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Home Hit and Run Defense

California Hit and Run Defense Attorney
California Vehicle Code 20001 and 20002

Hit and Run Defense

Being involved in a hit and run is scary. It's common for people who get into accidents to not think clearly and leave the scene of an accident. People involved in hit and run accidents choose to leave the scene for many reasons. They can be worrying about getting a DUI, being caught without a license (or a suspended license), and there are some who leave because they're just afraid.

If you are accused or suspected of a Hit and Run, call us at (800) 458-1488 immediately!

In California, a hit and run occurs when the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident leaves the scene without identifying him or herself to the other parties involved. While this basic definition may sound simple, California Vehicle Code Sections 20001 and 20002 create a complex framework of hit and run laws, which impose specific duties on drivers that apply to every accident, regardless of who was at fault, whether the accident was unavoidable, the amount of property damage, or the severity of injuries.

Unfortunately, as a result of these complex laws, many law abiding citizens find themselves facing life altering charges, even though they had no clue they were doing anything illegal or simply panicked in the moment and don't know what to do about it now. For such a person, depending on whether they are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, a conviction could mean a $10,000 fine and spending the next 4 years in a California state prison. In addition to criminial penalties, a conviction could lead to the suspension of driving privileges, increased insurance rates, civil liability, and the loss of current and future employment.

Therefore, if you or a loved one has been charged with hit and run in Los Angeles, or have been involved in a hit and run and are now worried that the police are going to come knocking at your door, having an experienced and aggressive California hit and run defense attorney fighting for you may mean the difference between freedom and prison. At CDI, our attorneys have over 50 years of experience successfully defending clients for hit and run charges. If, after reading our comprehensive analysis of California hit and run laws below, you have questions or would like to speak to a hit and run defense attorney, call to speak directly with an attorney at CDI immediately for a FREE, CONFIDENTIAL consultation at (800) 458-1488. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you.

California Hit and Run Laws Examined

In California, all hit and runs are characterized in one of two ways, either as hit and run causing damage only to property or hit and run causing physical injury to a person or persons. California Vehicle Code Section 20001 VC governs hit and runs that cause physical injury, and it is a "wobbler." A wobbler is an offerse that the prosecutor may change as a felony, but may also decide to reduce down to a misdemeanor. That decision usally depends on the severity of the injuries caused by the accident and defendant's criminal history.

California Vehicle Code Section 20002 VC governs hit and runs that cause damage to property, which is always charged as a misdemeanor. Even though both types of hit and run share the common elements of a driver leaving the scene of an accident without first exchanging information with the other parties involved, they carry severely different penalties.

How are California Felony Hit and Run Charges Prosecuted (20001 VC)?

In order to convict you of felony hit and run, the prosecution must establish the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You were driving a vehicle involved in an accident that resulted in injury or death to another;
  2. You knew an accident had occurred;
  3. You knew or reasonably should have known, based on the nature of the accident, that another person was injured or killed; and
  4. You willfully failed to perform any of the following duties:
    1. Immediately stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident;
    2. Provide your identifying information and the identifying information of any of your injured passengers to the other parties involved and to any on-scene law enforcement officers. This information includes names and current addresses, the vehicle's registration number, and the name and current address of the car's owner, if the vehicle did not belong to you;
    3. Provide reasonable assistance to any injured person(s) to help secure medical attention, including transporting or arranging transportation for any injured person who clearly requires or requests medical treatment; and
    4. Upon request, provide your driver's license and the driver's license or other identification of your injured passengers to the other parties involved and/or to any on-scene law enforcement agency.

Additionally, if the accident results in a death and there is no law enforcement officer present at the scene, after you have satisfied the above obligations, you are also required to immediately contact your local police department or California Highway Patrol office and provide them with the above information.

Important Note: As mentioned above, these requirements are imposed on a driver regardless of who is responsible for causing the accident or the severity of the injuries. Therefore, you could still be charged with felony hit and run if you fail to satisfy these requirements, even though the other driver was clearly at fault or only suffered a paper cut like injury.

Defenses to California Felony Hit and Run

Successfully defending a Felony hit and run charge will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case, as well as whether you have a first-rate California hit and run attorney in your corner. At CDI, our unshakable commitment to putting the interests of our clients first, coupled with our strong work ethic and commitment to leaving no stone unturned has resulted in countless acquitals, dismissals, and reduced charges for our clients. The following are but a few of the possible defenses our attorneys can utilize to win your case.

  1. Mistaken identity/you weren't the driver

    If your attorney can establish that, at the time the accident occurred, another person was driving your car, had access to your car, or your car was stolen, you may have a successful defense.

    Exception: It is important to note that this defense may not be successful in the situation where you are a passenger in your own car and you advise the driver to break the law. In this situation, despite not being the actual driver, you can still be charged and possibly convicted of felony hit and run.

  2. The only person injured as a result of the accident was you

    If the accident did not cause injury to anyone other than yourself, California Vehicle Code 20001 VC and its requirements do not apply and you cannot be convicted of felony hit and run. Yet, you may still be criminally liable for misdemeanor hit and run, if you caused damage to someone else's property (see below).

  3. You had no knowledge of the accident of injuries

    The California Jury Instructions require the prosecution to prove that either the defendant knew he or she had been involved in an accident that injured another person or that he or she should have known, based on the nature of the accident, it was probable that another person had been injured.

    Therefore, if you did not know that you were involved in an accident, you cannot be found criminally liable for felony hit and run.

    For example, if your driving caused an accident between vehicles behind you, but your vehicle was not involved in the actual collision, you may not be aware that you were involved in an accident.

    Similarly, if you had no knowledge of any injuries and had no reason to believe that any injuries occurred, you cannot be convicted of felony hit and run.

    This could occur, for example, if you get into a fender bender with another car and you and the other driver agree that no one was injured and neither car was damaged. You do not exchange information and leave. A few days later, the driver of the other car complains of neck pain. His doctor discovers he has a pinched nerve in his neck that was caused by the fender bender. You likely cannot be held criminally liable for felony hit and run because, at the time of the accident, you had no knowledge of the injury nor was the accident of the kind where you should have expected anyone to have been injured.

  4. Your failure to stop at the scene, provide required information, or give reasonable assistance was not willful

    If your failure to stop at the scene, provide required information, or give reasonable assistance occurred for reasons beyond your control, your attorney may utilize the defense that your failure was not willful.

    For example, as a result of the collision, you sustain serious injuries and are knocked unconscious. Fearing for your life, your passenger decides you need medical attention immediately and drives you to the hospital. Despite the fact that you left the scene without exchanging information or providing assistance, you had no control of your actions. Since you did not choose to leave the scene and someone else acted on your behalf, your failure to satisfy 20001 VC was not willful.

Penalties for California Felony Hit and Run

California Vehicle Code 20001 VC creates two different sets of possible penalties for a felony hit and run conviction. One set is for accidents that result in injury and the other is for accidents that result in death or “permanent, serious injury.” “Permanent, serious injury” means the loss or permanent impairment of function of a bodily member or organ.

Additionally, despite having the name “felony hit and run”, California Vehicle Code 20001 VC is what is known as a “wobbler.” A wobbler is an offense that the prosecutor may charge as a felony, but may also decide to reduce down to a misdemeanor. That decision usually depends on the severity of the injuries caused by the accident and the defendant’s criminal history. Therefore, each of the two sets of possible penalties, mentioned above, has a lighter corresponding misdemeanor penalty as well.

If convicted of California felony hit and run resulting in injury (non-permanent), you face any or all of the following:

  • A fine of $1,000 to $10,000 (same if felony or reduced to misdemeanor)
  • Up to 3 years in a California State Penitentiary (if felony)
  • Up to 1 year in a county jail (if reduced to misdemeanor)

If convicted of California felony hit and run resulting in death or permanent, serious injury, you face any of all of the following:

  • A fine fo $1,000 to $10,000 (same if felony or misdemeanor)
  • Up to 4 years in a California State Penitentiary (if felony)
  • A minimum of 90 days and up to 1 year in a county jail (if reduced to misdemeanor)

Additionally, if you are convicted of any California hit and run offense, misdemeanor or felony, the DMV will impose 2 points on your driving record.

California Misdemeanor Hit and Run (20002 VC)

As mentioned above, California misdemeanor hit and run is very similar to felony hit and run, with the exception that, with misdemeanor hit and run, the accident results only in property damage and not physical injury or death.

Under California Vehicle Code Section 20002 VC, In order to convict you of misdemeanor hit and run, the prosecution must establish the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You were driving a vehicle involved in an accident that resulted in damage to someone else’s property;
  2. You knew or reasonably should have known, based on the nature of the accident, that someone else’s property was damaged;
  3. You willfully failed to perform any of the following duties:
    1. Immediately stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident; and
    2. Locate the owner or person in charge of that property and provide them with identifying information. This information includes your name and current address and the name and current address of the car’s owner, if the vehicle did not belong to you; and
    3. Upon request, provide your driver's license and the vehicle’s registration to the other parties involved; or
    4. If the owner of the property is not present, leave in a conspicuous place on the damaged property a written notice including your name, address, and a summary of what happened. Additionally, you are required to immediately contact your local police department or California Highway Patrol office and provide them with the above information.

Defenses to California Misdemeanor Hit and Run

Since California misdemeanor hit and run and felony hit and run are such similar offenses, they have almost the same defenses as well.

  1. Mistaken Identity/you weren't the driver

    This is identical to the defense for felony hit and run above. If someone else was the actual driver of the vehicle, you cannot be liable for misdemeanor hit and run.

  2. The only property damaged as a result of the accident was your own

    If the accident did not cause damage to someone else's property and, thus, your vehicle sustained the only damage, California Vehicle Code 20002 and its requirements do not apply and you cannot be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run.

  3. You had no knowledge of the accident

    If you did not know that you were involved in an accident, you cannot be found criminally liable for misdemeanor hit and run. This defense may work best in a situation where you drive such a large vehicle, like a Hummer or SUV, that you wouldn't even feel backing into someone's compact car, fence, or running over a pet.

Penalties for California Misdemeanor Hit and Run

If convicted of California misdemeanor hit and run (causing property damage), you face any or all of the following:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • Up to 3 years of informal probation

Additionally, if you are convicted of any California hit and run offense, misdemeanor or felony, the DMV will impose 2 points on your driving record.

Related Offenses

Vehicular Manslaughter Hit and Run Enhancement

If you leave the scene of the crime after committing vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code Sections 191.5 or 192(c)(1), your hit and run punishment can be enhanced by an additional, consecutive term of 5 years in prison.

For more information, please see our page on Vehicular Manslaughter.

Contact a Hit and Run Attorney at Criminal Defense Incorporated

Our Los Angeles hit and run defense attorneys have a long track record of success in Hit and Run Cases. Without an experienced and aggressive attorney fighting for you, your conviction could result in the loss of your freedom and the destruction of your future. If you've been charged with hit and run in California, time is of the essence! Every minute you wait matters, so call attorney Chad Lewin at CDI immediately for a FREE, CONFIDENTIAL consultation at (888) 546-5394. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you or your loved ones.


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