There are two vehicle code sections that relate to a hit and run charge in San Diego. The first one is a misdemeanor charge under vehicle code section 20002 if only property damages are involved. The other charge is a felony charge under vehicle code section 20001 if someone were to sustain bodily injury. You can find more information about the language of the specific vehicle code section you were cited for on the California DMV website:
Felony vs. Misdemeanor Hit and Run Charge?
The felony charge is a more serious charge that carries penalties of possible jail time and greater restitution. These charges are filed when bodily injury was a result of the accident. The likely outcome of a misdemeanor conviction would not be any jail time unless there were multiple violations or you had a past criminal history of hit and run convictions. The restitution is a lot lower in misdemeanor hit and run cases and insurance companies will pick up the cost of the damages. This is because the property damage is minimal. Unlike felony charges, insurance companies are less likely to work with you in covering the cost to the victim. If you have questions about whether to pay the deductible, give us a call to discuss the strategy in your case.
In the event you are facing charges or being investigated for charges, do not discuss your case with anyone. There is a misconception that people have that they can talk their way out of any situation with a police officer. This is untrue! The officer is a fact finder and trying to put you at the scene of the crime by your own admission. Trust me when I say do not speak to anyone regarding the facts of your case besides an experienced criminal defense attorney that you trust and feel comfortable hearing your case.
There are many defenses that can be successful in any hit and run case. It is important to know which one to bring early on and which ones to hold off until trial. Any sort of alibi defense needs to be brought up immediately to the prosecution so that they have conduct further investigation and if your alibi checks out then it is easier for the prosecution to dismiss the case. The most common defenses brought at trial are:
- Lack of knowledge that an accident that resulted in property damage or injury occurred.
- There is no property damage or injury as a result of the accident.
- The car was stolen or borrowed by someone else.
Ignorance is not a defense. The prosecution will try to prove the required mental state that you intentionally ran by circumstantial evidence. The victim will either say you looked at him or her for a brief second by making eye contact and then fled or there will be sufficient body damage on the vehicle where no reasonable person would believe that they did not cause an accident. You have to prove nothing in this case. The burden is on the prosecution to prove each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt.
What If I Was Not the Person Driving and Being Charged With a Hit and Run?
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the actual person driving the vehicle. It is easier to prove that you were the registered owner from DMV records to show that you were the driver at the time the incident occurred. It would be the defense to suggest otherwise that the car was loaned to a friend or it was stolen. The can be supported by documentation from an alibi or a message to a friend that they could borrow the car when the incident occurred. The person most commonly charged with a hit and run offense is the owner of the alleged vehicle.
If you sold the car that the police are questioning you about, please contact an experienced criminal trial lawyer to help communicate your case with the investigator. Often times there needs to be a bill of sale date before the incident to show transfer or title. The DMV is lazy a times and prolongs the transfer process in Sacramento. However, during the time the transfer is processing you are still the owner of the vehicle and assume all liabilities of the vehicle.
What If the Victim Caused the Accident and Now I am Being Charged With a Hit and Run?
California law requires a person involved in a vehicle accident that results in property damage or bodily injury to stop, render aid, and exchange information. The law is that if there was a collision then it is your obligation to make sure to exchange insurance information. Often times it is easier to resolve this case informally by having the insurance companies take care of any damages outside the courts involvement. Typically, the insurance companies have their own independent investigators and will help the defense when the accident is the result of the victim’s negligence. It is easier to get these cases dismissed when the only result is property damage.
It becomes more complicated when a person needs medical attention as a result of the accident. Insurance companies will typically make it more difficult on the insured when there are medical liens as a result. Property damage is easier to handle over on-going treatment care of a victim of a collision accident. The prosecution will often ask for restitution in these cases to make sure that the victim is whole. It is easier to negotiate a civil compromise instead of walking away with a conviction on your record. Please feel free to contact an attorney to discuss common settlement options in a hit and run case. I have experience settling these cases with the District Attorney’s office before they even file it with the court.
Why Did the Police Show Up At My house to Question Me About a Hit and Run?
Typically, the only reason the police showed up to your house is because there was a witness that identified your license plate number and the police are trying to find the registered owner. This the first place the police will start during an investigation. There is always reason to believe that the registered owner committed the offense unless you give them reason otherwise. I have had cases where other family members were joyriding in their parent’s car when they were out of town and when they arrive from vacation the police are waiting for them at their home. This scenario plays out far too often in the criminal system.
What If I Had Been Drinking and That Is Why I Fled the Accident?
One of the main reasons people do in fact flea an accident is because he or she does not want to get arrested for a DUI in San Diego. The consequences of a DUI are severe where your license will be suspended and you will have to pay fines and take classes. If you have multiple DUIs on your criminal record, then you can be facing serious jail time. Most of the time, the police only have three hours under Title 17 to obtain the drivers BAC through a chemical test. Time is of the essence so they will show up to your home to try and obtain your blood alcohol level before you are arrested for the hit and run. If you are charged with a DUI in addition to your hit and run charge, you should contact a criminal defense attorney that handles DUI cases. There are a lot of technical issues that the prosecution will have to overcome in your DUI case given the fact that the officer did not actually observe you driving while being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.