​If Police Say I Was in a Hit and Run Accident, Who Should I Call?

​If Police Say I Was in a Hit and Run Accident, Who Should I Call?

​If Police Say I Was in a Hit and Run Accident, Who Should I Call?

A driver who causes their vehicle to strike another vehicle—or a pedestrian—generally has two options. First, they can stop their vehicle, exchange contact information, and wait for the police to arrive on the scene. Of course, the second option is for them to leave the scene of the crash and hope that no one saw it.

Under the California Vehicle Code, a driver may not leave an accident scene if their crash resulted in property damage or physical injury. Specifically, they must stop their vehicle and exchange contact and insurance information with all other involved drivers.

Moreover, a hit-and-run is a misdemeanor criminal offense. If you ultimately sustain a conviction for a hit and run, you can be looking at monetary fines, along with potential jail time. Therefore, if a police officer says you were involved in a hit and run or caused such an accident, you should talk with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

First, your lawyer can meet with you to discuss the circumstances of your traffic accident and any criminal charges might be facing. If you are pending a criminal charge for hit and run, your lawyer can enter an appearance in the criminal case and help defend you against your charge from the beginning stages until the end.

For example, you raise legal defenses in response to your hit-and-run charge. Alternatively, your lawyer might secure a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor for you.

Your lawyer will aggressively fight for your constitutional and legal rights at every stage of your hit-and-run case and help you achieve the best possible result under your circumstances.

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"Hit and Run" as a Criminal Offense

The legal term “hit and run” has a very precise meaning under the California Penal Code.

For a state prosecutor to charge you and find you guilty of hit and run, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That while you were operating a motor vehicle, you became involved in a crash
  • That the motor vehicle crash caused some type of damage to another person’s property
  • That at the time when the crash occurred, you were aware that you had been in a motor vehicle accident and that property damage occurred
  • That you intentionally failed to do one of the following:
  • (a) stop your vehicle and (b) provide the owner of the damaged property with your current address and your name, as well as any address and identification information for the vehicle owner, if someone else owned the vehicle that you were operating when the accident occurred

Proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt can be an uphill battle for a prosecutor. However, the prosecutor must satisfy each of these legal elements to secure a conviction against you. If the prosecutor fails to satisfy even one element of the charge, your entire criminal case may be subject to a complete dismissal by the presiding judge.

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can help defend you against your hit-and-run charge and raise one or more legal defenses on your behalf.

What Are the Potential Penalties for a Conviction for a Hit and Run?

If the prosecutor can prove each legal element of a hit-and-run charge, the judge or jury may find you guilty and convict you of the offense. At that time, a sentencing judge will have the task of assessing penalties and sentencing you accordingly.

If Police Say I Was in a Hit and Run Accident, Who Should I Call?

California makes hit-and-runs misdemeanors. Therefore, if you receive a criminal conviction for this charge, you can receive a maximum of six months of incarceration in the county jail and a maximum monetary fine of $1,000. In some cases, a judge can assess both of these penalties against you.

In addition, convicted hit-and-run offenders may have to serve three years of probation and pay restitution to the property owner for the vehicle damage they sustained. Finally, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may access two points on your driver’s license.

A criminal defense attorney will do everything possible to help you avoid a conviction in your case. However, if you ultimately sustain a hit-and-run conviction, your lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing before a judge and argue for a fair penalty on your behalf.

For example, your lawyer may argue that you do not have any prior criminal arrests or convictions on your record or that you were never involved in a traffic accident before. Your lawyer may also represent you at a DMV hearing.

In any criminal case involving a hit and run, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. This means they must prove each legal element beyond a reasonable doubt.

On the other hand, the defendant driver does not have any legal burden of proof that they need to satisfy in the case. Consequently, they do not need to take the witness stand during a criminal bench or jury trial and testify against themselves in any way. This is because the United States Constitution’s Fifth Amendment provides for a criminal defendant’s right against self-incrimination.

However, at a criminal trial, a defendant or their lawyer can argue one or more legal defenses in response to the pending charge. Often, these defenses work to negate legal elements of the offense, preventing the state prosecutor from satisfying their legal burden and resulting in a complete dismissal of the pending charge.

First, you may argue that, for whatever reason, you were unaware that a motor vehicle crash occurred and that you caused it. If you can make this argument successfully, the prosecution cannot satisfy the intent element of the hit-and-run charge. Moreover, they will not prove that you intentionally left the accident scene or intentionally failed to supply identifying information.

Next, as a legal defense to your criminal hit-and-run charge, you might argue that no damage to the other vehicle occurred. If you were unaware that any damage happened, the prosecution cannot prove the damage element of their case, preventing them from successfully securing a conviction against you.

Hit and runs have several related offenses. In addition to a criminal hit-and-run charge, a driver can face criminal charges for driving without a license. For example, the driver might have failed to renew their license within the appropriate time period or failed to obtain a driver’s license from the state.

To prove this offense in court, a state prosecutor must demonstrate that an individual did not hold a valid driver’s license, that they operated a vehicle on a roadway or highway in the state, and that they did not fall within a license exception.

If the state prosecutor can satisfy their legal burden of proof, a convicted offender can receive a maximum monetary fine of $1,000, a maximum incarceration period of six months in a county jail, or both. Prosecutors have the discretion to charge this offense as either a misdemeanor or as an infraction. If the prosecutor charges it as an infraction, the highest penalty that the driver can receive is a monetary fine of $250.

If you’re currently pending criminal charges for driving without a license in addition to your hit-and-run charge, a criminal defense lawyer can represent you in your case and defend you against both charges.

Another common criminal charge that comes along with a hit and run is driving under the influence of alcohol or DUI. A police officer may arrest a driver for DUI if breathalyzer evidence confirms that they operated a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. Minor drivers under 21 years old and commercial vehicle drivers—including truck drivers—must abide by stricter standards.

In addition, a police officer can arrest a driver for DUI if they fail one or more field sobriety tests, including the heel-to-toe walking test or the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, where a police officer observes the movement of a driver’s pupils.

If the state prosecutor can satisfy their legal burden and shows that you are guilty of DUI, you can face several serious penalties. The ultimate penalties you incur for a DUI conviction will depend on the number of prior convictions you have on your record (if any).

If you incur a misdemeanor DUI conviction, which is usually a first, second, or third DUI offense, your criminal DUI penalties can include a three-to-five-year probation, a monetary fine of three hundred ninety dollars plus court costs, required attendance at a DUI school, and a maximum incarceration of one year in the county jail.

In addition to these legal DUI penalties, the DMV may suspend your driver’s license for a minimum of six months. You may also face repercussions from your insurance company if you sustain a DUI conviction.

In some instances, drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs cause accidents that lead to personal injuries—or even untimely death. These accidents are unfortunately common because alcohol slows down a driver’s central nervous system and impairs their driving abilities.

For example, a driver who is under the influence of alcohol may experience blurred vision that prevents them from seeing another vehicle or a pedestrian. In addition, a drunk driver may experience delayed reflexes and reaction time, preventing them from stopping their vehicle in time to avoid a crash.

When a drunk driver causes an accident that leads to injury or death, and a state prosecutor secures a conviction against them, they can be looking at misdemeanor penalties which include between three and five years of probation, monetary fines of between $390 and $5,000, and incarceration in a county jail for a minimum of five days but no longer than one year. They may also need to pay restitution to the alleged accident victim. A judge can also order them to spend time in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

If the state prosecutor secures a felony conviction against an offending driver, the driver might receive between two and four years of incarceration in state prison, between three and six additional years in state prison (that is, for a significant bodily injury), between 18 and 30 months of participation in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, along with monetary fines ranging from $1,015 to $5,000, among other potential penalties.

If you are currently pending a DUI in addition to a criminal hit and run, an experienced criminal defense attorney can represent you in all courtroom proceedings and advocate for your legal interests at trial.

What Is a Felony Hit and Run?

In certain circumstances, a prosecutor may charge a hit-and-run as a felony offense. A driver might face felony hit-and-run charges if they leave an accident scene and another person suffered a serious injury or fatality.

If the state prosecutor decides to charge this offense as a misdemeanor, the defendant can receive a maximum of one year of incarceration in a county jail, along with a monetary fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.

However, if the state prosecutor charges the offense as a felony, the accused can face between 16 months and three years of incarceration in state prison and a maximum monetary fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.a They can also receive between two and four years of incarceration in state prison if they caused an accident that led to someone else’s serious injury or death.

Call an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you currently have a pending criminal hit-and-run charge, you should connect with a knowledgeable criminal defense law firm in California right away. Your attorney can defend you against your charge and pursue a complete dismissal of your hit and run, along with any other related charges.

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