Is a Hit and Run a Crime in California?

When you are involved in an accident in Los Angeles you may have a legal responsibility to exchange personal information anyone else who was in the accident. This responsibility arises when the accident results in either property damage or a personal injury. If you leave the scene of an accident knowing that damage or any injury has occurred, you could be charged with the crime of hit and run. A hit and run can carry serious criminal consequences, including expensive fines and time behind bars.

If you have been arrested for a hit and run in Los Angeles it is important to contact an attorney. A criminal record that reflects a hit and run conviction can make it difficult to live a normal life. You may have difficulties finding a new job, renting an apartment, or even getting a much-needed loan. When you hire an attorney to defend you, the chances of successfully defeating the criminal charges against you will increase.

Hit and Run Causing Property Damage

If you are involved in an accident you probably have a duty to stop your car and exchange personal information with others. This is true for any accident that causes property damage. It does not matter if the damage was minor or if you were not at-fault for the accident.

It is also important to note that being involved in an accident does not actually require you to physically collide with a car or person. Rather, you will be considered to have been involved in an accident if you were “connected with the accident in a natural or logical manner.” For example, let’s say a driver does not safely merge into existing traffic. The driver’s actions require the car behind him to slam on their brakes to avoid a collision. That car is then rear-ended by another vehicle. The driver who failed to safely merge into traffic would probably be considered to be connected to that accident in a natural or logical manner. The driver would have a responsibility to stop even though his car was not physically involved in the accident.

Essentially, if you are in an accident and there is some damage to another person’s property you have a legal duty to stop your car and provide others with certain information. Specifically, California Vehicle Code Section 20002 VC requires that all drivers who are involved in a damage-causing accident:

  1. Stop in a safe location and exit their vehicle;
  2. Provide their name and address to others at the scene; and
  3. Provide their registration and insurance information if it is requested.

Failure to do any of these things could lead to an arrest for a misdemeanor hit and run.

If you are involved in an accident that causes property damage, but no other drivers are around, you are still required to get out of your car and leave your name and contact information. Vehicle Code 20002 VC requires drivers who strike and damage property to exit their vehicle and leave identifying information in a very visible location for that property’s owner. So, if you are driving and hit a parked car you still have a responsibility to leave your information at the scene of the accident. Leaving the scene after you hit the parked car is a crime.

Hit and Run Causing Personal Injury

Can a hit and run be a felony? Yes. Felony hit and run occurs when you leave the scene of an accident when you know (or should know) that someone suffered a bodily injury. When you are involved in an accident that results in an injury you have a responsibility to:

  1. Stop your car;
  2. Exchange personal information with others involved in the accident;
  3. Answer the questions of law enforcement on the scene; and
  4. Contact emergency medical services or transport injured victims to a local hospital, if necessary.

Failure to do any of these things could lead to an arrest for a felony hit and run under California Vehicle Code Section 20001 VC.

Penalties for a Hit and Run in California

What are the penalties for a hit and run? The answer will depend on the type of damage that is caused by the accident.

Misdemeanor Hit and Run Penalties

Generally, a hit and run that causes property damage will be a misdemeanor. Scenarios that could lead to misdemeanor hit and run charges include:

  • Hitting a parked car and fleeing the scene without leaving a note;
  • Leaving a parking lot after a gust of wind causes your door to blow into a nearby motorcycle, knocking it over, without leaving a note; and
  • Leaving the scene of an accident that was not your fault, but that resulted in damage to another person’s car.

In these situations, you could face a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. You may also be penalized with 2 points on your California driving record and be responsible for the cost of the damage sustained by others in the accident.

You may even be able to avoid criminal penalties if you agree to compensate the victim(s) of the accident for their damages. In many cases, a court will have the discretion to dismiss the criminal charges against you if you agree to responsibility in a related civil action for damages. Contact an attorney to learn if a civil compromise may be appropriate for your specific case.

Felony Hit and Run Penalties

If a hit and run accident causes another person to suffer an injury it may be charged as a felony. The penalties associated with a felony hit and run will depend on the seriousness and severity of these injuries.

If a felony hit and run does not cause serious bodily injury or death, it carries a possible sentence of:

  • A maximum of 1 year in a California state prison; and/or
  • A fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.

If a felony hit and run does cause serious bodily injury or death, it carries a possible sentence of:

  • Between 90 days and 12 months in jail, or
  • 2, 3, or 4 years in a California state prison; and/or
  • A fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.

Fighting Hit and Run Charges

Hit and run charges can be costly. A conviction for a hit and run offense can result in lengthy terms of imprisonment, hefty fines, and limit your ability to drive in the future. The best way to limit these (and other) negative consequences is by presenting a powerful and persuasive defense.

Your attorney’s job will be to make it difficult for the prosecution to prove that you are guilty of each element of the hit and run offense. If the prosecutor cannot prove each element of the crime you cannot be convicted.

Your attorney will launch a thorough investigation to uncover evidence and information to support any arguments that may lead to the dismissal or reduction of charges. Defenses that may be helpful in your hit and run case include:

  1. The accident caused no property damage or personal injury;
  2. You were the only party to suffer property damage or an injury;
  3. Lack of required knowledge, because you did not know that the accident caused property damage or an injury;
  4. Lack of required intent, because you did not purposefully leave the scene of a damage or injury-causing accident;
  5. Actual innocence, because you were not involved in an accident; or
  6. Actual innocence, because you immediately stopped your vehicle and exchanged personal information with others at the scene, or for property owners not at the scene.

Need Help?

A conviction for a hit and run has the potential to change your life forever. The most important thing to do following a hit and run arrest is hiring an attorney to handle your case. An attorney can help to limit the negative consequences of a hit and run arrest. In some cases, your attorney may be able to get the hit and run charges against you dismissed or reduced.