It is illegal in California for anyone to leave the scene of an accident in which property damage of any kind has occurred, without informing the owners of the property (if they are not present), and providing their contact and insurance information. This is according to the California Vehicle Code, and those are found to have violated these laws could face serious consequences. Today, we’ll discuss what has to be prove in a California hit and run case, what kinds of defenses can be used, and what types of consequences the driver might face if found to be guilty of a hit and run.
What You Must Prove as the Victim of a Hit and Run Auto Accident
If you are the victim of a hit and run auto accident, you must prove certain points, beyond reasonable doubt, to be successful in pursuing a conviction. You must prove that there was actual property damage, which can include damage to the vehicle or any other property. How much damage will be important to prove as well, because this will make a difference in how serious the charges and penalties are. You further have to prove that the accused did not in fact notify you or provide/exchange contact and insurance information. If they left their information in place where you would find it, assuming that you were not present at the scene (such as on your door or windshield), then they did provide it.
How Serious the Charges May Be For A Hit and Run Case
Depending on the details of the case and the extent of the damage, the charge may be a misdemeanor or a felony. More severe damage and negligent behavior that results in injuries is likely to lead to a felony charge. In such cases, where the matter goes to criminal court, it involves charges from the State prosecutor, rather than the victim. This means that the victim cannot drop the charges.
In a civil case, however, the victim has more power to resolve the situation. In fact, many criminal defense attorneys in California will seek to resolve the case through a civil compromise, which may allow the charges to be reduced or dropped altogether. With a civil compromise, the victim comes to an agreement with the accused individual based on having their damages compensated.
To illustrate, imagine a case where someone hits another person’s vehicle while it is parked and the owner of the vehicle is not present. The driver leaves the scene, perhaps because he can’t afford the damages, and thinks he can get away with it. Little does he know that he was witnessed. With the vehicle description and driver description, the witness helps the police to find the at fault driver. The at fault driver is then charged for the hit and run in court. He seeks the representation of a criminal defense attorney, and this lawyer makes an effort to contact the victim in hopes of reaching a civil compromise, in which the at fault driver agrees to compensate the damages and the victim agrees that the charges can be dropped without further issue. Then, the criminal defense attorney can present this to the court, arguing that the at fault driver has accepted responsibility and paid for the damages. This doesn’t always work, but it can be an effective solution.
Possible Legal Defenses for Someone Accused of a Hit and Run
When someone is facing hit and run charges in California, they do have some possible legal defenses that may get the charges reduced or dropped. The person may argue that they made a ‘good faith effort’ to contact the person who owns the property, but was unable to do so. They may argue that they did leave their information, but that the victim never received it for some reason. They may say that the wind blew it away, for example. Naturally, such arguments can be very challenging to prove. If there are witnesses, then there may be a means of proving that a ‘good faith effort’ was made.
Another possible defense would be a situation when there was not any actual damage, or when the damage does not line up with the accusations made. There may be damage that was clearly caused a long time ago, or there may be evidence of damage that doesn’t match the vehicle of the accused. This can also be difficult to prove, but not quite as challenging as the ‘good faith effort’ argument. Expert witnesses can be consulted to discuss the likelihood of the accused being guilty or innocent.
Consequences for a Misdemeanor Hit and Run Conviction
If someone is charged with and convicted of a hit and run misdemeanor for property damage, then the consequences will be based on the severity and expense of the damage. The person may have a jail sentence up to six months and/or fines up to $1K. For very minor damage, the person might not spend any time in jail at all, or may be ordered to spend a very minimal amount of time in jail. For the most severe and costly damage, which still falls into misdemeanor territory, the person could end up spending the maximum amount of time in jail and also paying the maximum amount in fines.
Consequences for a Felony Hit and Run Conviction
Hit and run charges can be felony charges if a person was injured by the hit and run. These are the situations where the victim cannot drop the charges, and the case is handled by the State prosecutor. In such cases, depending on the severity of the negligence and the injuries, someone who is convicted of the felony hit and run could face a county jail sentence between 90 days and one year, a prison sentence between two years and four years. They could also face fines between $1K and $10K.
Many people don’t realize that even minor injuries will lead to felony charges. To hit a person with your vehicle and leave the scene of the incident is a very serious crime, even if the injuries are not severe. However, the severity of the injuries will impact the severity of the punishment.
Were You the Victim of a Hit and Run Auto Accident in California?
If you’ve been injured and/or sustained property damage in a California hit and run auto accident, contact 1-800-HURT-NOW to learn more about your options for seeking compensation and/or pursuing a criminal conviction for the at-fault driver. Our dedicated auto accident lawyers in San Diego, CA can provide a free consultation and guidance throughout the process that you will be facing in California’s civil and/or criminal courts.