Hit and run crimes occur when a driver causes or has been involved in a traffic accident, but he or she flees the accident scene before the authorities arrive. California law gives thorough guidance on what drivers have to do when they have been involved in an accident. The most essential thing is to come to a complete stop, offer assistance to anybody who has been injured, and provide your contact information so that any motorists or anybody else involved in the incident can contact you if necessary.

A hit-and-run could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony is considered more serious than a misdemeanor offense. If you are convicted of a felony hit and run, you could face approximately four years in prison as well as fines of up to $10,000. When charged with a misdemeanor hit and run, the penalties are up to 6 months in county jail as well as maximum fines of $1,000.

Fortunately, with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, you have a better chance of receiving less severe penalties, if any are imposed at all. Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm has an impressive track record of representing clients accused of hit-and-run offenses and can defend you if you're fighting criminal charges in Pasadena.

Understanding Hit and Run Charges Under California Law

California traffic laws are in place to ensure the safety of drivers as well as other road users. However, accidents can happen even to anybody when you least expect it. The steps you take following the accident are extremely important. Regardless of if you were at fault or not, the statutes have laid out a clear path for you to follow once you're involved in one. Perhaps you collided with another car, a pedestrian, a biker or cyclist, or maybe even a roadside structure or item. 

Anybody involved in a car collision must remain at the accident scene till the police have completed their inquiry and cleared them. They also have to willingly give out their personal information to anybody who is involved.

A hit-and-run is when you flee the accident scene without offering assistance or providing your contact information. Escaping the accident scene, in many cases, implies that you're trying to escape and evading culpability as if you were already guilty. The police will presume you're concealing information and could believe you're to blame. Aside from that, you can be charged with hit-and-run. It's a serious offense that might result in you doing time in prison as well as paying a huge fine.

In circumstances like these, nevertheless, the prosecutor bears the burden of proof. The prosecution will be burdened by the court with demonstrating your allegations beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Felony Hit and Run

A hit and run is considered a wobbler offense in California. A wobbler is an offense that is either pursued as a misdemeanor or a felony. If the victim is injured or dies because of the collision, you will most likely face felony hit and run charges.

A felony is a major offense, so if you're charged with a felony hit and run, you'll need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

You should consult with a lawyer as early as possible after the accident happens because whatever you disclose to the police officers or any other parties could be used against you during your court hearing, 

You can also be convicted of felony hit and run even though the event took the lives or caused serious injuries to the occupants of your vehicle. In addition to paying maximum fines of $10,000 and receiving sentencing of up to 4 years in California state prison, if you are found to be guilty of felony hit and run, you risk permanently losing your driving privileges. 

What the Prosecutor Must Show to Prove Felony Hit and Run Accusations

Below are elements that the prosecutor must prove before the court to prosecute you with felony hit-and-run:

  • You were involved in an accident 
  • You were aware that you had been involved in the accident
  • You knew that another person had died or was seriously injured, or was about to be killed or be injured

You purposefully did not:

  • Stop at the accident scene
  • Assist the person who had been injured
  • Give the authorities or the affected person your contact information. Your name, address, as well as your registration number of your car, should be part of the information provided
  • Provide your driving permit, as well as the other party's driving permit to law enforcement authorities 
  • Contact the California Highway Patrol or another local law enforcement agency

Felony Hit and Run Penalties

The consequences for felony hit-and-run offenses are harsh, particularly when the accident results in the victim's death. In most situations, if there were just minor injuries, the charges could be lowered to a misdemeanor offense. Felony hit and run penalties include:

  • Prison sentences spanning from 2 to three years
  • Your driving permit will be revoked indefinitely
  • Compensation, as well as fines of up to $10,000, could be imposed

Further Consequences

You can face additional penalties along with the ones listed above. For example, the proprietor of any item you destroyed during the accident chooses to bring legal charges against you. If another party takes legal action against you, along with the hit-and-run allegations, you will face civil action.

Also, your insurance provider could potentially choose to increase your premiums following the accident. When they do this, your finances could be adversely affected. It's also possible that they might choose to discontinue your insurance entirely.

If the accident resulted in a death, the victim's relatives can file a wrongful death lawsuit against you. Such cases often involve huge monetary penalties, that's why you require an experienced defense lawyer to assist you so you will not have to deal with these serious consequences.

After being tried and convicted of a hit and run incident, the penalties for vehicular manslaughter could be increased by an extra five years in state prison. Sections 192(c)(1), as well as 191.5 of the Penal Code, define vehicular manslaughter as a crime in which an accident results in the death of someone else.

Misdemeanor Hit and Run

You could be accused of a misdemeanor hit and run when the accident you were implicated in didn't leave the victim severely injured. If there are no significant injuries or deaths to the other party/parties involved, a hit and run offense is considered a misdemeanor. As a result, misdemeanor hit and run lead to damage to property, which is frequently paid for by insurance.

If you crashed into a structure, mailbox, or signage, and then fled without trying to identify yourself, you could be accused of a misdemeanor hit and run. Even though you're not the person who triggered the accident, you're legally obliged to stop your car and make yourself known if you have been involved in an accident. If you don't, you could be charged with a misdemeanor hit and run.

As you can now see, the primary distinction between a felony and misdemeanor hit and run offense would be that a felony hit and run accusation involves injury to another party or parties, whereas a misdemeanor hit and run offense involves the destruction of property. A misdemeanor hit and run also aren't regarded as an offense comprising moral turpitude, whereas a felony hit and run are. An act of moral turpitude has the potential to result in the repatriation of immigrants.

What the Prosecutor Must Prove

The prosecutor must prove the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You were implicated in a traffic accident, and you fled the scene 
  • You fled without reporting the collision to the authorities or making yourself known as one of the other parties involved
  • The accident caused damage to another person's property

If you have been engaged in an accident and you didn't stop, you could face misdemeanor hit and run penalties, irrespective of the extent of property damage. You could still incur misdemeanor hit and run penalties when you:

  • Continue driving after you have struck someone else’s property using your car
  • Continue driving even if you're not responsible for a minor (fender bender) accident
  • Flee from a scene of the accident triggered by you driving recklessly, even though your car did not crash into another car

As a result, even defendants with no prior criminal history can find themselves fighting misdemeanor hit and run accusations. It's easy to get caught off guard and face these charges. That's why you will require the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to assist you with the hit and run charges.

Penalties for a Misdemeanor Hit and Run

When you are convicted of a misdemeanor hit and run offense, you may face all or some of the following penalties:

  • An informal probation period of up to three years
  • Jail sentence of up to 6 months 
  • Fines of up to $1000 as well as further punishments as determined by the court
  • Compensation for the plaintiff whose possessions were damaged or destroyed
  • The Department of motor vehicles will add two points to your driving record

Along with the aforementioned penalties, you could suffer the same further penalties as those of felony hit and run accusations.

However, the great news is that when you have committed a misdemeanor hit and run for the first time, you are unlikely to face harsh penalties such as considerable jail sentences. You will not incur a harsh sentence provided you don't face any other charges, like driving under the influence.

Civil Compromise

California courts may let your matter be settled civilly if this was your first misdemeanor hit and run violation and you have no charges of substance abuse. As per California PC 1377, civil compromise is defined as a civil action for damages to property. If a plaintiff is harmed as a result of someone else's misdemeanor act, he or she has access to a civil action, and the case is considered civilly compromised. When the judge agrees to let you pursue the civil compromise, the misdemeanor hit and run case will be dismissed provided you fully compensate the person whose possession was destroyed.

Legal Defenses for Fighting Hit-and-Run Charges

A skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer could be able to utilize legal defenses to help defend your case and show your innocence. The following are some standard defenses for misdemeanor hit and run charges:

Your Vehicle is the Only Item that was Damaged During the Accident

You could have been driving a smaller vehicle when you collided with a larger vehicle, such as a semi-truck. In such instances, your car could be the only car damaged in the accident. If this is true, you are under no obligation to stop your car and share information. According to the misdemeanor hit and run statutes in California, you do not need to stop if this happens.

Similarly, if you were involved in an accident whereby your car collided with another person's property but neither your vehicle nor the other property was destroyed, you are not required to stop. Additionally, if your car was the only thing damaged during that event, you won't be held accountable if you failed to stop to give your details. This is specified in California VC 20002.

As a result, even if you are detained for refusing to stop following an incident, your attorney can argue that because your automobile was the only thing damaged, you were under no requirement to stop.

You Were Mistaken For Someone Else

In many hit-and-run incidents, the perpetrator flees the site of the accident as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of being recognized by witnesses. This could lead to innocent individuals being mistaken for criminals. If you had been near the accident scene at the moment, you can be misidentified or even labeled as the perpetrator if the other party didn't get a chance to identify the actual perpetrator. It's worse when you own a similar car or have comparable physical characteristics.

Your attorney can use strong defense techniques to persuade the jury that you were not the offender. He/she can compile compelling proof, such as photographs and footage recorded after the incident, to back up their claim.

You Were Unaware of the Damage Caused

Although this argument will not apply to accidents with serious damage, it could be a good defense if the accident had a minor impact, such as if you struck an animal and didn't realize it or if you struck someone else's property with minor damage. In such circumstances, your attorney could demonstrate that you were unaware of the incident at the time it happened. You have no criminal accountability if you were unaware of the incident.

This argument might not apply in situations where there had been significant damage since proving that you had been unaware of the extent of the damages would be challenging. For example, if you had been driving and collided with someone's fence, severely damaging it, it would be difficult to claim that you were unaware of the damages caused by the accident. You could claim that you didn't know that you damaged another car when you had been driving a larger vehicle, like an SUV, and accidentally drove into a smaller vehicle without realizing it and then left.

You Were Not Driving

When you claim that you weren't driving your vehicle at the moment of the incident, your criminal defense attorney could be able to prove that you are not at fault. This could happen if another person was using your vehicle before the accident, or if your vehicle had been stolen even before the accident happened. This could be a compelling defense, but it can only be used if the following conditions are met:

  • There are no eyewitnesses to claim differently
  • You had made a stolen car claim before the incident

The prosecution is required by law to identify the motorist in the case of a hit-and-run offense. You cannot be charged with a hit and run when the prosecution fails to name you as the offender. This rule applies to both misdemeanor and felony hit-and-run proceedings.

You Unwillingly Left the Accident Scene

You might have had a good motive for leaving the accident scene. For example, you might've had a more pressing item to deal with, such as bringing a critically ill person to the hospital. There can also be times when you must flee the site of an accident for your protection. This occurs when another person present at the scene of the crime is aggressive and there's a possibility that they will attack you. This defense could assist you in getting off the leash if you're charged with felony hit and run.

All of these legal defenses are legitimate arguments that your lawyer can make to defend you. Make sure your lawyer has all of the details of the incident. These details then are used by your lawyer to build the most ideal defense plan for your situation.

You are the Only One Who Was Hurt at the Accident Scene

If you're the only affected party, your lawyer can defend your claim if you're facing hit and run accusations, whether misdemeanor or felony. If you were the only person injured as a result of the accident, you will not be prosecuted under California Vehicle Code 20001.

Offenses Related To Hit-and-Run

Hit and run charges are related to several other unlawful acts, including:

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Diving Under the Influence (DUI) statutes are enforced by local law police and the California Highway Patrol. The penalties for driving under the influence are substantial. A DUI could be caused by using alcohol or any other intoxicating substance, including prescription medications or illegal narcotics like narcotics and marijuana. Alcohol DUI is much more common than other types of DUI. If convicted of a DUI caused by alcohol impairment, the defendant will incur two charges under California Vehicle Code 23152(a) along with California Vehicle Code 23152(b).

Vehicle Code 23152(b) encompasses DUI while operating a car with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more. If the prosecutor establishes that you had been inebriated while operating a vehicle, you could face DUI charges along with the hit-and-run charges. In California, DUI is regarded as a misdemeanor penal violation, which implies that if you're charged with a misdemeanor hit and run along with DUI, the penalties will be less severe, particularly if it's your very first DUI.

The following are the penalties for a first-time DUI:

  • County jail sentences can range from 96 hours to 6 months
  • Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000
  • Your driving permit will be restricted or suspended for a duration of 6 to 10 months

You do not want to put yourself in a position where you are facing both DUI and hit-and-run accusations. This is because DUI charges can be complex at times, and when you add additional hit and run charges to the situation, you put yourself in a difficult scenario. Nevertheless, with the competent counsel of an experienced Pasadena criminal defense lawyer, you may rest confident that your matter is in good hands.

Driving Without a Valid Driver's License

California law mandates that all drivers hold a legal driver's license. All motorists, including those relocating indefinitely to California from any other state, are mandated by law to possess a California driving permit. Driving without a license is charged as a misdemeanor in California, as per VC 12500(a).

This charge carries a penalty of up to 6 months in county jail. You could also be obligated to pay fines of up to $1,000, which can be paid along with or to prevent facing a jail sentence. If it's shown that you were operating a vehicle without a driving license at the moment of the hit and run, you'll be charged with driving without a license and hit and run charges.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

A hit and run charge is a serious offense, regardless of whether it is filed as a felony or a misdemeanor. You could end up fighting significant financial losses if the owner of the property or the deceased's family sues you for damages. Therefore, if you are seeking exceptional services in Pasadena, you can contact the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm. Our attorneys are committed to assisting the people charged with hit and run as well as other related charges. Contact us today at 626-628-0564 to secure the best legal assistance possible.