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Legal Obligations in a Hit and Run

Most motorists know that if they are involved in an accident, they have a legal obligation to stop and exchange driver's license, insurance and registration information with the other party. If someone was injured, you also have a duty to render reasonable assistance such as finding or arranging for transportation for the injured party to get medical treatment. Your failure to do so can result in a misdemeanor charge or even a felony.

If the property damage was at least $750 or someone was injured, you also have to submit an SR-22 form to the DMV, or have your insurance agent or attorney do it for you.

But what happens if you were driving while intoxicated or if someone was injured or killed? Under these circumstances, you face more than one serious charge, including:

  • DUI
  • Reckless driving
  • Assault with a dangerous weapon
  • Vehicular manslaughter
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
  • Second degree murder

Driving home one night, you know you have had too much to drink but you are driving slowly and cautiously. Thinking about the events of the day, your attention wanders. Suddenly, a car is in front of you and you brake hard, but you rear-end it or hit it head-on. Panic overtakes you since you know you are too intoxicated to be driving, or perhaps you have a past DUI conviction and know what awaits you.

Without stopping to see if anyone is hurt and believing no one can identify your car, you take off and arrive home, relieved but hoping no one was hurt. Within the hour, though, police arrive at your home and you are arrested and charged with DUI and hit-and-run. Also, you are told the occupant of the other car suffered a serious injury.

A DUI and a hit-and-run just don't happen to criminals. Panic can impair your judgment as much as alcohol. If you have been arrested and face prison time, you need to find an experienced DUI attorney to get you through this turbulent time.

A hit-and-run is a "wobbler" offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. This usually depends on whether someone was injured or killed and your criminal record.

Proof of Hit and Run

To prove you committed a hit and run offense, the prosecution must show the following:

  • You were involved in an accident
  • You knew or reasonably should have known about the accident and injury
  • You willfully failed to perform a legal obligation

You should know in most cases if you were in an accident but being "involved" can include an accident where the vehicles never made contact, such as weaving in a lane causing another car behind yours to swerve and crash into the median.

Further, if you exit your car and leave your injured passengers without attempting to find medical assistance, you can be charged with a hit-and-run.

Many motorists claim they did not know an accident had occurred. If your car sustained any damage or you were seen speeding away from the scene, it can be presumed that you were aware.

Leaving the scene without exchanging information or seeking medical assistance or transportation for an injured party while knowing that someone sustained an injury, no matter how minor, can also expose you to criminal liability.

Legal Defenses to Hit and Run

There are a number of available defenses to a hit-and-run charge:

  • You were not driving

If there were no eyewitnesses to identify you, then this defense may at least lead to a reduced charge. If you can show the car was stolen or someone else had access to your car, you might be able to have the charge dismissed.

  • Lack of Knowledge

There are instances where your driving conduct caused an accident of which you were unaware, especially if the accident occurred behind you or at night. Another case may be where the occupants of the other vehicle denied any injuries so you drove off without providing the required information. If this was the case, you may only be charged with a misdemeanor.

  • No Proof of Intoxication

If you fled the scene of an accident and were found hours later and charged with a DUI along with any other offenses, the prosecutor may have a difficult time proving you were under the influence at the time of the accident, even if you were intoxicated when arrested. So long as you did not admit that you had nothing to drink between the time of the accident and your arrest, it is just as likely that you became intoxicated while drinking at home or somewhere else.

Penalties for Hit and Run

If the hit and run is charged as a misdemeanor, you face the following possible penalties:

  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Incarceration in a county jail for up to one year

For a felony hit and run, the following sentence is likely:

  • A fine between $1,000 and $10,000
  • Incarceration of 2, 3 or 4 years in state prison
  • Restitution to the victim

Should someone have been seriously injured, you may be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, vehicular manslaughter or second degree murder.

If you were under the influence of alcohol or a drug or had a blood alcohol content level of at least 0.08%, the prosecutor may charge you with either misdemeanor or felony DUI. A felony DUI under these circumstances could result in incarceration from 2 to 10 years, especially if there was a serious injury or fatality.

A hit and run is a serious charge and becomes more serious if you were found to be intoxicated at the time. Consult the Genesis Law Group if you face a hit and run or DUI charge.