Under California Vehicle Code 20002, the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in property damage shall immediately stop at the nearest safe location. If the driver does not stop at the scene, they may be charged with the misdemeanor crime of a hit and run.
After an accident, the driver shall stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. The driver is supposed to notify the owner of the property or driver of the other vehicle and provide their driver’s license information and vehicle registration. This should include the current residence address of the driver and registered owner.
When the other driver or person in charge of the property cannot be found, the driver is to leave a written note in a conspicuous location on the other vehicle or damaged property, giving their name and address and a statement of what happened. The driver is then supposed to notify the local police department or California Highway Patrol office.
Stopping at the scene of an accident does not affect the question of fault. Even if the driver was not at fault for the accident, the law still requires them to stop at the scene. Damage to public property, such as hitting a street sign or lamp post, may still require the driver to stop at the scene and report the accident.
Witnesses may report a hit and run accident to the police, who will use vehicle and driver identification to track down the individual they believe is responsible for the hit and run accident. Increasingly, surveillance video is used to identify drivers involved in hit and run accidents.
If the accident only involved property damage, and no other person was physically injured or killed, a hit and run is generally charged as a misdemeanor. Penalties include county jail time up to 6 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both that imprisonment and fine. The driver may be eligible to receive probation after a hit and run conviction. A driver caught violating the terms of their probation may face additional penalties.
In addition to criminal penalties, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may assess two points on the individual’s DMV driving record. This will likely result in a steep increase in their car insurance premium due to the accident and hit and run violation. The driver may also have to pay the property owner for any damage caused by the accident.
Many drivers leave the scene of an accident because they are concerned they will face additional criminal charges. This includes individuals driving without a valid license, driving without insurance, or operating an unregistered vehicle. Others may have a warrant or be violating the terms of their probation and leave the scene to avoid an arrest. Many drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs may leave the scene of an accident to avoid criminal drunk driving charges.
After an arrest for a hit and run, you may feel like you have no option but to plead guilty. However, there may be defenses available to keep a criminal conviction off your record. Your attorney will investigate your case, identify your strongest defenses, and fight to keep you out of jail. This includes the defenses of mistaken identity, the car was driven by someone else at the time, or the driver was unaware that they were involved in an accident.
In some cases, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a civil compromise under PC 1377 as an alternative to a criminal conviction. Depending on the individual’s driving record and criminal record, the driver may be able to pay money damages to the owner of the damaged property. Please note that a civil compromise is oftentimes difficult to obtain because the alleged victim may not want to agree to it. Also, a civil compromise is discretionary, so the judge ultimately decides whether the case will be dismissed or not.
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