow these steps above is a serious crime. If the hit and run involved injuries, you will be punished with up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the circumstances.
However, if the accident results in death or serious and permanent injuries, failing to follow the steps above is a felony. The consequences for felony hit and run charges in California are either 90 days to 1 year in county jail or 2 to 4 years in state prison. The fines will range from $1,000 to $10,000.
How to Fight a Hit and Run Charge
As you can see, hit and run charges are no joke. In addition to criminal charges, you could be held liable in civil court. If the property owner, injured driver(s), or family members of the deceased driver(s) were to sue, you could be required to pay thousands of dollars in damages and deal with the criminal consequences if convicted of hit and run.
It’s no wonder that people facing hit and run charges hire defense attorneys right away. With so much on the line, it’s important to retain skilled lawyers who will aggressively defend your case. At Appel & Morse, our lawyers will closely examine the circumstances leading to your charges, explore your legal solutions, and build a strong defense strategy on your behalf.
Depending on the nature and seriousness of your case, we may utilize the following defenses to hit and run:
- You were not driving the vehicle: If you let a friend or family member borrow your car and they committed a hit and run, you technically are not responsible for the incident.
- You exchanged the required information: A hit and run occurs when you leave the scene of an accident without giving the proper information and, in some cases, notifying the police. That said, if you fulfilled your legal duties before leaving the accident scene, your charges could get reduced or dropped completely.
- You had no knowledge of damage or injuries: Another way your hit and run charge can be reduced or dismissed is if you lacked knowledge of any damage, injuries, or death. For example, let’s say you got into an accident with a driver, and they were not visibly injured. A week later, however, the other driver feels pain in their neck and back. In this case, you could avoid criminal liability because at the time, the driver was not injured so you, therefore, could not render reasonable aid. Instead, the injured driver could sue for damages in civil court.
- No damage or injuries were caused: If an accident did not result in damage or injuries, then you cannot get charged with hit and run.
- You were unable to render reasonable aid: If you got injured in an accident and were unable to render reasonable aid to the other injured driver as a result, you cannot be held responsible for failing to fulfill this requirement.
If you are charged with hit and run, get started on your defense right away. Contact our attorneys online or at (805) 467-6060 today!