There are two forms of hit and run offenses under California law — these are felony and misdemeanor hit and run (Vehicle Code 20001 and 20002 VC, respectively). It is critical to keep in mind that irrespective of who is responsible for a road crash, hit and run statutes obligate drivers to pull over immediately and exchange their information. Most motorists involved in an accident usually panic and flee the accident scene immediately, resulting in criminal charges and severe legal consequences. If you’ve been charged with a felony or misdemeanor hit-and-run crime in Pasadena, contact us at Pasadena Criminal Attorney to review all the details concerning your case as well as your defense strategies if you are charged.
The Legal Meaning of 20001 VC Hit and Run
20001 VC is the felony hit-and-run law. You break this law when you flee the accident scene where someone else has been killed or injured. This law requires that any motorist involved in a road crash resulting in death or injury to another party stop the auto immediately and fulfill their statutory obligations under 20003 VC and 20004 VC.
20003 VC says you have to stop the car at the accident scene and give your address, name, contact information, and identifying information like the vehicle’s registration and driver’s license to the other involved party. You must also provide this info to any police officer at the accident scene. This section also states that you must stop your car and provide reasonable help to anybody injured, including taking them to the hospital. Reasonable help merely means you must determine what help should be given to any injured person and ensure they receive it.
20004 VC says in case someone else dies from the road crash and no police officer is present at the accident site to give the info required under 20003 VC, you must report the collision to the nearby police station or California Highway Patrol office immediately.
It’s critical to remember that the requirements mentioned above apply to all accidents that cause death or injury, irrespective of who is responsible or the degree of the injuries. This means that even in cases where the other motorist was entirely to blame for the collision and suffered just a minor injury, you could face felony hit and run charges if you do not obey the above legal obligations.
Some individuals find themselves being charged with 20001 VC violation charges since they had mistakenly believed they did not have to pull over after being in a collision as they weren’t responsible for the accident, to begin with.
Elements of the Crime
For the judge to render you guilty of breaking 20001 VC law, the District Attorney must have proven each element of the crime, as listed under CALCRIM 2140. The elements include:
- You were operating an automobile, and we’re involved in a crash
- The accident resulted in death or injury to another individual
- You knew you had been in a road crash causing death or injury
- You willfully failed to do your legal duties as listed above
Note that involvement in a collision merely means there’s a direct link between you and the crash. It means you do not always need to come into contact with the other auto, rather only a party that contributed to that collision.
Knowing you had been involved or should have reasonably known you had been in a crash is assumed if you make a statement concerning the accident. The knowledge is also presumed if the damage to your automobile is compatible with the injury the other involved party sustained. Knowing you had been in a collision is a crucial element in the District Attorney’s case.
Willfully not fulfilling your statutory duties does not imply you had specifically intended to injure someone or violate the law. Instead, it implies you intentionally left the accident scene, failed to give information to the other parties/parties, and did not try providing reasonable help to the party that was hurt.
Legal Consequences for Violating 20001 VC
Although the term felony hit-and-run implies 20001 VC is a felony offense, the crime is a wobbler. This means the District Attorney can file felony or misdemeanor charges based on the case’s specific circumstances, the seriousness of the injury, and your past criminal record.
If the injuries involved were not severe, you would face misdemeanor charges punishable by a one-year jail sentence, a fine of up to ten thousand dollars, restitution, and two points on your DMV driving record.
If the accident led to death or permanent/severe injuries, you could be subject to felony charges. A conviction carries up to four years in state prison, up to ten thousand dollars in fines, victim restitution, and two points on your DMV driving record.
A felony conviction under 20001 VC can be lowered to misdemeanor charges after you’ve completed probation per PC 17(b). But to lower a felony charge to a misdemeanor, given conditions must be met, and you must’ve not served a state prison sentence. Talk to your lawyer to determine if you’re eligible for a charge reduction.
Defending Against 20001 VC Violation Charges
We have several valid defenses your lawyer can raise to defend you against 20001 VC violation accusations. The most prevalent ones include:
You Did Not Know
If you did not know you had been in an accident or weren’t aware an individual was injured, you shouldn’t be convicted. Perhaps it is reasonable for your lawyer to claim you didn’t know you had caused a severe collision resulting in death or injury since your auto wasn’t directly involved in the accident. Your attorney can also argue this defense if you were aware you had been in a road accident but reasonably believed there weren’t any injuries.
You Did Not Willfully Leave the Scene
Your attorney may be capable of showing that you did not leave the accident scene intentionally. It could be it wasn’t safe to stay there, or you did have an emergency that requires you to go immediately.
It’s Only You Who Sustained the injuries
As discussed under the elements of hit and run, your legal obligation comes into play if another individual, that’s not you, sustained injuries. Thus, if your lawyer can prove it was only you who sustained injuries after the accident, you cannot be found guilty of a 20001 VC violation.
You Weren’t the Motorist
Accidents often take place in a split second, particularly on streets with high traffic. If the responsible motorist flees immediately, the victim won’t have any idea what they look like. There’s often a lack of or insufficient proof tying a car owner to the suspect in hit and runs. And if vehicle owners have strong alibis placing them far away from the accident scene, the charges should be dropped.
No Injuries Resulted from the Accident
You’re only guilty of 20001 VC violation if you failed to pull over after the accident in which you were involved caused death or some kind of injury to another individual. This means it’s a defense for your lawyer to prove that whereas you may have fled the scene after a road crash, no death or injury was involved. However, you may still be convicted of 20002 VC violation if you fled the scene when the property was damaged. Your lawyer may hire a medical expert to testify that the alleged victim’s injury is self-induced or false.
The Legal Meaning of 20002 VC Hit and Run
20002 VC is the misdemeanor hit-and-run law. It defines this criminal offense as the failure to stop your automobile after being involved in a road crash, and the collision caused property damage. Per this law, if you’re involved in a collision leading only to damage to property, including autos, you’re supposed to stop your car at a nearby location that will not jeopardize other motorists’ safety or impede traffic. Apart from immediately stopping your car, this law also describes two other primary duties if you’re involved in a car crash that led to damage to another person’s property. These are:
- You have to give the other involved party your name, address, and contact information
- You have to give your car registration and driver’s license if requested
Note: if you aren’t the actual owner of the auto you were operating, you’re supposed to give identifying info about the actual owner. And, if you strike a parked vehicle or any other kind of property leading to damage, you’re required to try to find and inform the owner of that property. If you cannot locate them, you’re required to write and stick a note on the auto or the property you damaged, then contact the police to notify them about the accident. The note should include your name, information describing the crash, and address. Additionally, it is critical to note that it does not count who was responsible for the accident.
A prevalent instance of a misdemeanor hit and run crime happens in a case where you’re involved in a fender bender on the street and immediately speed off from the site. Another instance is a case where you knock down another person’s fence in front of their house then quickly leave the scene.
VC 20002 does not need you to provide insurance info, but a distinct insurance section, VC 16025, obligates this. Failure to give insurance information is considered an infraction punishable by two hundred and fifty dollars. Misdemeanor hit & run is the most prevalent of the two hit-and-run crimes in California.
Elements of a 20002 VC Violation
For you to be found guilty of 20002 VC violation, the District Attorney must be capable of proving beyond a reasonable doubt these elements as listed under CALCRIM 2150:
- While driving an automobile, you were involved in a road crash
- The collision caused another individual’s property to be damaged
- You were aware you’d been involved in a car crash that caused a property to be damaged, or you knew it was likely that property would be damaged considering the accident’s nature
- You deliberately failed to pull over at the accident scene immediately and failed to give the damaged property’s owner or the person in charge of the destroyed property your identifying details
Legal Consequences for Violating 20002 VC
Since this is a misdemeanor hit-and-run law, you’ll face misdemeanor charges if you violate it. The legal punishments if found guilty are a six-month jail sentence and a one thousand dollar fine. Based on your past criminal history, you may be sentenced to probation for a maximum of three years and be required to do community service.
And if it’s you that caused the collision, the court will order that you pay restitution to the property owner for the damage you did to the property. Also, a conviction comes with two points on your state’s DMV record, increasing your auto insurance. In most cases, if it’s a first-time offense with no alcoholic beverages involved, civil compromise under PC 1377 may be an option. This would mean your charges being dismissed after you’ve fully reimbursed the victim in question for the damage to their property.
Defending Against a 20002 VC Violation Charge
There are several possible legal defenses against 20002 VC violation charges. Each case has unique facts and will first need a thorough evaluation by an experienced defense attorney. However, common defenses you, with the help of your lawyer, can argue are:
You Lacked the Knowledge
As we stated above, when looking at the elements of misdemeanor hit and run, the District Attorney must be capable of proving you knew you damaged property or you reasonably should’ve known under those circumstances. Based on the facts of your specific case, your lawyer may succeed in arguing that you were not aware you had been involved in a road crash that resulted in property damage. It could be that the impact of the collision was so slight that you were not even able to feel it. Or, it could be you were operating a truck or large vehicle and backed into a small auto.
You Weren’t the One Driving
The District Attorney also has to show you were the actual motorist of the automobile involved in the crash. Just because you are the vehicle’s registered owner does not always imply you were the one operating it at the time of the accident. It could be you had loaned it to your acquaintance to run errands. Or, it could be that another person accessed your car and took it without you knowing. If there aren’t any witnesses and you did not admit to operating the vehicle to the police, this may be a legal defense under given circumstances.
Your Vehicle Was the Only Property That Was Damaged
If the damage was only to your auto and no one else’s property was damaged, you can’t be criminally liable under 20002 VC. It could be you were operating a small car and hit a big truck causing your vehicle to be the only one ending up damaged. Or, it could be that your small vehicle hit a strong brick wall in front of a house, and there was only damage to your vehicle.
The Statute of Limitations on Hit and Run Charges
Under Assembly Bill (AB) 184, the statute of limitations for a hit-and-run charge in California is six years. By this, it means the District Attorney has to file hit and run charges within six years from when you commit the crime. If they fail to do so, no charges can be brought anymore. The Assembly Bill was enacted in 2014. Before that, the statute of limitations for hit and run charges was three years.
The statute of limitations exists to help ensure fairness for the accused persons. Usually, as time passes by, evidence becomes destroyed or lost. Witnesses to offenses might also move from their original place after many years. Or, they might no longer remember given events that occurred. The outcome is that it would be unjust to file criminal charges against an individual after a particular period has passed.
With the statute of limitations also comes the discovery rule. This is used to establish when the statute of limitations starts running. The rule provides that the statute of limitations clock starts ticking when a crime is discovered. Thus, for instance, you may commit a hit-and-run crime on 1st January 2019. If the police don’t learn of the offense until 1st January 2020, they have until 1st January 2026 to file charges.
Crimes Related to 20001 and 20002 VC Violation
Crimes related to hit-and-run are those the District Attorney can charge alongside or instead of misdemeanor or felony hit and run. They include:
23152a VC- Driving under the Influence
VC 23152 is the DUI statute that criminalizes operating an auto while intoxicated. When you’re intoxicated, it means your physical/mental capabilities are impaired so that you can’t drive as cautiously as a sober individual would. You could be charged with DUI even if your blood alcohol content (BAC) was lower than .08%. A 1st, 2nd, or 3rd offense under 23152a VC is a misdemeanor punished by informal probation, fines, suspension of your driving privilege, and DUI School. You can face both 20001/20002 VC and 23152a VC violation charges if you flee the scene of an accident in which you were involved and were driving while intoxicated at the time of the crash.
192(c) PC - Vehicular Manslaughter
192(c) illegalizes vehicular manslaughter. You commit vehicular manslaughter when you kill another party while driving an auto and do so by doing a legal act in a negligent manner or an illegal action that isn’t considered a felony in California. The punishments for vehicular manslaughter are based on whether your negligent act was ordinary or gross.
If your action was grossly negligent, the crime is considered a wobbler. The maximum sentence for a felony conviction is a six-year state prison term. And if your act was ordinarily negligent, you will face misdemeanor charges with consequences upon a conviction, including a one-year jail term.
23153 VC- DUI Injury
23153 VC describes DUI injury as operating a vehicle while intoxicated and, in the process, causing another person to suffer bodily injury. This crime is a wobbler whose punishments include a one-year jail term as a misdemeanor and a maximum of four years in prison as a felony. You could face both 20001 VC and 22153 VC violation charges if you hit someone else while driving under the influence, making them sustain injuries and flee the scene.
12500(a) VC Driving Without a License
According to 12500a, it’s illegal to drive on California roads with no valid license. It’s worth noting that the license doesn’t necessarily have to be California-issued. It could be issued by any other government provided it was issued by the state/country in which you reside, and it’s currently valid for the kind of vehicle you’re driving. Driving with no license is a wobbler crime, meaning the District Attorney can charge you with an infraction or misdemeanor. An infraction carries only a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars. A misdemeanor is punishable by a six-month county jail time and one thousand dollars in fines.
Other crimes you could be charged with include:
- 5a PC – gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- 5b PC – vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- 187 PC – murder
- 664/187 PC – attempted murder
Find a Pasadena Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
If you’ve been accused of misdemeanor or felony hit and run, reach out to a lawyer to assess the details concerning your case and your legal options. In particular cases, there may be an ongoing investigation into your case that you don’t know about, and having expert legal counsel by your side during these early stages may be critical in resolving your case before the prosecution files formal charges. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we boast a track record of success in criminal cases, and we’ll work diligently to obtain for you the best outcome possible. Call us at 626-689-2277 for a free consultation and case evaluation.