Hit & Run
MISDEMEANOR v FELONY HIT AND RUN
If someone is involved in a car accident which ends up causing damage to someone else’s property, and leaves the scene without properly identifying themself to the other people involved, they could be arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor Hit and Run. Misdemeanor Hit and Run is punishable by: up to 6 months in jail; up to 3 years of probation; up to a $1,000 fine; payment of victim restitution; and 2 DMV points.
If a Hit and Run causes in injury to a person, it is can be a felony Hit and Run, and the consequences can then be: up to 3 years in prison; up to 5 years of probation; a fine not exceeding $10,000; payment of victim restitution; and 2 DMV points.
In a Hit and Run case, the amount of damage caused to person or property does not matter; if there is any damage at all, the accident can be a Hit and Run, and if there is any bodily harm at all, the accident can be a felony Hit and Run.
ELEMENTS OF HIT AND RUN
In order to be found guilty of Hit and Run, the prosecution must prove: (1) The defendant drove and was involved in an accident; (2) The accident caused damage to property, other than the defendant’s property, or injured someone other than the defendant; (3) The defendant either knew they were involved in an accident that caused damage to someone else’s property or injury to someone other than themself; or knew they were in an accident and should have known from the nature of the accident it was probable that damage to someone else’s property or injury to someone other than themselves was caused; and (4) The Defendant failed to stop and provide necessary information to the property owner or injured person.
WHEN TO INVOLVE THE POLICE
If the owner is present, and you exchange necessary information with them, there is no requirement for either party to contact the police, although either party may request police take a report. If you have an accident with a parked car, fence, telephone pole, or other situation where the property owner is not physically present, you are required to leave your name and address on a note in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or damaged property, AND without delay notify the local police or Highway Patrol. It is not a crime merely to have an accident, but it is a crime not to tell the police about the accident if you caused property damage and the owner was not physically present to exchange information with.
DEFENSES TO HIT AND RUN
Available defenses in a Hit and Run case are:
- That the defendant was not the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident;
- That the defendant did not cause any damage or injury to any party other than themself;
- That the defendant did not actually know they were involved in an accident;
- That the defendant did know they were involved in an accident, but did not know (and should not reasonably have known) that the accident resulted in damage or injury to another party;
- That the defendant did provide his or her your name and address to the property owner or injured party at the scene; or
- That no one was present or injured, and the Defendant left a conspicuous notice on the damaged property, and without delay called the police and acknowledged causing said property damage.
A Hit and Run could also have other affirmative defenses, such as: emergency/necessity, duress, self-defense/defense-of-others, involuntary intoxication, insanity, etc . . .
5 TIPS TO REMEMBER
If the victim got a good look at your license plate, police may show up at your house and attempt to question and arrest you. You do not have to open the door. You do not need to step outside of your home and speak with police. You do not need to answer any of police’s questions. If police inform you they have an arrest warrant, at most, you should go outside and let them arrest you (so they don’t break down your door), but you should still not answer any interrogation questions. Often, police need you to come out of your home to be able to arrest you without a warrant for Hit and Run, so if they do not have a warrant, do not open the door or go outside. You can talk through the closed door if you must. Also, often police just need your admission that the car outside is yours, or that you have driven it recently, or that no one else has driven it recently, to form probable cause necessary to arrest; so do not answer these questions.
Tips to remember:
- Always give your name and contact information to the other driver/owner of the property at the scene of the accident.
- Be sure to get the other driver/owner of the property’s contact information so you have evidence that you did stop and speak with them.
- If the property owner isn’t present, leave a note AND contact the police.
- If suspected of a crime, do not answer any police questions
(“I refuse to answer any questions without an attorney present”).
- Do not go outside your home to speak with police if you have reason to believe that you are under investigation for Hit and Run.
POTENTIAL FOR NEGLIGENT OPERATOR SUSPENSION
If one receives a total of 4 DMV points in one year, 6 points in 2 years, or 8 points in 3 years DMV will automatically issue a 1-year “Negligent Operator” suspension of the driver’s license. If one is convicted of Hit and Run, they incur 2 DMV points. The accident that was the source of the Hit and Run criminal charge can also cause one additional point independent of any criminal charge outcome. Thus, a single Hit and Run offense can form the basis for 3 DMV points, and if coupled with even 1 DMV point from a preceding or subsequent traffic offense within one year, can lead to a 1-year “Negligent Operator” suspension.