Is a Hit and Run a Felony in California?
The city of Los Angeles sees some 20,000 hit-and-run collisions annually. While the majority of those hit-and-runs cause only property damage, in 2014, twenty-seven people died in LA hit-and-run crashes, with another 144 being severely injured. Because of the number of hit-and-runs in Los Angeles, a city alert system now publishes information related to the suspected cars and drivers on social media, in an effort to identify the culprits.
While no one would argue in favor of hit-and-runs, those who do commit such a crime have their own story. A hit-and-run driver might not realize he or she hit another vehicle or a person, might be in an area of the city where they are apprehensive about stopping, or they might fear being jailed, particularly if they are driving on a suspended license or are driving after having a couple of drinks.
In the state of California, a hit-and-run will be charged as a misdemeanor if:
- The other driver was obviously at fault, the accident is a minor one, and you left the scene of the accident;
- You were not involved in the actual collision, however you might have been the cause of the accident, and you left the scene of the accident, or
- You caused damage to another person’s property (but no bodily injuries), and you left the scene of the accident.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor hit and run, you could face the following penalties:
- A maximum of $1,000 in fines and penalties;
- Two points added to your driving record by the California DMV;
- A maximum of six months in county jail;
- A maximum of three years of informal probation, and
- Required restitution to your victim.
In some cases, your attorney may be able to negotiate a civil compromise to settle your misdemeanor hit and run charges. In such an agreement, you will pay for all damages, and, in exchange, your criminal hit-and-run charges will be dropped.
When is a Hit-and-Run a Felony?
The primary difference between misdemeanor and felony charges of hit-and-run, lie in property damage vs. human being damage. If you injured or killed another person, then left the scene of the accident, you can be charged with a felony offense, no matter who was at fault, no matter what the financial damages are, and no matter how serious the injuries to the other person are.
This means that if you are involved in a minor fender-bender (even if you were not at fault), you drive away from the accident and it later turns out the other driver suffered an injury, you could be charged with a felony under California Vehicle Code 20001. In general, any time there were injuries to another person involved in the accident, and you leave the scene of the accident, failing to call for help and/or render necessary aid, you could be charged with a California felony hit-and-run. If you are convicted of a California felony hit-and-run, you could face the following:
- Penalties from $1,000-$10,0000, and
- Sixteen months to three years in California state prison, unless a death or serious injury resulted from the accident, in which case the sentence rises from two-four years.
A California felony hit-and-run is actually a wobbler, meaning it could be tried as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the prosecutor’s assessment of the situation. Since the difference in penalties between a misdemeanor and a felony hit-and-run is significant, it is to your advantage to speak to an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after the accident, in order to minimize your penalties and consequences.
Potential Defenses to Felony Hit-and-Run
While your defense will depend on the circumstances surrounding your case, below are some of the more common defenses used for those charge with felony hit-and-run:
- You did not realize you were involved in an accident (perhaps the accident occurred at night, and, while you knew you hit something, you did not realize it was a person).
- Actual innocence—you were not the person driving the car. Perhaps someone stole or borrowed your car, and there is no identification to show you were driving the car.
- You were in an emergency situation, therefore could not stop following the accident.
- Involuntary intoxication (i.e., you were given the wrong medication, and that medication made you groggy unaware of what happened).
It is essential that you contact an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as soon as you have been charged with felony hit-and-run. Not only could you face serious criminal penalties if convicted of the offense, you will also face long-term consequences such as difficulty obtaining vehicle insurance, difficulty obtaining employment or a professional license, and difficulty obtaining a federal student loan or even renting an apartment. Don’t wait—as soon as you realize you have made a mistake by leaving the scene of an accident, contact The Rodriguez Law Group.