What Happens If You Leave the Scene of a Car Accident?
Often following a car crash, it is common for drivers and victims of such accidents to be confused. When confusion sets in, they make the wrong decisions that may have serious legal implications. One of the common decisions made following an accident is the decision to leave the scene of the accident.
The decision to leave the accident scene constitutes a criminal offense commonly known as hit and run. It is a criminal offense that is prosecuted aggressively in California and may have severe implications for your record.
That said, most drivers don’t realize what they are getting into when they fail to stop after an accident. The law is stringent on such offenders, and they may end up serving jail time for this offense.
Here is what you need to know about California’s hit and run charges, how they are prosecuted, the potential penalties, and how a car accident lawyer from LA Century Law can help you avoid conviction.
Duty to Stop
Rights are always accompanied by a subsequent obligation. In this case, a driver on the road has an obligation or a duty to take care not to harm or put other road users in harm’s way. What’s more, in the event of an accident, the law requires the driver to stop immediately at the scene of the accident regardless of the magnitude of the accident.
The law requires drivers to do the following after an accident:
- Locate the owner of the other vehicle and exchange pertinent information and any documentation
- Report the accident to the police immediately
- In case of injury, you must provide reasonable assistance, including locating emergency officials
That said, if you fail to follow the steps outlined above, you may end up being charged with the offense of hit and run.
Hit and Run Involving Property Damage
Under California’s law, hit and run can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. The offense will be classified as a misdemeanor if it involves property damage, and it may be classified as a felony if it involves injury or death.
That said, California’s Vehicle Code Section 20002 provides the following steps after an accident involving property damage:
- Stop immediately at the scene of the accident
- Exchange information with the person in control of the damaged property or the owner of the damaged property
If you fail to follow these steps, you will be regarded as having committed a hit and run misdemeanor. Noteworthy is that if the property is damaged and the owner of the property is nowhere in sight, you are required to leave a note highlighting the circumstances of the accident and, at the same time, report the accident to the local police or California Highway Patrol.
Hit and Run Leading Involving Injury or Death
You will be charged with a felony if you fail to stop after a car accident that leads to an injury or death. Section 20001 of the California Vehicle Code requires drivers to do the following after an accident:
- Stop immediately at the scene of the accident
- Exchange information with the other party or any other party at the scene of the accident.
- Provide reasonable assistance to the injured person
- Report the accident to the local police or California Highway Patrol
What Are the Potential Penalties for a Hit and Run Charge in California?
If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony hit and run in California and successfully convicted, you may face stringent penalties provided under California’s law.
A hit and run charge involving property damage is typically classified as a misdemeanor. Being a misdemeanor, the penalties are slightly less stringent when compared to a felony. In this regard, you are likely to be subjected to 180 days in county jail, three years of informal probation, and court fines of up to $1000. Furthermore, the court may place an order of restitution to the victim.
A hit and run involving injury or death is deemed a “wobbler.” This means that it may be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the offense. For instance, if the accident resulted in death or if you have a previous criminal record, the prosecution may decide to charge the offense as a felony.
In case of a felony, upon conviction, you are likely to face up to three years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. You risk having your license suspended if you have other vehicle code violations.
That said, a hit and run accident involving death may lead to what is commonly known as a wrongful death claim against the tortfeasor. This makes the situation even more complex. If you are involved in a hit and run incident, you need to hire an attorney immediately. This should be one of the key steps you should undertake following an accident. An attorney at LA Century Law will weigh the options available and help you make an informed choice.
Should You Hire an Attorney for a Hit and Run Charge in California?
If you’ve been charged with a hit and run, you need to seek help from an attorney immediately. You may, for example, end up facing a felony charge, which may be able to be classified as just a misdemeanor if you had an attorney.
A competent and qualified attorney at the LA Century Law will build a robust defense that ensures the charges are dropped or dismissed.
Contact LA Century Law Today
If you find yourself in a car accident, you need to contact a reputable attorney immediately. With LA Century Law, you can trust our experienced and skilled attorneys to help steer your case in the right direction. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.