For many people, one bad decision can often lead to another. That is often the case when drunken driving leads to a traffic accident. If you drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol in California, you risk a DUI conviction and the severe penalties that come with it. However, you will only complicate that problem if you leave the scene of an alcohol-involved vehicle collision.
If you leave the scene of a crash without exchanging identifying information with the other party, you could face a misdemeanor charge of hit and run along with a DUI charge.
A conviction for both of those charges could lead to harsher punishment than just the DUI conviction alone. These charges are serious, and you need an experienced DUI defense attorney in your corner to help you defend yourself. If you are facing hit and run charges in L.A. County, contact William S. Kroger Attorney at Law today.
Leaving the Scene of an Accident to Avoid DUI Arrest
You have certain responsibilities you must comply with when you get in a vehicle collision that damages the property of another person in California. After the accident, you must locate and notify the owner of or person in charge of the property you damaged. You are required to give them your name and address, and if requested a copy of your driver's license and registration. If the owner of the property is not present, you can leave a note containing your identifying information and a description of what happened at the scene.
Under California Vehicle Code § 20002, you are guilty of a misdemeanor if you:
- Were driving and involved in an accident;
- The accident caused property damage;
- You were aware of the likelihood the accident caused damage; and
- You willfully did not stop or exchange identifying information.
It is unlawful to leave the scene of an accident to avoid a DUI arrest. However, there is no intent requirement under section 20002. Regardless of your reasons, leaving the scene after an accident is a misdemeanor.
Fault is also irrelevant. Whether you caused the accident or another party, your obligation under the law is the same. That is the case whether you hit a parked car or are struck by another vehicle that crossed into your lane. The bottom line is that if you fail to stop and exchange identifying information after a collision you are in violation of California Vehicle Code § 20002.
Penalties for a California of Hit and Run
If you are convicted of hit and run under California Vehicle Code § 20002, you will face a number of consequences. A conviction carries a maximum sentence of six months in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000 plus court costs, and restitution for the damage you caused to the other vehicle.
While these charges are serious enough, it's likely you won't be sentenced too harshly if this is your first run-in with the law. However, if you are charged with hit and run along with a DUI offense, you could find yourself facing a sentence closer to the maximum.
These aren't the only consequences you may face, however. If you are charged with a DUI in addition hit and run you can expect a suspension of your driving privileges. But even if you are ultimately acquitted of the DUI, a conviction for hit and run alone is enough to potentially cost you your driver's license.
Even if the court doesn't take your license due to a DUI suspension, the Department of Motor Vehicles may still cause you problems. A conviction for hit and run is good for two points on your license. What's more, California Vehicle Code § 13361 states:
The department may suspend the privilege of any person to operate a motor vehicle upon receipt of a duly certified abstract of the record of any court showing that the person has been convicted of any of the following crimes or offenses: (a) failure to stop in the event of an accident resulting in damage to property only, or otherwise failing to comply with requirement of Section 20002.
In other words, it is at the discretion of the DMV whether to suspend your license or not after you are convicted of hit and run.
Defenses to Hit and Run Charges
While it is unlawful to leave the scene of an accident after a collision, there are a few legal defenses that apply in hit and run cases. If your criminal defense attorney can show the prosecutor has not proven each element of the case against you, a jury of your peers will find you not guilty. Three of the most common defenses used in a California hit and run case are:
- The accident did not damage the property of another person,
- You had no reason to know of any damage, or
- You were not involved in the accident
You Didn't Damage the Property of Another
A crucial element of hit and run is that you left the scene of an accident that involved damage to the property of another person. However, in some cases, an accident can lead only to damage to your property. For example, if your vehicle collides with a retaining wall, it's possible your vehicle will be damaged but the wall is no worse for wear. If that is the case, it would not be illegal to leave the scene.
You Weren't Aware of the Damage
To be guilty of hit and run, you must either have known of the damage or the impact was great enough that you had to have known that type of damage would have occurred. In cases of minor damage, however, it is possible that you collided with the property of another person and weren't even aware it occurred. If you didn't know of the damage, you aren't guilty of hit and run.
Mistakes happen, especially when it comes to eyewitness accounts. It's possible a faulty witness or shoddy police investigation leads to you being charged with leaving the scene of an accident you were not involved in. Keep in mind that if you are ultimately arrested for DUI as well as leaving the scene, you would still face potential legal jeopardy from the DUI charge even if your attorney prevails on the hit and run case.
Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney You Can Count On
If you have been charged with hit and run to avoid a DUI conviction in California, contact William S. Kroger Attorney at Law today for your free consultation.