You are driving home one early morning when you lose control of the car and end up hitting a mailbox. Maybe you end up hitting another car. Rather than stop, you decide to leave the scene.
You’re Guilty of Hit and Run
Deciding to leave the scene means you can be charged with a hit and run offense. This offense can carry serious fines and potential jail time. Read on to learn more about hit and run offenses and why you need to take them seriously.
Two Types of Hit and Run in California
There are two general types of hit-and-run crimes under California Vehicle Codes.
Vehicle Code 20001 applies to accidents that involve injury or death; and Vehicle Code 20002 applies to accidents that involve only damage to property.
Accident Not Your Fault
Even if you did not cause the accident, if you decide to leave the scene of the accident before providing the other driver with your name and contact info, you can be charged with a hit and run offense. Under California law, you are always required to stop and provide this information.
The only time this may be considered justified is if you are leaving the scene to seek necessary and immediate medical attention for yourself or someone else. In this case, you will need to be able to prove that you left the scene to do so.
Charged Even if Only Your Passenger Was Injured
Vehicle Code 20001 can be applied even if the only person injured in the accident was your own passenger, and presumably your friend.
Charged With Misdemeanor Even If There Was No Vehicle Damage
Vehicle Code 20002 can be applied to accidents that involve any kind of property damage. In this regard, property does not only refer to another vehicle, but anything that you hit, including fences, road signs, mailboxes, and even people’s pets.
A Civil Compromise for Hit and Run
Hit and run offenses can be settled in civil settlements, rather than criminal punishments. This is covered under Penal Code 1377. The other driver will need to agree to this, and in this case, the person charged with the hit and run may be spared harsh punishments such as probation or even jail time.
Quick Review About Hit and Run
Under California statutes VC 20001 & VC 20002, any driver who involved in an accident must immediately stop and provide his or her name and current residence to any other driver involved in the accident.
Penalties for running from accidents involving injury include fines between $1000 and $10,000 and incarceration in state prison for a period of up to four years.
Penalties for running from accidents involving only damage to property include fines of up to $1000 and up to six months incarceration in county jail.
Being a Good Driver
Many accidents can be avoided simply by practicing good driving habits. Serious traffic violations happen, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be avoided. By being a good, cautious, and conscientious driver, you can prevent serious traffic violations from ever happening in the first place.
Safe Driving Tips
- Be cautious and alert whenever you get behind the wheel of a car
- Approach streets or busy intersections with a greater sense of caution
- Be aware of everyone else on the road. That includes pedestrians and bicyclists that you must share the road with.
- When driving during the night, make sure headlights and tail-lights are working. This will ensure that your car is clearly visible to other cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
- Properly maintain your car by doing frequent brake, light, and engine checks.
- Practice extra precaution when entering or exiting parking lots because you will most likely need to cross a sidewalk to enter or exit. Pedestrians might be crossing in the direct path of your car.
- Follow posted required speed limits.
- Avoid distractions while driving, including: texting, phone calls, or reaching for things in your car.
You Can Be Arrested for Hit and Run
If you have been involved in a hit and run accident, you can be immediately arrested. When you are arrested by a police officer, there is a specific set of events that occur. A police officer must follow legal procedures from arrest to actual placement of a suspect in jail. It’s important to be aware of what these procedures are, as if any of these are violated, a criminal defense attorney may be able to build a strong defense off of those violations.
An “arrest” is when a police officer takes a suspect into custody.
If you’ve ever watched a law-themed TV show you might be familiar with the Miranda Rights. In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda v. Arizona, that individuals that have been arrested because they are believed to have committed a crime are allowed certain rights that must be explained to them prior to any police questioning. “Miranda Rights” are mean to protect a suspect from self-incriminating themselves and is protected under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Those “Miranda Rights” are as follows:
- You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
- Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.
- If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.
- Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
To Note: Miranda rights only need to be ready when an individual has been taken into police custody and is under interrogation.
Important to Know About Hit and Run
There are a number of tactics that can be employed by police officers to obtain confessions from individuals accused of committing crimes. These tactics are often meant to trip an individual up, so if you are wanted for questioning, you should know what to expect and how to protect your legal rights.
If you are wanted for an interview about a crime, you need to remember these two key elements:
Interrogations are meant to produce confessions
1. The best way to protect yourself – even if you know you are innocent – is to not make a statement without first talking to a criminal defense attorney. Remember that the best way avoid saying something that might be incriminating is to not say it at all.
2. If an officer wants to question you, tell them that you will not make a statement without an attorney being present. You might need to repeat this, but it’s best if you stay steadfast with your need for an attorney, regardless of whatever tactics they might use to get you to talk.
Additionally, it has been shown that police tactics can often encourage someone to confess to a crime they did not commit. Often times accused suspects confess to a crime, and are then exonerated by DNA evidence that proves they were not guilty. Research has been done over the years on why this happen, and proves that often scared juveniles and people with diminished mental capacity are at greater risk for providing false confessions. Often times these individuals are scared and lured by the tactics in hopes that they can just get to the end of the interrogation and then go home. As a result, many interrogations are now recorded on audio and video.
Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney
As you can see, being interrogated by a police officer, even if it’s an informal situation can be a potentially incriminating experience. An experience criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you on the best defense as well as protect you during an interrogation. That is why it is key to not say anything until you have received legal guidance.
Any criminal charge could result in prison time, other serious penalties, and a criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. The good news is that there is a defense to every charge or accusation. Contact our office in Los Angeles at 562-287-5333, at 562-287-5333 or by e-mail to discuss your case with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.