9 Things You Need To Know About “Hit & Run” Accident Charges

Former Prosecutor Diana Aizman discusses California Hit & Run Law

Overview Of Vehicle Code Section 20001

Under California Vehicle Code Sections 20001 the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 200031 and 20004.

If the accident results in an injury to – or death of – another person and the driver fails to stop and identify themselves, they may be charged with a felony under Vehicle Code Section 20001.

Here are examples of common instances of hit-and-runs:

  • Driver hit a pedestrian causing serious injury and fled from the scene because he was driving with a previously suspended license for a DUI and did not want to end up getting charged with two different offenses.
  • Driver hit a parked car, causing serious property damage to the car and fleeing the scene.
  • Driver hit a police car that was parked to create a road block, causing property damage, and quickly fled the scene to avoid being identified.

Overview Of Vehicle Code Section 20002

Locate and notify the owner or person in charge of that property of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle involved and, upon locating the driver of any other vehicle involved or the owner or person in charge of any damaged property, upon being requested, present his or her driver’s license, and vehicle registration, to the other driver, property owner, or person in charge of that property. The information presented shall include the current residence address of the driver and of the registered owner. If the registered owner of an involved vehicle is present at the scene, he or she shall also, upon request, present his or her driver’s license information, if available, or other valid identification to the other involved parties.

1

Under Vehicle Code 20002 the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. Moving the vehicle in accordance with this subdivision does not affect the question of fault. The driver shall also immediately do either of the following.

2

Leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or other property damaged a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle involved and a statement of the circumstances thereof and shall without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city wherein the collision occurred or, if the collision occurred in unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.

If no one was injured as a result of the accident, but the accident caused property damage, then a defendant’s failure to stop and identify themselves may result in a misdemeanor charge pursuant to Vehicle Code Section 20002.2

How Does the Prosecutor Prove A Hit and Run? VC 20001

To prove that someone is guilty of these offenses, a prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements3:

Vehicle Code 20001
  • While driving, the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident4
  • The accident caused the death of or permanent, serious injury to someone else5;
  • The defendant knew that he/she had been involved in an accident that injured another person, or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that another person had been injured6; AND
  • The defendant willfully failed to perform one or more of the following duties7:
  1. To immediately stop at the scene of the accident8;
  2. To provide reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident9
  3. To give to the person struck, to the driver, or occupants of any vehicle collided with, or any peace officer at the scene of the accident the following information:

  • Name and current residence address, and the registration number of the vehicle they were driving;
  • If not the owner of the car, also provide the name and current residence address of the owner of the vehicle if the defendant is not the owner;
  • If the occupants of the defendant’s car were injured, also provide the names and current residence addresses of any occupants of the defendant’s vehicle who were injured in the accident

  • When requested, to show his/her driver’s license to the person struck/the driver or occupants of any vehicle collided with or any peace officer at the scene of the accident;
  • If the accident caused death, the driver must, without unnecessary delay, notify either the police department of the city where the accident happened or the local headquarters of the California Highway Patrol if the accident happened in an unincorporated area.
Duty Applies Regardless Of Fault For Accident

The driver of a vehicle must perform the duties listed in California Vehicle Code Section 20001 regardless of who was injured and regardless of how or why the accident happened. It does not matter if someone else caused the accident or if the accident was unavoidable.10

Duty Applies To Injured Passengers In Defendant's Vehicle

The duties above apply to the injured passengers in the defendant’s car. Therefore, if a defendant driver flees the accident scene after causing injuries to the passengers in his/her car, he may be guilty of this offense.11

Vehicle Code Section 20002: (Property Damage)

The prosecutor must prove the following to be convicted of vehicle code 20002.

  • While driving, the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident;
  • The accident caused damage to someone else’s property;
  • The defendant knew that he/she had been involved in an accident that caused property damage, or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that property had been damaged; AND
  • The defendant willfully failed to perform one or more of the following duties12:
Duties You Have To Perform After Being In A Car Accident

  • To immediately stop at the scene of the accident13; OR
  •  To immediately provide the owner or person in control of the damaged property with his/her name and current residence address and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle the defendant was driving.The driver of a vehicle may provide the required information in one of two ways:
  • The driver may locate the owner or person in control of the damaged property and give that person the information directly. On request, the driver must also show that person his or her driver’s license and the vehicle registration; OR
  • The driver may leave the required information in a written note in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or other damaged property. The driver must then also, without unnecessary delay, notify either the police department of the city where the accident happened or the local headquarters of the California Highway Patrol if the accident happened in an unincorporated area.

Duty Applies Regardless Of Fault For Accident

The driver of a vehicle must perform the duties listed in California Vehicle Code Section 20002 regardless of who was injured and regardless of how or why the accident happened. It does not matter if someone else caused the accident or if the accident was unavoidable.14

It Does Not Matter What Type Of Property You Damage

It does not matter what type of property was damaged. For example, the defendant may have ran into a gate, mailbox, someone’s pet, or another car. The misdemeanor hit and run law requires a defendant to perform the duties under the law when the defendant damaged any type of property.

Defenses To Hit and Run Charges

Vehicle Code 20001
The Accident Caused Injury Only To Defendant

If the only person who was injured as a result of the accident was the defendant, this offense was not violated, because one of the elements of the offense is that someone other than the defendant sustained a serious injury or death.

Lack Of Knowledge

One of the elements that a prosecutor has to prove is that you knew that you had been involved in an accident that injured another person, or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that another person had been injured.  If you did not know that you had been involved in an accident, you cannot be charged with the offense. This could happen if a defendant was involved in the accident, as explained above, his/her car did not collide with another car; rather, the defendant’s driving contributed to an accident without them being aware of it. Similarly, if the accident was so minor that the defendant had no reason to suspect that another person was hurt, they would not be charged with this offense.

You Were Not Involved In The Accident

One of the elements of the offense is that the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident, meaning he/she was connected with the accident in a natural or logical manner. If it is determined that his/her driving was not connected with the accident, he/she will not be charged with the offense.

Example: Driver’s car was stolen and driven by someone else. The car thief caused an accident that resulted in an injury to someone else. Although, it was the defendant car, because the defendant was not involved, he cannot be charged with the offense. The thief in this situation could be charged under vehicle code 10851 with the unlawful taking or driving of a vehicle.

You Did Not Willfully Leave The Accident Scene
Vehicle Code 20002
The Accident Caused Damage Only To Defendants Property

If only the defendant’s car was damaged in the collision this offense was not violated, because one of the elements of the offense is that someone else’s car/property other than the defendant was damaged.

You Were Not Involved In The Accident

If it was not the defendant who was involved in the accident, such as in a situation, when the defendant’s car was stolen and the car thief caused the accident, the defendant will not be charged with the offense.

Penalties

Vehicle Code 20001

Jail:  Maximum of one year

Fine:  Not less than $1,000 nor more than $10,000

The degree of punishment depends on whether the accident has caused a serious injury or death or merely a minor injury. It also depends on whether the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, which is usually determined based on factors such as defendant’s criminal history and the seriousness of the offense.

Serious Injury/Death:

In the event of serious injury or death that is charged as a felony, a defendant may face up to 2, 3, or 4 years in the state prison, in addition to a fine between $1,000 and $10,000.

Minor Injury:

In the event of a minor injury to another that is charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant may face imprisonment in a county jail for a maximum of 1 year, in addition to the same fine, as above.

Vehicle Code 20002
PenaltiesVehicle Code 20002
FineUp to $1,000 + penalty assessments
County JailUp to 6 months
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Potential Lesser Included Offenses

Failure To Stop Following Accident Resulting In Minor Injury:

If the prosecution is unable to prove that the injury suffered was permanent and/or serious, the offense may still be charged as a misdemeanor offense pursuant to Vehicle Code, 20001(b)(1), which is a lesser included offense that is charged when a felony hit and run results in a minor injury rather than in death or serious injury pursuant to California’s Vehicle Code section 20001.

Misdemeanor Failure To Stop Following Accident - Property Damage:

This lesser included offense of misdemeanor hit and run is charged when the accident merely resulted in property damage pursuant to California Vehicle Code 20002 as opposed to a felony hit and run that results in death or serious injury.

Sentencing Enhancements

Fleeing the Scene Following Accident: Enhancement For Vehicular Manslaughter:

A conviction of a hit and run may be enhanced if the defendant committed vehicular manslaughter as a felony. This means that if the prosecution is able to prove the additional allegation that the defendant fled the scene of the accident after committing vehicular manslaughter in violation of Vehicle Code section 20001(c), the defendant’s sentence will be enhanced.

Penalty

As a result of the enhancement, the defendant can face an additional term of imprisonment of 5 years in the state prison pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 20001(c).I

In order to prove this additional allegation, the prosecution has to show that the defendant knew that he/she had been involved in an accident that injured another person, or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that another person had been injured; and that the defendant willfully fled the scene of the accident.

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs (DUI):

If a defendant committed a hit and run while being intoxicated, he/she may be also charged with a DUI under the California Vehicle Code 23152(a) and Vehicle Code 23152(b).

Penalty

Both of the offenses are misdemeanor offenses and include the following punishment for a first-time offender: imprisonment in a county jail for a minimum of 96 hours and a maximum of 6 months; A fine that ranges between $390 and $1,000; and a driver’s license suspension that can range between 6-10 months.

Information On the Criminal Court Process

Next Steps

If you have been arrested for a Hit & Run and would like to learn more about what attorneys charge.

If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.

If you are ready to discuss a pending case contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-960-1875 for a free confidential consultation.

Diana Weiss Aizman

Get Legal Help Now

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 

Footnotes

  1. Vehicle Code 20003 (a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person shall also give his or her name, current residence address, the names and current residence addresses of any occupant of the driver’s vehicle injured in the accident, the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving, and the name and current residence address of the owner to the person struck or the driver or occupants of any vehicle collided with, and shall give the information to any traffic or police officer at the scene of the accident. The driver also shall render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including transporting, or making arrangements for transporting, any injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if that transportation is requested by any injured person. (b) Any driver or injured occupant of a driver’s vehicle subject to the provisions of subdivision (a) shall also, upon being requested, exhibit his or her driver’s license, if available, or, in the case of an injured occupant, any other available identification, to the person struck or to the driver or occupants of any vehicle collided with, and to any traffic or police officer at the scene of the accident. []
  2. Vehicle Code 20002 []
  3. California Vehicle Code §20001 — Felony Hit & Run Elements: (a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004. 20003. California Vehicle Code §20003: (a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person shall also give his or her name, current residence address, the names and current residence addresses of any occupant of the driver’s vehicle injured in the accident, the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving, and the name and current residence address of the owner to the person struck or the driver or occupants of any vehicle collided with, and shall give the information to any traffic or police officer at the scene of the accident. The driver also shall render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including transporting, or making arrangements for transporting, any injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if that transportation is requested by any injured person. (b) Any driver or injured occupant of a driver’s vehicle subject to the provisions of subdivision (a) shall also, upon being requested, exhibit his or her driver’s license, if available, or, in the case of an injured occupant, any other available identification, to the person struck or to the driver or occupants of any vehicle collided with, and to any traffic or police officer at the scene of the accident. Vehicle Code §20004: In the event of death of any person resulting from an accident, the driver of any vehicle involved after fulfilling the requirements of this division, and if there be no traffic or police officer at the scene of the accident to whom to give the information required by Section 20003, shall, without delay, report the accident to the nearest office of the Department of the California Highway Patrol or office of a duly authorized police authority and submit with the report the information required by Section 20003. California Vehicle Code § 20002 — Misdemeanor Hit & Run. Elements: (a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. The driver shall also immediately do either of the following: (1) Locate and notify the owner or person in charge of that property of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle involved and, upon locating the driver of any other vehicle involved or the owner or person in charge of any damaged property, upon being requested, present his or her driver’s license, and vehicle registration, to the other driver, property owner, or person in charge of that property. The information presented shall include the current residence address of the driver and of the registered owner. If the registered owner of an involved vehicle is present at the scene, he or she shall also, upon request, present his or her driver’s license information, if available, or other valid identification to the other involved parties. (2) Leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or other property damaged a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle involved and a statement of the circumstances thereof and shall without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city wherein the collision occurred or, if the collision occurred in unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol. []
  4. To be “involved” in an accident means to be connected with the accident in a natural or logical manner. Involved Defined. People v. Bammes (1968) 265 Cal.App.2d 626, 631 [71 Cal.Rptr. 415]; People v. Sell (1950) 96 Cal.App.2d 521, 523 [215 P.2d 771]. It is not necessary for the driver’s vehicle to collide with another vehicle or person. It just means that your driving was a factor in, or contributed to, the accident. []
  5. A permanent, serious injury is one that permanently impairs the function or causes the loss of any organ or body part. Permanent, Serious Injury Defined. California Vehicle Code, § 20001(d) — Duty to Stop at Scene of Accident: (d) As used in this section, “permanent, serious injury” means the loss or permanent impairment of function of a bodily member or organ. []
  6. Knowledge of Accident and Injury. People v. Holford (1965) 63 Cal.2d 74, 79–80 [45 Cal.Rptr. 167, 403 P.2d 423]; People v. Carter (1966) 243 Cal.App.2d 239, 241 [52 Cal.Rptr. 207]; People v. Hamilton (1978) 80 Cal.App.3d 124, 133–134 [145 Cal.Rptr. 429]. []
  7. Someone commits an act “willfully” when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage. It simply means that you meant to do what you did, or you meant to refrain from acting when you had a duty to act. Willful Failure to Perform Duty. People v. Crouch (1980) 108 Cal.App.3d Supp. 14, 21–22 [166 Cal.Rptr. 818]. []
  8. The duty to immediately stop means that the driver must stop his or her vehicle as soon as reasonably possible under the circumstances. Immediately Stopped Defined. People v. Odom (1937) 19 Cal.App.2d 641, 646–647 [66 P.2d 206]. []
  9. To provide “reasonable assistance” means the driver must determine what assistance, if any, the injured person needs and make a reasonable effort to see that such assistance is provided, either by the driver or someone else. Reasonable assistance includes transporting anyone who has been injured for medical treatment, or arranging the transportation for such treatment, if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if an injured person requests transportation. The driver is not required to provide assistance that is unnecessary or that is already being provided by someone else. However, the requirement that the driver provide assistance is not excused merely because bystanders are on the scene or could provide assistance. Duty to Render Assistance. People v. Scofield (1928) 203 Cal. 703, 708 [265P. 914]; People v. Scheer (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1009, 1027 [80 Cal.Rptr.2d 676]. []
  10. Duty Applies Regardless of Fault for Accident — People v. Scofield (1928) 203 Cal. 703, 708 [265 P. 914]. []
  11. Duty Applies to Injured Passenger in Defendant’s Vehicle. People v. Kroncke (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 1535, 1546 [83 Cal.Rptr.2d 493[. []
  12. Someone commits an act “willfully” when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage. Willful Failure to Perform Duty. People v. Crouch (1980) 108 Cal.App.3d Supp. 14, 21–22 [166 Cal.Rptr. 818] []
  13. The duty to immediately stop means that the driver must stop his or her vehicle as soon as reasonably possible under the circumstances. Immediately Stopped Defined. People v. Odom (1937) 19 Cal.App.2d 641, 646–647 [66 P.2d 206]. []
  14. Duty Applies Regardless of Fault for Accident — People v. Scofield (1928) 203 Cal. 703, 708 [265 P. 914]. []