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Hit-and-Runs: Fleeing the Crime

A bill recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown requires California’s public alert system to help in the effort to track down hit-and-run drivers. The new law uses emergency “yellow alerts” to broadcast the key details of fleeing hit-and-run vehicles. On digital freeway signs, the car’s color, make, model and license plate will be displayed in real-time. Hit-and-run collisions are on the rise, and especially in Southern California. In major cities like Los Angeles, nearly half of vehicular collisions involve a driver that flees the scene.  In 2014 alone, drivers of about 20,000 accidents left the scene and only 20 percent of the cases were ever solved.  According to state lawmakers that is about to change. In Colorado, this same program of “yellow alerts” quickly increased the arrest rate to 76 percent in hit-and-run cases. So what is a hit-and-run?

There are two types of hit-and-run crimes in California.  Penal Code 2001 applies to vehicle collisions that result in an injury or fatality, while Penal Code 2002 applies to accidents that result in damage to any property that is involved.  Both statutes require that any driver who is in an accident must immediately provide his or her name and current residence to the other driver. A hit and run crime involving any form of injury is punishable by fines between one thousand and ten thousand dollars and up to 4 years incarceration in state prison.  A hit and run crime involving only damage to property and no injury, is punishable by a fine of up to one thousand dollars and six months of county jail time.

There are many details concerning the Penal Code that may seem surprising.  You can be charged with hit-and-run even if the accident was not your fault.  It is a crime to leave the scene of an accident involving either property damage or injury without providing your contact information to the other driver.  This facet of the law is exercised regardless of who was at fault in the accident.  Even if you believe that the other driver was at fault, the law requires you to immediately stop and provide your contact information to the other driver before you leave the scene of the collision.

You can also be charged with felony hit and run even if the only person injured was your passenger.  In the same frame, even if you believe that there were no injuries suffered by the other driver or his passengers, you can still face felony charges if you leave the scene of the accident if there were injured passengers in your vehicle. You may be justified in leaving the scene of the accident if you are leaving to seek necessary medical attention for yourself or someone else.  There are certain statuses of emergencies that can legitimately justify the driver’s failure to leave the scene of an accident without immediately stopping and providing contact information to the other driver. 

You can be charged with misdemeanor hit and run even if there was no vehicle damage.  Penal Code 2002 applies accidents that involve any kind of property damage.  This damage does not need to include damage to another vehicle.  Any type of property damage can trigger the statute, including damage to a fence, a mailbox, a lawn, a pet, and even a sidewalk in front of a place of business.

You may be able to resolve a misdemeanor hit and run case with a civil compromise.  Penal Code 1377 provides that certain misdemeanor offenses, such as hit and run involving an accident with property damage, can be resolved with a civil settlement instead of criminal punishment.  If the other driver agrees to this solution, you may be spared harsh punishments such as probation or even jail time. 

Being charged with a felony hit and run can be extremely overwhelming to face without the help of an attorney who has experience with hit and run cases. The goal of a good attorney will be to have the case dismissed. But, at the very least, looking at the charges independently, getting any felony charges reduced to misdemeanors and getting one or more of the misdemeanor charges dropped, will ensure the best outcome. For more information about the various ways to handle a Hit and Run charge, please feel free to contact me.