What You Need to Know
California makes it illegal to leave the scene of an accident in two situations: if the accident caused property damage, and/or if the accident injured someone. The first one is covered under California Vehicle Code 20002; the second one is covered under Vehicle Code 20001. Both situations are considered examples of hit and run, but they carry very different penalties. Hit and run involving only property damage is a misdemeanor, whereas hit and run involving and injury or death is a felony. If your DUI involves a hit and run allegation, it’s very serious.
What are examples of DUI hit and runs?
Here are a few common types of hit and run DUI cases:
- A driver had two drinks at a bar before driving home. On the way, he hits a parked car, but he does not want to be breath tested by police, so he drives off without reporting it.
- A driver already has a suspended license from a previous DUI, and is driving illegally when he gets into an accident. The accident is not his fault, but he knows he will get in trouble for driving on a suspended license, so he flees the scene.
- A driver has been smoking marijuana. Late at night, he hits something in the road. Looking in his mirror, he doesn’t see anyone and assumes it was an animal. He continues driving, unaware that he hit a pedestrian.
For the purposes of a hit and run, it does not matter whose fault the accident is. Even if the other person caused the accident, you have a duty to remain at the scene and report it. If you do not, you can be charged with hit and run.
What am I supposed to do at an accident scene?
California law states that all drivers have duties in an accident. This includes:
- You must immediately stop at the scene
- You must assist anyone who was injured (such as calling 911)
- You must give your name and address, as well as vehicle registration number, to any of the parties in the accident or to law enforcement
- You must provide the name and address of the vehicle owner, if it’s not you
- You must show your drivers license to law enforcement or any of the parties in the accident if requested
- You must immediately notify law enforcement if the accident caused a death (although, in general, you should notify law enforcement of any accident)
These rules apply to all accidents and collisions, no matter how big or small the damage is, and no matter who is involved. Hitting a dog, or damaging a utility pole, are cases where you caused “property damage” and need to report the accident, even though no one else is visibly involved.
What are the penalties for a DUI hit and run?
If convicted of both charges, you will face the penalties for DUI as well as the penalties for hit and run.
Penalties for felony hit and run (involving an injury or death) include:
- $1,000 to $10,000 in fines
- 2-4 years in state prison if the accident caused a serious injury or death
- Up to 1 year in county jail if the accident caused a minor injury
Penalties for misdemeanor hit and run (involving only property damage) include:
- Up to $1,000 in fines
- Up to 6 months in county jail
However, you only face these penalties if you are convicted. It is possible to defend against a hit and run charge even when it is connected to a DUI. In fact, prosecutors routinely drop hit and run charges—if you have a good defense lawyer.
How do I defend against a hit and run charge?
In order to convict you of hit and run, the prosecutor has to prove that you were involved in the accident, that you were aware of the accident, and that you willfully failed to perform one of the duties mentioned above. For example, you did not pull over, you did not exchange the information the other parties needed, or you did not lend aid to those who were injured. If the prosecutor cannot prove these points, you cannot be convicted.
The three most common defenses to hit and run charges are:
- You didn’t know about the accident. Sometimes you either weren’t aware of an accident at all, or had no reason to suppose that it caused any injuries. For example, imagine if you inadvertently “cut off” another driver. The other driver may have swerved to avoid you and gone off the road. Depending on the circumstances, you may never have seen this happen, or had no reason to believe it involved you.
- You didn’t leave the scene willfully. Sometimes it’s not safe to stay at the scene of an accident. For example, if the other driver began acting aggressively toward you, or the accident happened in front of their home and angry neighbors began coming out, you may have left for your own safety. This defense is strongest if you still called the police once you were safely away from the scene.
- You were the only one injured. If you were the only person injured, then you cannot be convicted of felony hit and run, because your actions didn’t cause injury to anyone else. You could still be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run if there was property damage, however.
There are other possible defenses as well. For example, sometimes it is possible to argue that you weren’t even involved in the accident at all. The right defense to use depends on the circumstances of your case, and your DUI defense lawyer can choose a strategy that will work best for you. Remember: hit and run charges are hard to prove and are often dropped, especially if you have a good lawyer who knows how to talk to the prosecutor.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 862-0199 and get your free consultation today.