What to Do If You are Involved in a Hit and Run (California Vehicle Code Section 20002)
With streets and freeways jammed with cars 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Californians know that getting into an accident is always a possibility. Getting distracted for even a second can lead you to drive into another car or up onto the curb and onto someone’s property. What happens if, in a moment of temporary panic after an accident, you decide to flee the scene?
Duty Where Property Is Damaged (California Vehicle Code Section 20002)
Under California Vehicle Code section 20002(a), if you are the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including other vehicles, you must stop driving as soon as possible at the nearest safe location that does not impede traffic. After you have safely stopped, you must do ONE of the following:
- Locate and notify the owner or person in charge of the property, and upon their request, provide them with your driver’s license and vehicle registration. You must also give them your current address and the address of the registered owner of the vehicle you were driving; or
- Leave a note in a conspicuous place on the damaged property or vehicle that provides (a) your name and address, as well as that of the registered owner of the vehicle you were driving, and (b) a statement of how the accident happened. You must also without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city in which the accident occurred or the local headquarters for the California Highway Patrol.
Under Vehicle Code section 20002(b), these rules also apply if your parked car becomes a runaway vehicle and collides with the property of someone else.
It is important to know that the California law does not take into account whether or not you were at fault in the accident. The other driver could be completely at fault for causing the accident, but for this particular crime, the law is only concerned whether you left the scene without providing your information. If you fail to do so by either of the above methods, you could be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted you could face imprisonment in county jail for up to six months and fines of up to $1,000.
Hit and run rises to a felony under Vehicle Code section 20001 if you leave the scene when someone has been injured or killed in the accident. If you do so, you could be sentenced to up to five years in state prison and be ordered to pay up to $10,000 in fines.
Your Next Move: Speak With an Experienced Attorney Right Away
Suppose that despite knowing that you were supposed to stop, you panicked and fled the accident site. What should you do next?
First, you must realize that the single most important element to the prosecution is proving that you were driving the car when the accident occurred. This means that the prosecution will need either a witness that can identify you as the driver, or for you to admit to being the driver. You need to keep this in mind if you speak to anyone about the accident. For example, if you contact your insurance company, your conversation might be recorded. The prosecution can get the transcript or recording from your insurance company and use it against you in court to prove that you were the driver involved in the accident.
The same applies to any conversation you might have with any law enforcement personnel. The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to decline to give statements to the police that might be used against you in court. You have no obligation to discuss with them how your car became damaged.
Your best option is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you can so that he or she can begin to help you build your defense. Some legal defenses your attorney may explore with you include:
- The fact that only your vehicle sustained damage;
- You did not realize that you had been involved in an accident, or that your car caused damage to the property of another; or
- Someone else was driving your car at the time of the accident.
Contact the Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich to Learn More
If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony hit and run, your freedom may depend on choosing an experienced and aggressive attorney. Wallin & Klarich has been successfully defending people accused of vehicular crimes for over 40 years. Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation and let us help you, too.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney near you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.