If you are driver involved in an automobile accident and there is any property damage, regardless of fault, you are required to stop and leave your name and address with the other party or leave a note with your name and address and a statement about what happened with the owner of the property or in a conspicuous place where the accident occurred.
If you are involved in an accident where there are injuries to people, you must stop the car, identify yourself to the other driver or the police and give address and names and addresses of any passengers in the car. In addition, you must render aid to any injured party as necessary including transporting or arranging for transportation of an injured person to a hospital.
In the event of a fatality, you must identify yourself to law enforcement on scene or report the fatality to the nearest office of the California Highway Patrol. These rules are well established under California Penal Code Sections 20001 through 20004.
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, when we are involved in accidents we do not use the best judgment and sometimes our actions may technically violate the law. If you find yourself in that situation, call me, and here is what I am likely to say:
Do not panic. Panic is not our friend. We must remain calm and think about how to most effectively deal with a bad situation.
If you have been drinking and are under the influence, you may be in danger of getting arrested for driving under the influence as well as the hit and run. Remember that alcohol leaves our bodies (bleed off rate) at approximately .02% per hour. This means that if you are .10 % blood alcohol at the time of a traffic accident, it would take about 5 hours for the alcohol to leave your blood stream. Please see my article about What to do When the Cops Knock on Your Door.
Next, we need to address the issue of the car. If your car was impounded you may have to face a police officer in order to get it released. For this I would recommend contacting an attorney before you speak with the police. The lawyer can function as the intermediary between the suspect and the police. You are not required to make any incriminating statements to law enforcement in order to get your car back. Rather, you must identify yourself and establish ownership of the vehicle. However, many people when confronted with police detective’s interrogations are likely to make incriminating responses. This being said, sometimes, by being honest we can influence a detective not to recommend filing criminal charges.
Once we get your car back we wait for a filing decision. Police generate reports and forward them to a prosecutor for filing consideration and then the letter comes in the mail: Dear sir, a criminal complaint has been filed against you charging you with….and you must appear in court…If you fail to appear in court a warrant will be issued for your arrest. If you haven’t contacted a lawyer yet, it is certainly time to do so now, especially if someone was injured in the accident.
Understanding CA State Law
Under California Vehicle Code Section 20001 the maximum possible punishment for a conviction is 4 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Under Section 20002, the maximum possible punishment is still six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. In addition, a conviction for a hit and run with injury will cause a revocation of your driver’s license and any hit and run conviction will cause two points on your DMV record.
Why should I call a lawyer if I’m guilty? Shouldn’t I just throw myself on the mercy of the court?
Please remember that you’re not guilty unless and until you are either proven guilty at trial or if you plead guilty in court. Before you plead guilty there is often a lot I can do to avoid a conviction or at least get a reduction of the charges. And frankly, the court may not be merciful.
If you are charged with an injury hit and run under 20001 we always seek to get the offense reduced to a non-injury charge. If your offense is a felony under 20001, it may still be able to get reduced to a misdemeanor. If the offense is a property damage only offense under 20002, it may be able to be reduced or even dismissed.
Civil Compromise Under Penal Code Section 1377 and 1378
California Penal Code Sections 1377 and 1378 refer to what is known as a “civil compromise”. Under these sections the court (the judge) may “permanently stay the criminal proceedings and discharge the defendant therefrom.” This is not quite a dismissal, but darn close to it. It means you are not convicted – of anything and have no further obligations to the court. This can happen if the victim in the case tells the judge that they have been fully compensated for any out of pocket expenses and that they do not oppose the civil compromise.
This is a very common outcome in many of my hit and run cases as well as other cases like vandalism or cases involving monetary loss. There are some limitations to civil compromises. They can only happen in misdemeanors and there has to be a victim that we can talk to.
What if we can’t get in touch with the victim or if they are unwilling to cooperate?
In this case, I often seek a reduction of the charges. If we can show the prosecutor that we have made the victim whole by paying all their out of pocket expenses we may be able to convince them to reduce your offense to something less serious. One of my favorite reductions is to a violation of Vehicle Code Section 16025 or failing to provide evidence of insurance at the time of an accident. This is a zero point infraction punishable by only a fine, no jail, no probation and no picking up garbage on the side of the freeway.
A good lawyer should be creative. Finding new and different ways to settle cases for clients is why I get paid. Thinking outside the box is how I get the results that I have been consistently getting for my clients for nearly two decades!