Hit and Run Accidents
Actual Case #1
In People v. Yuri K., - Case No. 5WA24527, the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office filed a case against my client for Hit & Run causing serious injury to another. After not waiving my client's speedy trial rights and proceeding straight towards a jury trial the prosecutor's office dismissed all charges against my client.
Actual Case #2
In People v. Eric M. - Case No. 2WA11139, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office filed this as a Hit and Run causing Injury out of the LAX Courthouse. My client, a High School math teacher who was also an avid cyclist, was accused of driving his car down Washington Boulevard in Culver City when he was alleged to have mowed down and undocumented illegal alien who was riding his bicycle also on Washington Boulevard. The case was clearly bullshit as it turns out that the bicyclist likely ran into my clients car and then weeks later he filed a civil lawsuit against my client looking for some easy money. Even though Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder could see that his case should have never been filed, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office sunk their teeth in and never let go. Or maybe the prosecutor assigned to this "case" just needed trial experience and decided to practice at my client's and the taxpayers expense. Outcome: Not Guilty Verdict. Oh, and the Civil case against my client went away too once the "victim" and the prosecutor lost this case.
The California Vehicle Code criminalizes the failure to stop and identity you at the scene of hit and run auto accident under sections 20001 and 20002. Those hit and run incidents wherein injury or death results are covered in 20001, and those incidents that only resulted in property damage are addressed in 20002. The latter is generally a misdemeanor offense, while the former is a typically a felony.
As the charge of hit and run can carry with it a severe sentence and a long-term blight on your driving record, it is important to avail yourself of an experienced defense attorney in order to avert these consequences. An important part of winning the legal battle is understanding the dictates of the law, and therefore, anyone facing these charges would do well to learn all they can about California's hit and run statutes.
Common Hit and Run Accident Scenarios
While there are many case-types and every case varies on the details, four of the most common hit and run scenarios are as follows:
- A driver hits a pedestrian, causes serious injury, and then immediately flees because he/she was illegally driving a vehicle after a DUI-based license suspension.
- The driver did damage to a parked car and fled to avoid making monetary restitution.
- The driver ran into a police car, which was being used to enforce a road block. He fled to avoid identification.
- The hit and run driver ran over a dog and did not inform the owner.
Facts to Be Established by the Prosecution
To prove the defendant guilty of a hit and run crime, the prosecutor must establish the following five facts beyond reasonable doubt:
- The defendant was driving a vehicle that was involved in an auto accident.
- The accident in question was the cause of property damage, serious and/or permanent injury, or of the death of the victim.
- The defendant was aware that the accident had occurred.
- The defendant knew or of the results of the accident or should have known of the probability of those results based on the nature of the accident itself.
- The defendant willfully fled the scene or failed in any other way to quickly perform all of the duties the state of California assigns to motorists involved in an accident.
Duties That Pertain to Motorists Involved in an Accident
There are a number of duties that the state of California lays upon drivers of motor vehicles who have been involved in an auto accident. These duties apply regardless of who was at fault. Considering that legal fault has yet to be assigned and that fault may well become a subject of controversy in court, this only makes sense.
These duties also apply regardless of what type of property was damaged, who was injured, or who was killed. For example, the property damage may have been done to a moving or parked vehicle, to a mailbox, a gate, or a pet. The injured party could have been the other driver, a passenger in that driver's vehicle, a passenger in the defendant's vehicle, or a pedestrian passing by. The how and why or the accident's occurrence do not affect the applicability of these duties, and even if the accident was unavoidable, all of these duties must still be fulfilled.
Drivers involved in a hit and run that results in injury or death are duty-bound to do all of the following without delay:
- Immediately stop his/her vehicle at the scene of the accident.
- Give all reasonable assistance to anyone injured by the accident.
- Upon request, show his driver's license to the other vehicle's occupants and to any law enforcement agents present.
- Reveal his/her name, address, and vehicle registration number to police or occupants of the struck vehicle.
- If passengers in the vehicle he was operating were injured, their names and addresses must be given to police.
- If the defendant did not own the vehicle he was driving, he must provide the name and address of the vehicle's owner as well.
- If a death resulted from the accident, the defendant must have quickly notified police in the city wherein the accident occurred or the local California Highway Patrol Headquarters if the incident took place in an unincorporated area.
Drivers involved in a hit and run accident that resulted only in property damage to the other vehicle are duty-bound to do all of the following without delay:
- Immediately stop his vehicle at the location of the accident.
- Upon request, show the owner of the damaged property and/or law enforcement officers his driver's license and vehicle registration information.
- Provide the owner or present controller of the damaged property with his/her name and address.
- Inform local police or the local California Highway Patrol HQ of the incident without delay.
- If the defendant was not the owner of the vehicle he was driving, then he must have also provided the name and address of the borrowed vehicle's owner.
The information that the defendant was required to supply can legally have been provided in one of two ways: a) by locating the damaged property's owner/present controller and directly informing that him/her, b) by leaving the information on a note, which is then placed placed securely on top of the damaged property and in a "conspicuous location." The second option will often be more practical when the owner/controller of the property is not present because he/she parked and then entered a building.
Possible Defenses Against Hit and Run Allegations
We at the Law Office of Jeff Voll know what to expect from prosecuting attorneys and how to best counter their arguments. We have the experience to sense a weakness in the prosecutor's case and to find the best possible defense for each individual situation. Some of the most common defense arguments include the following:
- If under 20002, property damage is alleged, it may in fact be the case that only the defendant's property was damaged. Under this scenario, the hit and run statute would not apply.
- If under 20001, injury is alleged, it may turn out that only the defendant was, in fact, injured. The statute would not then apply.
- The defendant pleads "lack of knowledge." He/she did not even know that an accident had occurred, nor could he/she have been reasonably expected to have known it was highly probable. For example, if no collision occurred, the defendant may not have been aware of his contribution to causing the accident.
- The defendant may have known of an incident, but he had no way to realize that significant property damage or injury had occurred.
- The defendant was not involved in the accident at all. For example, his/her car may have been stolen and driven by a thief, whose reckless driving resulted in the accident. That thief can then be charged with unlawfully taking and driving another's vehicle under section 10851 of the California Criminal Code, but the vehicle's owner is not blameworthy.
- The defendant did not willfully leave the scene of the accident. For instance, the car that was struck may have caught fire and seemed ready to explode at any moment. The defendant did all within his/her power to fulfill all duties the law assigns, including notifying police and paramedics as soon as possible.
Possible Penalties for Hit and Run Accidents
The possible punishments for injury/death hit and run violations under section 20001 of the California Vehicle Code are:
- A one-year maximum county jail term for a misdemeanor
- Two to four years in state prison for a felony
- A fine anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.
The severity of the punishment will correspond to the seriousness of the incident. Minor injuries will likely not be treated nearly so strictly as major injuries and deaths. The lesser offenses will generally be charged as misdemeanors, while the aggravated offenses are charged as felonies. Past criminal history can also contribute to receiving a felony charge.
Property damage only hit and run incidents are classified as misdemeanors and are dealt with under section 20002 of the California Vehicle Code. Possible punishments for violation are:
- Up to six months in the county jail
- Up to a $1,000 fine
Lesser Included Offenses for Hit and Run Accidents
Some hit and run convictions can carry with them "lesser included offenses," which will add additional punishment. Two of the most common such lesser included offenses are as follows:
- Failure to stop following an accident that resulted in a minor injury. This injury was not serious nor permanent, but a misdemeanor can be charged for it based on subsection (b) of section 20001 of the vehicle code.
- Failure to stop following an accident that resulted in property damage. Technically, this is an offense included under the main charge of hit and run.This lesser offense is a misdemeanor.
Sentencing Enhancements for Hit and Run Accidents
Certain classes of hit and run accidents can receive "enhanced sentencing" based on the specific circumstances involved in the case. The two most common such enhancements are:
- The defendant fled the scene after an accident that amounts to vehicular manslaughter. If the felony charge of vehicular manslaughter is established, subsection (c) of section 20001 of the vehicle code allows for a penalty enhancement of five extra years in the state prison system.
- The defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol or intoxicating drugs when he/she committed the hit and run accident. This enhancement and the DUI itself are both misdemeanors. Either of these violations will result in the following punishments for a first-time offense: a) 96 hours to six months in the county jail, b) a fine of $390 to $1,000, and c) a six to 10 month driver's license suspension.
Contact Jeff Voll for Expert Hit and Run Criminal Defense
We at the Law Offices of Jeff Voll are always ready to use our extensive expertise in hit and run law to fight for your future in the courtroom. We handle cases in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, and if you call us today at 323-467-6400, we can give you a free consultation and immediate attention to your case.