San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer
California's "Hit & Run" laws are codified as Vehicle Code Sections 20001 (hit and run causing injury) and VC 20002 (misdemeanor hit and run).  The California Vehicle Code makes it a crime to leave the scene of an accident, where there was some property damage or injury without stopping to identify yourself to the other party or parties involved in the accident.  Hit and run does not require that the fleeing party be at fault in the accident.  Without an injury, hit and run is a misdemeanor pursuant to VC 20002.  In cases where someone is injured, hit and run is a "wobbler" and can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, per VC 20001.  California's Hit & Run laws can carry serious consequences, including jail, restitution, probation and a license suspension.  If you or a loved one is facing hit and run charges, it is best to have an experienced attorney in your corner from early on in the process.  Contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Loncar for a Free Consultation with a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney.

Misdemeanor hit and run is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail.  In reality, someone without a criminal record may be facing up to 30 days in SD County Jail and three to five years of misdemeanor probation.  The fines for a misdemeanor hit and run conviction in San Diego are typically as high as $1500.  In addition, a conviction for hit and run can add two points to your driver's license or, if there is an injury, lead to a suspension.  The alleged victim will also be entitled to recover restitution, compensating the victim for any property damage or medical bills.  In felony hit and run cases (VC 20001), is punishable by up to three years in prison, more if the injury is serious or if someone is killed. 

Hit and run charges can be defended in many different ways.  The government has the burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) who was driving when an accident took place, (2) that an accident took place, (3) that there was damage or an injury, and (4) that the defendant did not stop to identify themselves to the other party.  Proving who was driving at the time of an alleged hit and run can be a difficult process for law enforcement.  Because the driver did not stop, there is often little evidence tying a specific person to the criminal act.  In most cases, a police investigation will follow a witness tip identifying the vehicle (by license plate number, for example), but not necessarily the driver.  Other times, when the accident causes serious damage and a vehicle is not drivable, the driver will be gone by the time police arrive, fleeing on foot.  This means that witnesses may have gotten a look at the driver, but may or may not be able to make a positive identification.  Additionally, common defenses include that there was no accident, that there was no damage/injury to another party, that the driver did not realize that there was an accident/damage/injury, that they did provide/attempt to provide information to the other party, or that the flight was caused by a reasonable fear for the driver's safety. 

If you or a loved one is under investigation or has already been arrested or charged with hit and run, it is best to have an attorney involved as early as possible.  By representing the registered owner in a hit and run case, a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney can usually get a case resolved without criminal charges even being filed.  Additionally, it is possible to work out what is known as a civil compromise.  Penal Code Sections 1378 and PC 1379 allow for a misdemeanor hit and run case (and some other misdemeanors) to be dismissed if the judge is satisfied that the alleged victim has been fully
compensated for their loss.

Hit and run accidents almost always require additional investigation before an arrest can be made or criminal charges are filed.  Due to the nature of the crime, there is frequently a lot of uncertainty regarding (1) who was driving, (2) whether there was an attempt to flee, (3) whether there was any damage (including pre-existing damage), and more.  Therefore, a detective will usually be assigned to follow up on leads and try to build evidence against the driver.  If the investigating officer has witnesses, they may show the witnesses a photo lineup of different people who fit the description.  The goal here is to get a witness to positively identify the driver.  The police will also interrogate suspects (usually the car's registered owner), and attempt to get a confession or accusation.  This investigative stage is very important for the government's case, and must be handled properly to ensure compliance will DMV and insurance requirements, while also protecting the driver and or registered owner from criminal prosecution.  Having an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side, handling the investigation is the best way to avoid criminal charges during the investigative stage of a hit and run case.  If you or a loved one is under investigation for DUI, contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Loncar for a Free Consultation with a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney and DUI Lawyer.

If your vehicle was impounded after an accident, the vehicles registered owner should be able to recover the vehicle from police impound, but be careful, as the vehicle is frequently used as bait by police to incriminate the driver and/or registered owner.  The police may keep a vehicle as evidence for a short time, but that does not mean that the registered owner or driver must give a statement.  Police officers will use the impounded vehicle to trick registered owners into either making a statement incriminating themselves or revealing the actual driver of the vehicle and making an accusation.  When dealing with a California hit and run investigation, particularly one with an impounded vehicle, it is important to have knowledgeable, dedicated representation.  No one is under any obligation to disclose information to the police, and no one may be forced to incriminate themselves during interrogation.

In the event that the police do gather enough evidence to justify filing a criminal charge in court, the defendant will have to defend against the charges in Superior Court.  There still may be defenses and holes in the evidence that can lead to a dismissal, trial win, reduced charge or favorable plea negotiation.  Even if the defendant is accused, confessed, is identified by a witness, it is possible to avoid a conviction.  The defenses discussed in this article, other defenses, and the possibility of a civil compromise ("civ. comp." for short) mean that there are many ways to avoid a conviction and avoid jail time.

If you or someone you know is under investigation or has been charged with hit and run, driving on a suspended license, DUI or any other crime in San Diego County, contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Loncar now for a free consultation.  We can discuss your defenses, your goals and get working on your case.

Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
San Diego Expungements Lawyer
By Nicholas Loncar      


Your comment will be posted after it is approved.

Leave a Reply