Accidents do occur regularly, and victims suffer if the individuals responsible are not held to account. It is critical to remain at the scene of an accident to offer information to the investigating authorities and exchange your insurance information with the victim in the crash. However, leaving the scene opens you up for prosecution. Hit and run charges may be preferred against you, and this may prove to be problematic, a situation that is remedied by hiring legal representation.
Criminal defense attorneys at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer are experienced at handling hit and run cases. We offer legal assistance and representation for Orange County residents. Understanding hit and run violations is the first step in seeking legal help for the crime.
Hit and Run Charges under Vehicle Code 20002
Code 20002 VC addresses hit and run charges. The code defines the crime as a misdemeanor or a felony violation. According to the law, you can be charged for the crime if you leave an accident scene without offering your information to the other parties to the crash. Code 20002 seeks to find culpability and remedy the damage of property or loss of life. Misdemeanor charges are preferred when the accident caused property damage. However, if there was an injury or a fatality, you may face felony charges.
It is worth noting that hit and run violations are deemed to have occurred regardless of the at-fault party, the severity of the injuries inflicted or the degree of property damage. If any of the above happened and you left the accident scene, you may face hit and run charges. Therefore, leaving the crash site after simple accidents such as fender benders, or more severe accidents could see you facing penalties under Vehicle Code 20002 VC.
Specific responsibilities are conferred upon each motorist in car accident scenarios. You are expected to stop your vehicle after a crash. You further should share information that identifies you. In some cases, your name and current address are sufficient. Other situations call for insurance details. If you are not the owner of the vehicle, it is upon you to share the owner’s name and current information, or insurance details if the situation calls for it.
The responsibilities above are conferred upon all motorists regardless of the party at fault. This means that you will be held liable for Code 20002 VC violations even if you are the victim in the crash. Of particular interest to the court is your actions after the accident. If you failed to provide the required information, your actions would amount to a disregard of the law. Should you also fail to stop after an accident, you risk facing penalties under vehicle code 20002. Your actions, from a jury or a judge’s perspective, amounts to you fleeing from your responsibility.
The jury will not consider your actions as fleeing from an accident scene if you leave your identification details with them. Further, you should have proceeded to the local law enforcement to report the matter. Alternatively, the court allows for you to leave the scene of the accident if you are seeking medical attention.
Providing your insurance details is not a requirement under vehicle code 20002. However, it is provided for in Vehicle Code 16025. Failure to share insurance details with the victim is a violation of Code 16205 punishable with a fine of no more than $250.
Prosecution of Hit and Run Cases
Prosecutors bear the burden of proof in a hit and run case. Vehicle Code 20002 requires them to prove some aspects if you are to be held liable for the crime. Prosecutors should demonstrate that:
- You were behind the wheel at the time of the accident,
- The crash resulted in property damage of another,
- You knew that the collision would cause or had caused property damage,
- You willfully disregarded your responsibilities as enumerated in vehicle code 20002.
It is worth noting that you stand convicted of Code 20002 violations if you failed to act on any of the responsibilities enumerated above. The prosecution will also be interested in your criminal past and your driving records. Such a move is aimed at convincing the jury or the judge of a pattern of traffic offenses.
If convicted, you could serve a three-year informal probation sentence or a six-month jail sentence. You could also be required to pay a $1,000 fine in penalties assessed by the courts. A valuation of the property damage will be done, and you will be mandated to pay the value of the property damaged to the victims of the collision. Your driving records are also affected. Two points will be added to your driving records as part of the punishment for the crime.
Civil Compromise in a Hit and Run Case
Civil compromises were allowed before February 2019. The settlement arose in situations that a judge dismisses a hit and run case as a misdemeanor. A defendant would then reimburse the victim in the case sums equivalent to the value lost in the property damaged.
Civil compromises were dismissed in an Appellate court case, California vs. Dimacali. The courts ruled that the purpose of a hit and run matter before the courts was to prosecute an individual for leaving an accident scene and not to punish for the damage. The court decided that the act of leaving an accident scene or the criminal deed determined in a hit and run case does not result in civil liability as the actions do not directly cause physical damage. Therefore, the lack of a public liability discredits the need for a civil compromise.
However, should the victim seek to pursue damages in a civil matter, the criminal proceedings against you do not limit them from doing so. In civil actions, the victim will seek damages for the injury or death caused. Such suits are in pursuit of monetary compensation to cater for lost wages, medical bills, and property damage. Victims can only pursue such a case if the case can be tried in both civil and criminal court.
Hit and Run Charges under Vehicle Code 20001
Hit and run offenses are prosecuted as misdemeanor offenses in Code 20002 VC. Vehicle code 20001, on the other hand, offers guidelines for prosecuting felony hit and run cases. The law makes it a felony offense to flee an accident scene in which the victim was gravely injured or died.
Vehicle Code 20001 VC provides for specific actions as responsibilities all drivers have when involved in an accident. You should:
- Remain in the crash site for a time that is reasonable. Such a time allows you to offer your information to the parties in the accident and give your account of the accident to the investigating authorities.
- Contact local law enforcement.
- Share your identification information with law enforcement officers at the scene as well as the other party to the accident. This information should include your name and physical address as well as your vehicle registration number. If you were driving someone else’s car, you should provide the owner’s name and physical address.
- Offer reasonable help to the injured party. It is expected that you offer to either transport an injured party to a medical center to medical assistance or find another to do so. Reasonable help in this context refers to all actions meant to offer or ensure that aid is provided to the injured.
The above duties are conferred to all parties to the accident. This is regardless of who is to blame for the crash. It, therefore, follows that both the victim and the at-fault driver will be expected to act per the duties above. Any actions to the contrary open an avenue for felony hit and run prosecution.
If you leave an accident scene without attempting to offer assistance to the injured, you could be charged with aggressive hit and run charges. You should try or seen to attempt to help the injured even if there are other parties offering help to the victim(s).
Prosecution of a Vehicle Code 20001 Violation
Prosecutors must prove your liability for you to be convicted for the crime. The law expects them to show the following elements of the crime.
- That you were driving at the time of the crash that led to the injury or loss of life of another,
- You were aware that the crash had occurred,
- You were aware that your driving could have led to the injury or the death of another or you were aware that there was an injured party or one who had been killed in the accident,
- You willfully failed to perform any of the outlined duties.
Before you can be convicted for the crime, the jury must have a unanimous decision that you failed to perform one or more of the duties under Code 20001 VC. They too must determine that the injury or death was a direct consequence of the crash.
A conviction for a Code 20001 violation is penalized in two ways: penalties for an accident that caused an injury or for a crash that resulted in a severe injury or death of another. A felony hit and run that resulted in the injury of another that is not permanent or serious is punishable by a fine to the tune of $1,000 and no more than $10,000. You risk spending sixteen, two, or three years in jail. Further, you will be required to pay restitution sums to the victim(s). You will also have two points added to your driving record.
If the accident resulted in serious harm or death of another, you risk paying a fine of $1,000 or an amount not above $10,000. You will be sentenced to a two, three, or four year jail time over and above paying restitution sums and having the two points added to your record.
Legal Defenses You can use in Hit And Run Cases
An assessment of your case determines the circumstances of your case. Attorneys will then use the facts in your case to develop a defense strategy. They will use any of the following defenses to fight off the hit and run charges brought against you.
Lack of Knowledge
The lack of knowledge argument is tailored to show to the court you did not know about the accident. This defense is used in misdemeanor cases. Most hit and run misdemeanor cases are fender benders and occur without your knowledge. If it is proven you did not know of the accident, leaving the crash scene is considered as anything but fleeing.
In felony proceedings, your defense is in either of two directions. The first is that your vehicle was not involved in the actual collision. You were a victim in the crash. Your actions could have led to the crash, but you had no knowledge of it happening or that your driving could have caused an accident. In the second situation, you may have caused an accident that led to the injury of another. However, you had no way of knowing the injury.
Response to an Emergency
Situations that call for a sudden rush often cause an adrenaline surge. Rushing to the hospital to respond to an emergency is one such situation. You may damage another’s property or cause a crash that resulted in the injury or death of another. However, you had no intention to do so. Your actions were in response to the emergency at hand. Your attorney will introduce this information.
Your Driving did not contribute to the Accident
An error made by investigators at times is zeroing in one individual when analyzing the circumstances that led to the accident. Often, their investigations may not consider the actions of the victim in the crash. It is easy to be wrongfully convicted if less than stellar investigations were done. That is why attorneys carry out their investigations, independent of that done by the local law enforcement officers. If the investigations prove that you were not at fault, this argument will be introduced in your defense.
Another was Behind the Wheel
Prosecutors need to provide evidence to prove you were the driver at the time of the accident. The evidence is provided for by eyewitness accounts or video footage. If the case lacks witnesses or footage, the prosecution cannot prove your guilt. Your attorney will use this opportunity to determine that you were not the one driving the car. This argument works primarily in cases where your car was stolen and ended up in a crash.
Your Car is the only Property Damaged
Some accidents leave you with damages to your car and none on another’s. In such a situation, your obligation is limited to your car’s damage. Therefore, you did not have any responsibility to stop. In such a case, the prosecution grounds for a hit and run will be questioned.
Your Departure from the Accident Scene was not Willful
Several issues may cause you to depart from an accident scene. The fear of losing your life from a mob beating is one such issue. Your departure from the scene in life-threatening situations frees you from the obligation of staying at the crime scene — however, your actions after leaving the crash site matter. If you went and reported the accident to the police or sought help to attend to the injured and provide evidence to support your actions, your defense attorney will introduce this argument.
You were the Only Injured Party
This defense is ideal in a felony hit and run case. If you were the only injured party in the accident, code 20001 VC requirements do not apply. The elements confer duties to take care of the injured which means all injured parties, yourself included.
Facing hit and run charges is overwhelming. The matter may be further complicated if the prosecution chooses to introduce additional charges. This means you risk facing harsher penalties. Your attorney should be in a position to have the charges dismissed or reduced.
Offenses Related to Hit and Run Offenses
The following offenses may be introduced as additional charges to your Code 20001 and code 20002 VC violations. The circumstances in your case determine what indictments the prosecution prefers.
DUI, Violation of Vehicle Code 23152 Violation
If it is determined that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash, DUI charges will be introduced. If it were a case of property damage in your hit and run charges, you would also be charged with a misdemeanor DUI offense. However, if there was an injured party to the accident, you could face felony DUI charges over and above the felony hit and run cases.
Misdemeanor DUI offenses are penalized with 96 hours to 6 days in jail, a fine of between $390 to $5,000 a license suspension of 6 to 10 months. Felony penalties include a fine of $390 to $1,000, a prison sentence of between 3 months to 16 years, as well as a license suspension that runs from 4 months to 5 years. The penalties are based on the circumstances in your case.
Driving without a License, Vehicle Code 12500 (a) VC Violation
These charges are only introduced if you were driving with an expired license at the time of the crash. With supporting evidence, the prosecution will be able to charge you with code 12500 (a) VC violations. You will be penalized for the crime if convicted. Your penalties will include a fine of no more than $250, and a jail term of up to 6 months.
Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated, Penal Code 191.5b Violation
If your actions while impaired caused an accident that resulted in the death of another, you risk facing vehicular manslaughter charges. You should have demonstrated a certain degree of negligence. However, the indictments are only viable if the prosecution proves that:
- You were driving recklessly,
- You knowingly caused a car crash for financial gain,
A conviction means that you get a prison sentence of one year for a misdemeanor offense. Further, you risk a fine of $1,000.
Gross Vehicular Manslaughter, Penal Code 191.5a Violation
The circumstances in gross vehicular manslaughter charges are similar to those of vehicular manslaughter charges. Gross vehicular manslaughter charges differ from vehicular manslaughter charges when the element of gross negligence is introduced. Prosecutors will need to prove the following:
- You were intoxicated at the time of the collision,
- You were driving the car involved in the crash,
- You violated Penal Code 191.5a while committing a misdemeanor, or doing a lawful act that could lead to death, and
- Your gross negligence resulted in the death of another. Gross negligence, in this case, is examined from what an ordinary person would do given similar circumstances. Your actions are said to be gross if they are beyond what an average person would do.
If convicted of the crime, you will be required to serve formal probation and a prison sentence of either four, six, or ten years. A fine to the tune of $10,000 will be imposed. If you have any prior convictions, you risk facing up to 15 years to life in prison.
Finding an Orange County Criminal Attorney Near Me
The complexity of hit and run cases as well as the penalties you risk facing should you be convicted of the crime make a case for why you need to hire an attorney. You will get legal counsel and the experience that comes with handling such cases over a long period of practice. Furthermore, prosecutors and police officers are under immense pressure to increase their conviction rates. Therefore, more individuals suffer the consequences of less than stellar investigations and prosecutorial zeal which you should avoid.
The Orange County Criminal Lawyer team is ready to offer assistance in your case. We are prepared to assess your situation, carry out an independent investigation, and represent you in the matter. All you need to do is call us at 714-262-4833 for a free consult.