California Hit and Run Defense Attorney
In California, we have misdemeanor hit and run, and felony hit and run.
The elements that define California misdemeanor hit and run in Vehicle Code 20002 VC are:
California Hit and Run
1. Leave the scene of an accident
2. Without identifying yourself to the other party involved
3. Another person’s property was damaged in the accident.
California Vehicle Code 20002 VC – Duty where property damaged [Misdemeanor hit and run]. “(a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. Moving the vehicle in accordance with this subdivision does not affect the question of fault. The driver shall also immediately do either of the following: (1) Locate and notify the owner or person in charge of that property of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle involved and, upon locating the driver of any other vehicle involved or the owner or person in charge of any damaged property, upon being requested, present his or her driver’s license, and vehicle registration, to the other driver, property owner, or person in charge of that property. The information presented shall include the current residence address of the driver and of the registered owner. If the registered owner of an involved vehicle is present at the scene, he or she shall also, upon request, present his or her driver’s license information, if available, or other valid identification to the other involved parties. (2) Leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or other property damaged a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle involved and a statement of the circumstances thereof and shall without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city wherein the collision occurred or, if the collision occurred in unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol. (b) Any person who parks a vehicle which, prior to the vehicle again being driven, becomes a runaway vehicle and is involved in an accident resulting in damage to any property, attended or unattended, shall comply with the requirements of this section relating to notification and reporting and shall, upon conviction thereof, be liable to the penalties of this section for failure to comply with the requirements. (c) Any person failing to comply with all the requirements of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.”
The difference between California misdemeanor hit and run and California felony hit and run is that property damage is a misdemeanor, but injury or death of another person is a felony.
California Vehicle Code 20001 VC – Duty to stop at scene of injury accident; penalties [Felony hit and run].
California hit and run laws apply at EVERY auto accident. It does not matter who was at fault, the amount of damage, or the seriousness of the injury.
Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 2150 – Failure to Perform Duty Following Accident: Property Damage-Defendant Driver (Veh. Code, § 20002) [Misdemeanor hit and run]. “The driver of a vehicle must perform the duties listed regardless of how or why the accident happened. It does not matter if someone else caused the accident or if the accident was unavoidable.”
The standard for these laws are so low that many people who normally follow the law carefully can easily break these laws without even knowing that they did so.
Each of the following examples can result in charges for California misdemeanor hit and run:
1. Drive away after hitting and damaging another person’s mailbox with your car
2. Drive away from a minor car accident where the driver of the other vehicle was clearly at fault
3. Drive away if you may have caused an accident, even if you did not actually hit anything
The penalties for misdemeanor hit and run can be steep, especially for a crime that is easy to unintentionally commit. If convicted, you potentially face fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail!
Knowing the potential penalties, you can see that it is wise to fight these charges. An experienced California hit and run defense attorney knows how to used certain legal defenses that could lead to dismissal of the misdemeanor hit and run charges. These defenses include:
1. You were not aware that there was damage, or that you had actually been in an accident
2. Only your own vehicle was damaged
3. It wasn’t you who was involved in the accident -it was someone else
Our California criminal defense attorneys will help you understand your case by addressing the following:
California Vehicle Code 20002 VC says you have three duties if you are in a vehicle collision that results in damage to another person’s property:
1. Stop your auto immediately
2. Provide your identifying information to the other party. “Identifying information” means your name and a current address
3. Provide your driver’s license and vehicle registration upon request from the other party
Additionally, if the registered owner of the car you were driving is someone else, you have a duty to provide that person’s name and address.
Failure to satisfy ALL of the above duties can result in charges for hit and run.
It is important to remember that you must satisfy ALL of these duties no matter who is at fault for the collision. Even if the other person was 100% at fault, or you believe no one is at fault, you could still be charged for violating California Vehicle Code 20002 VC if you don’t meet these duties.
For example, Adam drives a Ford F250 (a very large and sturdy truck). Bob drives a Mini Cooper (a very small car). Bob rear-ends Adam at a red light. The collision doesn’t even leave a mark on Adam’s F250 but leaves visible damage to the front grill of Bob’s Mini.
Adam exits his truck and sees that he has no damage. He also sees that Bob does have damage. Bob says to Adam, “Don’t worry about it,” so Adam gets back in his truck and drives off without giving Bob his identifying information.
Adam may have just committed misdemeanor hit and run. It makes no difference that Bob was probably at fault for the collision.
Allegations of violating these duties put you in a bad light in court. Leaving the scene of an accident may make you look like someone who has disregard for others in front of the jury, judge, and prosecutor. This may cause prosecutors and judges to be strict with you if you left the scene without stopping.
Failing to provide your identifying information can easily lead to charges, especially if you hit a parked auto or other property and the owner of that property is not there.
If you hit a parked auto or other property and the owner of that property isn’t there, you still have the same duties. California Vehicle Code 20002 VC requires that you do the following in this situation:
Leave a note in a place that is easy to see that states your name and address and a brief description of what happened. Then you must contact the local police department or the California Highway Patrol (if in an unincorporated area) without delay. California misdemeanor hit and run law does NOT change with different types of properties. Hitting a dog, a fence, or a parked car all put the same duties on you.
For example, Charlie is driving and runs over a dog. He does not initially stop but the dog’s owner chases after Charlie waving his arms to get his attention. Charlie then stops and provides his name and address. Charlie is guilty of misdemeanor hit and run for failing to stop immediately after hitting the dog.
It is also worth noting that the location of the incident does not make a difference. A collision in a private parking lot has puts the same duties on you as does a collision on a public road.
Notice that California Vehicle Code 20002 VC does not require you to provide your insurance information. However, a separate law (California Vehicle Code 16025) does require you to always exchange insurance information if the other party is at the scene. Failing to provide insurance information is an infraction in California law, with a punishment of a fine of up to $250.
California Vehicle Code 20002 VC defines hit and run in California. It states that the prosecutor must prove the following elements:
1. You were involved in a vehicle accident while driving
2. The accident damaged someone else’s property
3. You knew that someone else’s property had been damaged, or that the accident happened in a way that probably damaged someone else’s property
4. You “willfully” failed to perform any of the three duties discussed earlier (stop, provide identifying information, provide driver’s license and registration)
“Willfully” refers to failing to meet the duties on purpose, or intentionally. It does not matter if you did or did not intend to break the law or benefit yourself in any way.
For example, Dave gets into a minor accident and he believes the other driver is at fault. The damage to Dave’s car is only cosmetic. He sees that the other driver, Elizabeth, is a young lady driving a beat-up clunker of a car that was damaged extensively. Elizabeth is crying but does not appear hurt. Because Dave knows how to fix the damage to his own car and feels sorry for Elizabeth, he drives off, without giving her his identifying information.
Dave meant well and was willing to accept the costs of his own repairs instead of burdening Elizabeth with the costs. But he willfully failed to meet his duties under Vehicle Code 20002 VC and may have committed the crime of misdemeanor hit and run.
Note that it is not enough to perform some of the duties outlined above. If you are in an accident, you are required to meet ALL the duties or you could be charged with a crime. As you can see in the example above, Dave did stop after the accident, but then he failed to provide his identifying information, so he may still face conviction under California’s hit & run law.
That being said, if you leave the scene there is still time to go back quickly and provide your information. The district attorney would probably take this into consideration along with your driving record and criminal history before deciding if charges should be filed.
These four defenses are used often in a California misdemeanor hit and run case:
1. The only damage was to your car
2. You were not aware that an accident occurred
3. You were not aware that damage had occurred (or that damage probably occurred)
4. You were not involved in the accident
The only damage was to your car
If, for example, you were driving a sub-compact car and hit a large truck, your car may have been the only one with damage. In that case, the duties to stop or exchange information under California’s misdemeanor hit and run law do not apply.
Similarly, if you hit a fence and the collision caused damage to your car but no damage to the fence, you would not be liable for not stopping under Vehicle Code 20002.
If you did not become aware that there had been an accident, there can be no criminal conviction for a California hit & run. This defense would not work in a case where there was significant damage to another’s property as this may show that you should have known there was an accident. But if you hit a small object or the damage to the other person’s property was so insignificant that you didn’t feel it, then this defense can be used. For example, if you were in a large truck and you backed into a compact car you may not have realized that you even hit anything.
You were not involved
Your California misdemeanor hit and run lawyer might choose to argue this defense if you maintain that someone else had access to your car or had stolen it. Factors in deciding to use this defense include the testimony of any witnesses who saw the person driving your car, or when you reported the car stolen.
If convicted under California Vehicle Code 20002 VC, you could potentially receive any or all the following penalties:
1. Up to six months in jail
2. Up to three years of informal probation
3. Restitution to any victim(s) for the damage to their property
4. A fine of up to $1,000
5. Fees for court costs
6. Two points on your DMV driving record
These are the maximum potential penalties. Realistically, a first-time offender would probably not face actual jail time unless there were other factors such as suspicion of DUI.
Civil compromise in a California hit & run case
For a first offense with no other factors such as suspicion of DUI, you may be allowed by the judge to use a process called “civil compromise.” California Penal Code 1377 PC states that if the other party was injured as the result of your misdemeanor conduct, and the other person is able to sue, the case may be civilly compromised. Only the judge can allow you to participate under this law. If allowed, your criminal charge alleging California misdemeanor hit and run will be dismissed after you have fully reimbursed the other party.
California hit and run becomes felony hit and run if the auto accident in question causes physical injury to another person.
Felony hit and run, Vehicle Code 20001 VC, has the same elements as misdemeanor hit and run: you were involved in an accident, you knew or reasonably should have known about the accident or the damage, and you willfully failed to stop and identify yourself at the scene.
The difference with felony hit and run is that the accident has to have caused death or physical injury to someone other than you. The felony charge also requires that you knew or reasonably should have known, that someone was injured or killed.
In some cases, the district attorney may charge a defendant with both misdemeanor AND felony hit and run. This may happen if there was a minor injury to another person but the district attorney may be concerned that there is not enough evidence prove that you knew or should have known about the injury (because it was fairly minor). Adding the misdemeanor charge still allows for a conviction for that charge if your knowledge of the injury is not proven.
Also note that Vehicle Code 20001 VC is actually a wobbler. This means the prosecutor can choose to charge it as a misdemeanor at his discretion.
If convicted of a Vehicle Code 20001 VC felony, the penalties include a fine of up to $10,000), and time in California state prison-up to four years. But if convicted as a misdemeanor, the jail sentence would only be up to one year in county jail.
If the prosecutor alleges that you were DUI at the time of the accident…you may be charged for both the California misdemeanor hit and run AND the California DUI.
In California, some accused of DUI is usually charged with two separate crimes:
1. California Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (misdemeanor)
2. California Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC, driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or greater (misdemeanor)
As misdemeanors, the potential penalties for a first-time DUI conviction include:
1. A fine up to $1,000
2. Up to six months in county jail
3. A driver’s license suspension or restriction up to 10 months
If you are facing California DUI AND California misdemeanor hit and run charges, the penalties can add up fast. DUI law is especially complex. An attorney with experience in California DUI law can be especially helpful in this position.
If you were involved in a misdemeanor hit and run and at that time your driver’s license was expired, you may be charged with the California crime of driving without a license in California (Vehicle Code 12500 VC) in addition to the hit and run charge. California Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC says it is a misdemeanor to drive without a license. Since it is a misdemeanor, the potential penalties include a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
If you have additional questions or would like a free and confidential consultation with a California hit and run defense lawyer, we invite you to contact us at the Law Offices of Marc Grossman.
You may also find helpful information by reading articles on Common Legal Defenses to California Crimes; Legal Definition of an Infraction in California Law; Explanation of California Probation and Probation Violation Hearings; Legal Definition of a Misdemeanor in California Law; Felony Hit and Run Involving Death or Injury California Vehicle Code 20001 VC; Legal Definition of a Felony in California Law; California DUI; Legal Definition of a Wobbler in California Law; California DUI Defenses; California DUI Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing and California Law on Driving Without a License Vehicle Code 12500(a) VC.
Call Us for Help…
If you or a loved one is facing Vehicle Code 20002 VC hit and run charges and you need an attorney to represent you, we invite you to contact us at the Law Offices of Marc Grossman. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, Ventura, Orange County, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, San Diego, Riverside, San Diego, and throughout California.