Hit-and-run seems self-explanatory, but California hit-and-run laws apply to a range of behaviors, not just fleeing from the scene of an accident. Failing to do everything the law requires of a driver who was involved in an accident – even if the driver was not at fault – can lead to a hit-and-run arrest.
In many cases, a hit-and-run charge results from a misunderstanding. Drivers do not always know that they were involved in accidents. Sometimes they comply with the law but are accused of disregarding it. Whenever a driver is accused of hit-and-run, mounting an appropriate defense is essential.
The Law Offices of Randy Collins represents drivers charged with hit-and-run in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside County, San Diego, as well as other locations in Southern California. To discuss defenses that might be available if you are accused of fleeing from an accident scene or failing to do everything the law required, call The Law Offices of Randy Collins at (888) 250-2865.
Duties Following a Hit and Run Accident
California hit and run law imposes several duties upon a driver who is involved in an accident that causes property damage or an injury. A driver is “involved” in an accident if the driver was logically connected to the accident, even if the driver’s vehicle did not collide with another vehicle, other property, or a person.
The duties do not depend upon whether the driver was at fault or whether the accident was avoidable. Any accident in which another person’s property is damaged, or another person is injured, triggers certain responsibilities for a driver who was involved in the accident.
When an accident causes property damage, those duties are:
- The driver must stop at the scene of the accident as soon as is reasonably possible under the circumstances.
- The driver must provide the owner of the damaged property with his or her name and current residential address.
- Upon request, the driver must show his or her driver’s license to the owner of the damaged property.
- If the driver was not driving his or her own vehicle, the driver must provide the name and current residential address of the vehicle’s owner.
- If the owner of the damaged property cannot be located immediately, the driver must leave the required information in a note that is placed conspicuously on the damaged property, and must promptly report the accident to the city police or (if the accident did not occur within city limits) to the Highway Patrol.
When an accident causes an injury to someone else, a driver must:
- Stop at the scene of the accident as soon as is reasonably possible under the circumstances.
- Provide reasonable assistance to every injured person.
- Show his or her driver’s license, upon request, to the injured person(s) or to a law enforcement officer on the scene.
- Provide the injured person or a police officer with the name and address of the owner of the vehicle and the registration number of the vehicle that the driver was driving.
- Identify all occupants of the driver’s vehicle who were injured.
- Promptly notify an appropriate law enforcement agency of the accident.
Failure to Perform Duties (Hit-and-Run)
Failing to perform any required duty is a California misdemeanor if the driver:
- knew that he or she was involved in an accident that caused or probably caused property damage, and
- the failure to perform the duty was willful.
Failure to perform any required duty is a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony if the driver:
- caused an injury to someone else, or a death;
- knew that he or she was involved in an accident that caused or probably caused an injury to someone else; and
- the failure to perform the duty was willful.
An accident “causes” property damage or an injury when the accident is a substantial factor that contributes to the damage or injury. It need not be the only factor.
A failure to perform a duty is willful if it is purposeful. The prosecution is not required to show that the driver intended to break the law or to harm someone.
A misdemeanor involving property damage carries a possible sentence of 6 months in jail. A misdemeanor assault charge involving an injury carries a possible sentence of 1 year in jail.
A felony hit-and-run usually carries a maximum sentence of 3 years. The maximum increases to 4 years when the accident causes a death or permanent injury.
When an injury is involved, California law encourages judges to impose a sentence of at least 90 days in jail. Judges are especially likely to do that when the charge involves fleeing from the scene, as opposed to a technical violation of the law.
Since “running” is not necessarily part of a “hit-and-run” charge, the defense will depend upon the facts, including the facts that the prosecution can or cannot prove. Possible defenses include:
- The accused did not know, and no reason to know, that an accident occurred.
- The accused did not know, and had no reason to believe, that an injury and/or property damage occurred in the accident.
- The accused was not driving.
- The assistance that the accused provided to an injury victim, even if minimal, was reasonable under the circumstances.
- The accused stopped when it was reasonable to do so under the circumstances (because stopping earlier would have been dangerous).
- The accused made reasonable attempts to notify the police that were timely under the circumstances.
- The accused made reasonable attempts to give the required information to the other person(s) involved in the accident but could not do so for reasons that were beyond the accused’s control.
- The accused was injured in the accident and reasonably obtained medical care before reporting the accident.
- The accused was unable to comply with his or her duties due to a loss of consciousness or other medical condition.
- The accused complied with all duties and is being falsely accused of failing to do so.
Other defenses might also be available, depending on the facts of the case.
Southern California Hit-and-Run Charge Assistance
Deciding upon an appropriate defense requires an investigation of the facts, an understanding of the law, and years of experience. California hit-and-run defense attorney Randy Collins gives clients the benefit of his skills and experience in all Southern California courts. If you have been charged with hit-and-run or fear that you might be, get advice by calling The Law Offices of Randy Collins at (888) 250-2865.