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Hit and Run Laws (VC 20001_VC 20002) in California - IE Criminal Defense

I. California Vehicle Code 20001/20002: Hit and Run


Legal Definition: The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident (VC 20001(a)). The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists (VC 20002(a)).

For a person to be convicted of a violation of VC 20001(a), the prosecution must prove the following:

  1. While driving, you were involved in an accident;
  2. The accident caused the death of/permanent, serious injury to someone else;
  3. You knew you either had been involved in an accident that injured another person or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that another person was likely injured; AND
  4. You willfully failed to perform one or more of the following duties:

  • (a) To immediately stop at the scene of the accident;
  • (b) To provide reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident;
  • (c) To give to the driver or occupants of any vehicle collided with or any police officer at the scene of the accident all of the following information:
    • The defendant’s name and current residence address; AND
    • The registration number of the vehicle you were driving; AND
    • The name and current residence address of the owner of the vehicle if you are not the owner; AND
    • The names and current residence addresses of any occupants of your vehicle who were injured in the accident; AND
    • When requested, to show your driver’s license to the driver or occupants of any vehicle that collided with or any police officer at the scene of the accident; AND
    • You must, without unnecessary delay, notify either the police department of the city where the accident happened or the local headquarters of the California Highway Patrol if the accident happened in an unincorporated area.

For a person to be convicted of a
violation of VC 20002(a), the prosecution must prove the following:

  1. While driving, you were involved in an accident;
  2. The accident caused damage to someone else’s property;
  3. You knew you either had been involved in an accident that caused property damage or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that property had been damaged; AND
  4. You willfully failed to perform one or more of the following duties:

  • (a) To immediately stop at the scene of the accident; OR
  • (b) To immediately provide the owner or person in control of the damaged property with their name and current residence address and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle you were driving. The driver of a vehicle may provide the required information in one of two ways:

  1. The driver may locate the owner or person in control of the damaged property and give that person the information directly. On request, the driver must also show that person their driver’s license and the vehicle registration; OR
  2. The driver may leave the required information in a written note in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or other damaged property. The driver must then also, without unnecessary delay, notify either the police department of the city where the accident happened or the local headquarters of the California Highway Patrol if the accident happened in an unincorporated area. 

II. What does this mean?


These two charges involve two distinct, but different requirements: 1. Injury to a person or 2. Injury to Property. Most of the requirements, although lengthy, is similar. Most commonly this occurs when you’re driving your car, stop paying attention, and rear-end another car. Now, by law, you need to pull over after that accident, speak to the driver, and exchange your information. But sometimes people panic and they run. Depending on if there is an injury, will determine if you are charged with a violation of VC 20001(a) or (b).

The duty to immediately stop means that you must stop the vehicle as soon as reasonably possible under the circumstances. You must then determine what is reasonable assistance, under the circumstances, and assist the injured party in that way. It does not matter if someone else caused the accident or if the accident, you are still required to do all of the above.

What is important here is also your knowledge. If you hit a parked car in a parking lot, but do not know you did, and based on the nature of your driving, would not have assumed you did, you could not be convicted of the crime. Likewise, if you are unsure that you hit another vehicle causing that personal injury, you could not be convicted. However, if you are speeding on the freeway, and cut across several lanes of traffic, and think you may have nicked another driver’s car, but are not sure, then the nature of your reckless driving would likely have caused some kind of property damage or injury to the other driver’s car.

 

III. Penalties


VC 20001(b)(1) is a wobbler offense. A wobbler offense is one that, based on certain mitigating or aggravating facts, can be charged as a misdemeanor offense, or a felony offense. If convicted of a misdemeanor offense, you could face up to one year in County Jail. If you are convicted of a Felony violation, you could be sentenced to up to 16 months, two or three years in State Prison. You would be required to serve 50% of either a misdemeanor or a felony sentence.

For VC 20002(a), you are generally hitting a parked car or some property not in movement, and thus, you could only be charged with a misdemeanor violation, where you could be sentenced up to six months in the County Jail. You would be required to serve 50% of this sentence. However, if you have no prior record, your experienced Criminal Defense Attorney can generally successfully negotiate this charge down, to something even as little as Court Diversion – meaning you complete some classes, pay some fines, and you do not end up with a criminal conviction.

IV. Other relevant violations under this section


1. VC 20001(b)(2)

Legal Definition: In addition to the above offense, if the victim suffered a great bodily injury or died, your punishment is much more severe.

Penalties: If convicted, you could be sentenced to County Jail for not less than 90 days, and no more than one year, or to State Prison for upwards of two, three, or four years. You would be required to serve 50% of that sentence.

2. VC 20001(c)

Legal Definition: A person who flees the scene of the crime after committing a violation of PC 191.5 or PC 192(c)(1), upon conviction of any of those sections, in addition, and consecutive to the punishment prescribed, shall be punished by an additional term of imprisonment of five years in the state prison.

Penalties: This is an enhancement, that will add five years of State Prison time to any sentence you receive. You would be required to serve 50% of that sentence.

V. Common Defenses


  1. Statute of Limitations
  2. Insufficient Evidence
  3. Mistake of Fact
  4. Violation of your Rights

A common defense here could be something as simple as you were not driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. Loaning a car to a friend, who then takes your car and crashes, would not make you guilty of this section. Having a good alibi in place to defend against that will also go a long way to defending yourself.

The extent of the injury is also important because it hinges on whether this is a simple property crime or an injury, or a severe injury where you are looking at a potential felony conviction. Medical reports of the other driver are crucial in determining whether the driver was actually injured, or whether they were faking it, in order to try to come back and sue you later in Civil Court for damages of pain and suffering from the accident.

Another common defense that plays here is that you did not know you were engaged in an accident. This still follows the reasonable person standard of judgment, so if you rear-end a car at a stoplight, you would be hard-pressed to pretend it didn’t happen. But, typically in property-damage cases, if it’s late at night, it’s a dark and poorly lit area, then you could provide the defense that you were unaware you hit anyone. Lack of damage is not a defense to saying you didn’t hit someone, but it does go to show that maybe you thought, because there was no damage, you were under the belief that you didn’t hit anyone.


VI. Call Today


A simple accident does not need to end in a criminal conviction on your record. Many young people find themselves in trouble under VC 20002(a) by hitting a car and fleeing a scene, causing property damage. This does not look good on your record, and there are certainly ways to fight to have it dismissed. Further, in the more serious violations involving other people who are injured or killed, you stand to lose more than just a clean record, but a loss of your freedom. There are many elements to these crimes as stated above, and I’ve fought them for years and will fight for you as well. Our VC 20001 Ontario attorney has successfully defended numerous cases involving violations of VC 20001 and other equally serious cases. The initial consultation is free and we are available to answer your questions 24/7. Call the Inland Empire Criminal Defense today at 909-939-7126! Located in Ontario, CA.

Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor should it be considered the formation of a lawyer or attorney-client relationship. If you would like to find out more information about your particular legal matter, contact our office for a consultation.

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