Best Defenses for Hit & Run Charges in California
If you are wondering what to do after a hit and run in California, it is important to be aware of your legal options and the possible legal defenses. Each case is unique and the best defense for your case will depend on the circumstances of the crash. In some hit-and-run cases, the charges may be dismissed if the defendant and their criminal defense attorney present a strong case.
Sonoma County criminal defense lawyer Amy Chapman has extensive experience representing clients in various misdemeanor and felony traffic violation cases, including hit and run. Amy is prepared to evaluate your case and help you construct a sound legal defense based on the facts. Contact Amy Chapman Law today at (707) 636-3207 to learn more about your options in a free consultation.
What Is the Definition of Hit and Run in California?
The laws regarding hit-and-run crashes in California are covered under California Vehicle Code sections 20002 (misdemeanor) and 20001 (felony). Both misdemeanor and felony hit-and-run charges involve leaving the scene of an accident. Misdemeanor charges are filed in cases that only involve property damage, while felony charges may be filed for hit-and-run crashes involving injuries.
Misdemeanor Hit and Run
According to California Vehicle Code 20002, “any driver involved in an accident resulting only in damage to property or vehicle shall stop at the nearest location that won’t impede traffic or jeopardize the safety of other motorists.” After an accident, California drivers are obligated to stop their vehicle immediately, provide their name and address to the other driver, and show their driver’s license and car registration upon request.
These requirements apply in accidents involving two or more moving vehicles in traffic, collisions with parked vehicles, and collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. The severity of the property damage does not matter – you must stop at the scene following any accident in California.
Drivers who are found guilty of misdemeanor hit and run in California are subject to the following penalties:
- Up to 6 months in county jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
- 2 points on their California driver’s license
- Up to 1 year of probation
Felony Hit and Run
California Vehicle Code 20001 states that a driver who fails to stop at the scene of an accident that results in injury or death to another person may be found guilty of felony hit and run. Drivers who flee the scene of accidents with the knowledge that there is likely an injury could face a felony charge.
VC 20001 goes on to outline the steps motorists must take following an accident that involves injury or death:
- Immediately pull over at a safe location
- Provide the injured driver with your name, address, and vehicle registration
- Attempt to help the injured driver get medical care
- Give relevant information to the responding police officer at the scene
Those who fail to follow these guidelines may be charged with felony hit and run. If convicted, the penalties may include time in county jail, up to three years in state prison, a fine of up to $10,0000, and restitution to the victim.
How Can I Beat Hit and Run Charges in California?
There are a few common defenses that criminal defense lawyers use when representing clients who have been charged with hit and run in California. In some cases, a criminal defense lawyer may also recommend a plea agreement for a reduced sentence. Those who face such charges should speak with a criminal defense lawyer to find out if these or other defenses apply to their case and how to proceed.
Lack of Knowledge
If you did not realize an accident had occurred or that there was damage or injuries, lack of knowledge could be a defense to hit-and-run charges.
For example, say you were involved in a fender-bender and you and the other driver left the scene willingly under the impression there was no damage. However, the other driver later discovered the damage and reported the crash to the police, who eventually arrested you on hit-and-run charges. In this example, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to argue that you had no knowledge of the damage.
Not Driving During the Accident
There have been cases of people being charged with hit and run even though they were not behind the wheel at the time of the accident.
This can happen if the car was stolen and the thief got into an accident, but the police mistakenly identified the owner as the driver. Another example would be a crash where the owner was a passenger while another person was driving.
In either case, the license plate information would lead back to the owner. If your criminal defense lawyer can prove that someone else was driving at the time of the crash, you could beat the charges.
No Damage or Injuries
Prosecutors are required to prove that there was damage to property for misdemeanor hit-and-run charges and injuries for felony charges. If you are facing hit-and-run charges even though there was no damage nor any injuries in the crash, proving this in court can get the charges dismissed.
California Vehicle Code 20002 states that anyone who is involved in an accident with damage must provide their personal information to the owner of that property. In accidents involving another driver, this information should be exchanged directly. For accidents involving parked vehicles, the person who caused the crash is required to leave a note with this information.
If you provided your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and contact information as required by law, you have met the legal requirements of a hit-and-run accident and could be found not guilty.
Responding to Emergency
Responding to an emergency can be a valid defense to hit-and-run charges, but this decision will be made on a case-by-case basis by the court. For example, if you left the scene because you were bringing someone to the hospital for an urgent injury or health matter, this could potentially be used as part of your criminal defense.
If you were drugged and become involuntarily intoxicated before the accident, a criminal defense lawyer could argue that you were operating at diminished capacity. An attorney will need strong evidence to back up this defense.
What to Do After a Hit and Run
If you have left the scene of an accident but are not yet facing charges, consider turning yourself in and cooperating with the police. However, you should also strongly consider speaking with a criminal defense lawyer first. Your actions following the crash can significantly influence your case, so you should strongly consider seeking legal guidance early in the process.
Contact Sonoma County Criminal Defense Lawyer Amy Chapman
If you are wondering what to do after a hit and run, California criminal defense lawyer Amy Chapman is prepared to guide you through the legal process. The Law Office of Amy Chapman represents clients charged with hit-and-run and other offenses in Santa Rosa and all of Sonoma County. Contact Amy today and learn more about the possible defenses to California hit-and-run charges in a free consultation.