Hit-and-Run

A hit-and-run is typically charged under California Vehicle Code sections 20001 and 20002. The difference between the two sections is that section 20001 requires injury to a person to be applicable, whereas 20002 applies to hit-and-run in situations where there is only property damage. Not surprisingly, section 20001 can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, whereas section 20002 may only be charged as a misdemeanor. Under section 20001, the maximum punishment depends on whether the accident results in death or permanent serious injury. If it does, the MINIMUM jail is 90 days, while the maximum can be up to 4 years in state prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Under section 20002 (property damage only), the maximum punishment is 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. In all hit-and-runs, one element that needs to be proven by the prosecution is knowledge; specifically, knowledge by the accused that he or she was involved in an accident. If a 20001 is charged, the prosecution must also prove that the accused knew that the accident injured someone else, or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that another person was injured. Often times in more minor hit-and-runs with minimal damage, one common defense is lack of knowledge (i.e., “I didn’t even know I hit the other car”). The prosecution typically tries to overcome this defense with the extent of the damages (i.e., it would be impossible to hit another car with that amount of damage and not know you were in an accident) or any conduct by the accused acknowledging the accident or injury. Another common defense is identity. Often the fleeing driver in a hit-and-run is tracked down through DMV records showing who the registered owner of the car is. Registered owners of vehicles, however, often lend their cars to friends and family members who may have been driving at the time of the hit-and-run. In these cases, the strength of the case turns on how well witnesses can ID the driver in a photo lineup or otherwise. When there are no aggravating factors, hit-and-runs can often be resolved through a civil compromise under Penal Code sections 1377 and 1378. In a civil compromise, the victim (with the approval of the court) receives full monetary satisfaction from the accused in exchange for all criminal proceedings being “stayed” (the case is permanently put on hold and no conviction results). 

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