Can I Face Criminal Charges For a Car Accident?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Sep 23, 2022 | Criminal Defense

In most cases, traffic violations do not result in criminal charges. Instead, the driver pays a fine for violating California traffic laws. However, if the driver caused an accident, they could be civilly liable for damages the victims sustained because of the car crash.

However, there are some situations where a driver could be charged with a crime after a car accident. Five scenarios that could make a car accident criminal in California include:

Hit-and-Run Accidents

When a driver is involved in an accident, the driver is required to stop or immediately return to the accident, according to California Penal Code §20001. California has several laws specifically targeted toward hit-and-run drivers.

Typically, a hit-and-run charge is a misdemeanor. A conviction could result in fines and time in county jail. If the hit-and-run driver caused a death or serious bodily injury, they could face felony charges resulting in years in state prison.

Driving Under the Influence

California DUI laws make it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or drive with a BAC (blood alcohol content) above the legal limit. In addition, if the injured party proves that the drunk driver caused the accident, the victim could be entitled to compensation for damages.

In either case, the car crash will likely result in DUI charges for the impaired driver. A conviction for DUI in California could result in fines, a suspended driver’s license, DUI school, jail, community service, and other penalties.

Vehicular Manslaughter

Sadly, some car accidents result in someone’s death. The victim’s family can sue the at-fault driver for damages in a wrongful death case. However, the state could also charge the at-fault driver with criminal charges.

California Penal Code §192(c)(1) defines the crime of vehicular manslaughter. A person could be guilty of vehicular manslaughter when:

  • They are in control of a vehicle;
  • Causes an accident because of their acts or omissions; AND,
  • The car accident is the proximate cause of someone’s death.

Vehicular manslaughter is based on a driver’s negligence. The driver does not have to intend to cause a car crash or the death of another person.

Examples of negligent conduct that could lead to a vehicular manslaughter charge in California include, but are not limited to:

A driver who fails to use reasonable care while driving could be charged with vehicular manslaughter if they cause a car crash.

Typically, vehicular manslaughter is treated as a misdemeanor. A conviction for vehicular manslaughter could result in up to six months in jail, a suspended driver’s license for one year, and fines. If the accident occurred in a work zone, the punishment could double.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is defined in California Vehicle Code § 23103. If you cause an accident while driving recklessly, you could be liable for personal injury damages.

Reckless driving includes, but might not be limited to:

  • Operating a vehicle with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of other people or property
  • Operating a vehicle in an unauthorized speed contest or organizing an unauthorized race
  • Participating in or performing unauthorized trick driving displays, such as stunts
  • Causing a bicycle accident or pedestrian accident by failing to use reasonable care while driving

You can also be charged with a misdemeanor crime for reckless driving. However, if you cause a car accident that results in substantial bodily harm or death, the reckless driving charge is a Category B felony in California. A conviction for reckless driving causing injury or death because of a car accident could result in fines of up to $5,000 and up to six years in prison.

Failing to Stop for a Police Officer

In most cases, failing to stop for law enforcement officers result in criminal charges. The driver could be charged with reckless driving, but there could also be other criminal charges depending on the facts of the case. For example, if the driver causes a car accident while fleeing from the police, the driver could face manslaughter, homicide, and other criminal charges.

You May Need a Lawyer After a Car Accident

A driver may need to hire a criminal defense lawyer if they face criminal charges related to a car accident. Additionally, since a car accident can result in a personal injury claim, it is also wise to seek the legal advice that car accident attorneys can provide.

Whether you are facing criminal charges for a car accident or were injured after a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you should contact an experienced law firm and schedule a consultation to discuss your case.