California Vehicle Code 20002 VC makes it a crime to leave the scene of an accident without stopping and leaving personal information when damage occurs to vehicles or other property. Drivers involved in an accident must stop even if they were not responsible for the incident.
When a motorist fails to remain at the scene of a crash, the so-called “hit-and-run” driver can face misdemeanor charges, which can result in up to six months in jail, fines up to $1,000, being ordered to pay for some or all of the damage and receive two points on their state driving record.
Actions to take after a crash
A driver leaving the scene of an accident could face felony charges if someone were injured. Misdemeanors typically result over cases involving minor property damage. Under California law, after an accident, drivers must:
- Pull over safely at the nearest convenient location
- Contact the other driver or drivers
- Share driver’s license and car registration info if requested
- Get the same information from the others involved
- Leave a note for the owner of a parked car
Examples of a hit-and-run crash include hitting a parked car and not leaving contact information in a conspicuous location, colliding with another vehicle and leaving the scene, and running into a power pole, street sign or private property and taking off.
Defense strategies for hit-and-run charges
Prosecutors must prove the defendant was involved in the crash, that injuries or property damage occurred, the defendant knew they were involved in the accident and willfully fled from the scene. Experienced defense attorneys can help drivers avoid charges in many cases, such as when:
- The driver was unaware that a collision occurred
- No injuries or property damage resulted
- The driver was falsely or mistakenly identified
Diversion may be an option
If none of those defenses fit, entering pretrial diversion can be the best option for a driver to avoid harsh consequences. Low-level misdemeanors are often eligible for diversion. Knowledgeable defense attorneys can work with prosecutors for the defendant to complete an educational course or volunteer opportunity in return for the charges being dropped and sealed from public view.
Defendants can be eligible if they have not been convicted of a felony in the past five years or have been otherwise deemed ineligible. In most cases, diversion is only offered to nonviolent, first-time offenders. But with the help of an experienced defense lawyer, it may be the best option to help you avoid a criminal record.