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Hit and Run Defense in California: Felony, Misdemeanor and more

Hit and Run Defense in California:  Felony, Misdemeanor and more

Hit and run is a very common criminal offense in California.  The most common type of hit and run is a misdemeanor involving only property damage.  This type of case involves three things:

  1. We have to have been in a collision,
  2. We must know (or reasonably should have known) that we were in a collision,
  3. We fail to identify ourselves or notify law enforcement.

Items 1 and 2 tend to overlap in that if there is any kind of significant accident, we usually know about it.  But what about very minor accidents?  Is it possible to have been in an accident and not know about it? Certainly.  It’s also possible to be in an accident and not realize you caused damage to other property.  These concepts can be defenses to a hit and run.  It must, however, be reasonable to believe the suspect was not involved in an accident.

Hit and run causing physical injury is filed under 20001(a).  This charge can be either a felony or a misdemeanor.  Normally, it is a felony when the injuries are so serious that they require professional medical attention to address the injuries.  Most minor injury hit and runs are filed a misdemeanors.  Thus, even if we are arrested for a “felony”, it could still be filed as a misdemeanor.  And, even if the charges are filed as felony charges, they could still be reduced to misdemeanors.  Under certain circumstances, injury hit and runs can even be reduced to non-injury cases.

Hit and run is a serious offense and a felony can be punished by up to 9 years in some circumstances.  The worst case is a situation where a driver fails to stop while drunk and kills another human.  For a non-DUI hit and run we could face up to 4 years without great bodily injury or death and up to 7 years with such injuries.  A misdemeanor hit and run carries a maximum of 365 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.  Any injury hit and run carries a minimum 10 days in jail and one year license revocation.  All hit and runs mandate a 2 point violation for insurance purposes.

How do we defend the hit and run case?

The answer is complicated and varies with the situation.  Some common ways to avoid a conviction are to get the case informally diverted, civilly compromised or even mental health or military diversion are great weapons in our arsenal.  Other helpful things are insurance and the ability to pay for property damage or medical bills.  Paying for damage to victims of crime often seems to take the sting our of a criminal case.  Unfortunately, this can be an expensive proposition.  This is why it’s always helpful to have sufficient insurance coverage.  I had a case yesterday at the airport where my client only had a minimum liability insurance policy and hit two cars, causing damage and minor bodily injuries.  The victims were frustrated by the fact that my client’s insurance policy only had $10,000 in property damage coverage and his company was difficult for them to deal with on their own.

I talked to the victims.  I talked to the insurance company.  I helped get the medical bills from the doctors to the insurance company.  I helped explain to the victims that they needed a quick lesson in how to speak “insurance company”.  By getting the medical bills paid and keeping the victims happy, I was able to ease a lot of tension in the case and dramatically reduce the punishment for my client.  My client was not convicted of Hit and Run Causing injury.  Rather, he was convicted of the lesser violation involving property damage only.  He didn’t suffer a license suspension and he didn’t have to go to jail.  It looks like I even avoided a civil lawsuit against my client.  Sounds like a win/win.

If you or someone close to you is facing hit and run charges, call a lawyer who does this every day.  I have over two decades of experience.  You have problems, I have solutions, call me:

Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340 or email me at:

I look forward to meeting you and getting the best possible result for your case.

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