20002 (a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. Moving the vehicle in accordance with this subdivision does not affect the question of fault.
The state of California has several hit and run laws, depending on whether anyone in the accident was injured. VC 20002(a) is used when an accident involves property damage but no injuries or deaths. Even though it’s the least serious of the hit and run laws, it is still a misdemeanor crime and carries stiff penalties.
The law basically says that if you cause any kind of property damage, such as hitting another car, you must stop immediately, as close to the scene of the accident as possible. Generally, if you go more than a few hundred feet without good reason, you could be accused of Hit and Run.
After the excerpt above, the law goes on to outline specific duties you have once you stop. These include:
- If possible, immediately locate the owner of the vehicle or property you damaged. You must exchange information with this person if they request it, including giving your address and showing your license and registration.
- If the owner cannot be located (for example, if you hit a parked car), you must leave a written note including your name and address. You must also call the police and let them know about the accident.
The enforcement on this law is very strict, and lots of things get labeled Hit and Run even if they don’t seem like they should be. For example:
- If you damage someone’s fence or landscaping and leave without giving notification, you have committed Hit and Run.
- If you may have caused an accident, you must stop even if your own car wasn’t affected. For example, if you cut someone off and they got rear ended, you have a duty to pull over.
- You must pull over even if the other driver is clearly the one at fault.
Consequences for Misdemeanor Hit and Run
The penalties for 20002(a) are not light. You can face up to six months in jail, plus a fine of up to $1,000. Judges tend to be very hard on hit and run cases, because leaving the scene of an accident is seen as a disregard of the wellbeing of others. The accident itself may have been unintentional, but fleeing comes across as a deliberate criminal choice—even if you didn’t realize you were supposed to pull over.
Because the penalties are so steep, you should fight the charge.
How to Beat a Hit and Run Charge
There are defenses against hit and run charges that may work depending on the details of your case. The most common defense is that you didn’t know you were involved in an accident. For example, you may have heard a noise while driving, but when you looked back in the mirror you didn’t see that you had swiped a parked car. Or, you backed into a fence and damaged it while pulling out, but never saw the damage.
This is very different from saying you didn’t know you were supposed to pull over. In most cases, this won’t help. There is an old legal adage that, “Ignorance of the law excuses no one.” If you knew you caused an accident, you had a duty to pull over.
Other possible defenses include:
- You weren’t the one driving the car.
- You knew you caused a collision, but thought there was no damage.
A good DUI lawyer can help you choose the right defense and build your defense.
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