Hit-and-run incidents are prosecuted at the misdemeanor level when the crash only causes property damage but no injuries or deaths. A few examples of situations that can lead to hit-and-run charges include:
If you commit a hit-and-run along these lines and the police locate you, you will be charged with misdemeanor hit-and-run. Unfortunately, many drivers believe that they can simply flee the scene quickly to avoid a penalty for an accident. However, there are many ways the police can potentially obtain a hit-and-run driver’s information, such as obtaining traffic camera footage from an intersection camera that captured the incident, eyewitness statements from people who saw the hit-and-run and reported it to police, providing them with the at-fault driver’s license plate number, or a report from the owner of a vehicle struck in a hit-and-run.
The penalty for misdemeanor hit-and-run in California is a minimum of $1,000 in fines and up to six months in jail. However, the prosecution can attach additional charges and penalties depending on how the accident occurred. Additionally, the defendant will be responsible for the victim’s damages, specifically the cost of repairing their vehicle.
A hit-and-run offense qualifies for prosecution at the felony level if the at-fault driver causes an injury or kills another person in the incident. Thus, the criminal case filed by the state will not only lead to more significant penalties than a misdemeanor hit-and-run, but the at-fault driver will also likely face civil liability for the victim’s damages, including their medical expenses, lost income, vehicle repair costs, and pain and suffering.
The penalties for felony hit-and-run depend on whether the at-fault driver caused non-serious injuries, serious injuries, or the death of another vehicle occupant. For non-serious injuries, the defendant faces up to one year in county jail with mandatory 90 days served, fines from $1,000 to $10,000, two points on their driver’s license, and restitution to the victim. If the defendant caused a serious injury or injury resulting in permanent damage or death, their penalties would escalate to up to five years in a California state prison, fines up to $10,000, two points on their driver’s license, and restitution to the victim.
It is possible in some situations for a defendant facing felony hit-and-run charges to have their sentence reduced to misdemeanor status, but this typically will not occur unless they complete a court-ordered probationary period and meet additional requirements assigned on a case-by-case basis.
While it’s important to know the standard penalties for hit-and-run violations in California, it’s vital to understand that these are merely benchmarks for what one can expect if charged with hit-and-run in San Diego. The reality is that many hit-and-run cases involve multiple criminal charges based on how they occur. There are a few ways a defendant could potentially face additional charges and thus more substantial penalties for a hit-and-run incident in San Diego, CA:
In light of the possibility of additional criminal charges being added to a hit-and-run offense, it’s vital for anyone who causes an accident to stop at the scene of the crash and accept responsibility for their actions. If they do not, they risk significant legal entanglements and even harsher penalties than would have occurred had they remained at the scene.
The legal definition of hit-and-run under California’s Vehicle Code is quite straightforward, so there are only a few possible defenses a defendant may attempt to use when facing hit-and-run charges at the misdemeanor or felony level. First, the defendant could claim a lack of knowledge. It’s possible the defendant had no idea they caused an accident. They could have hit a person or another vehicle and thoughted the impact was from a bump in the road. It’s also possible to avoid conviction for hit-and-run if the hit-and-run driver was responding to an emergency, such as driving to the hospital for emergency medical care.
Another possible defense is “diminished capacity,” sometimes called “involuntary intoxication.” The defendant claiming this defense must be able to offer evidence that they were drugged against their will in some way that diminished their ability to drive safely. Ultimately, it’s best to consult an experienced San Diego hit-and-run defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest for a hit-and-run incident.
An experienced defense attorney will explore every possible avenue of defense for their client. Typically, the first line of defense for any defendant in a criminal case attacks the validity of the prosecution’s evidence. The due process laws of the United States place the burden of proof in criminal cases on the prosecution, meaning the prosecution must provide clear and convincing evidence that establishes the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Thus, your defense attorney’s goal is to essentially prove that reasonable doubt exists.
Depending on how your hit-and-run incident occurred and the unique details of the situation, your attorney may also consult various expert witnesses, such as engineers, accident reconstruction experts, medical experts, and any other professionals who can clarify technical or complex aspects of the hit-and-run case. Your attorney may also call eyewitnesses who saw the incident in question occur to clarify how events unfolded, potentially skewing the case in favor of the defendant.
Time is a critical factor in any criminal case. If you or a loved one has been arrested on hit-and-run charges, you could face a wide range of penalties that will affect your personal and professional life in various ways. One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to hire an experienced San Diego hit-and-run defense attorney as soon as possible to defend you.
The attorneys at Zentz & Zentz have years of experience representing clients in the most challenging criminal defense cases. We know how San Diego prosecutors handle their cases and seek convictions, and our team is ready to put this professional experience at your disposal in your hit-and-run case. If you are ready to discuss legal representation with an experienced San Diego hit-and-run defense lawyer, contact Zentz & Zentz to schedule your consultation with our team.