Fleeing the scene of a car accident in California is a serious criminal offense that can result in either misdemeanor or felony charges. Whether or not the crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony depends on whether the accident caused only property damage (misdemeanor) or a physical injury or death to another person (usually prosecuted as a felony).
In this blog, we will discuss:
- The legal definition of misdemeanor hit and run in California,
- The penalties of misdemeanor hit and run,
- The legal definition of felony hit and run,
- The penalties of felony hit and run, and
- What to do if you are hit by a driver who flees the scene.
What Is Misdemeanor Hit and Run?
As previously mentioned, fleeing the scene of an accident that causes only property damage is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Pursuant to California Vehicle Code 20002, the prosecutor must prove the following elements to secure a conviction for misdemeanor hit and run:
- You were driving and involved in a motor-vehicle accident;
- The accident caused damage to another person’s property;
- You knew either that the property had been damaged or that the collision was so serious that it was probable that someone’s property had been damaged; and
- You willfully failed to do one of the following: stop your vehicle immediately; provide your identifying information (name and current address) and, if applicable, the identifying information of the vehicle’s registered owner; or provide your driver’s license and the vehicle’s registration to the other parties involved upon request. Also, if you hit a parked vehicle or another type of property and the owner was not onsite, you must leave a conspicuous note that provides your identifying information and a summary of what happened, and you must contact the California Highway Patrol (if the crash occurred in an unincorporated territory) or your local police department.
Even if you were not at fault for the accident, and even if the damaged property was not a motor vehicle, you could still be convicted of misdemeanor hit and run if the prosecutor can prove the above elements.
What Are the Penalties of Misdemeanor Hit and Run?
A conviction under CVC 20002 may result in any or all of the following penalties:
- Up to three years’ probation,
- Up to six months’ incarceration in county jail,
- Fines of up to $1,000 in addition to any court-assessed penalties,
- Restitution to the victim, and
- Two points on your driving record.
As we will discuss below, there are circumstances when a hit and run involving a non-serious, non-permanent, non-fatal injury may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. You can find the penalties of being convicted for such an offense under the subheading: “What Are the Penalties of Felony Hit and Run?”
What Is Felony Hit and Run?
Pursuant to CVC 20001, when a driver flees the scene of an accident that causes injury or death to another person, that driver must fulfill the duties of CVC Sections 20003 and 20004. If a driver fails to fulfill those duties and a person suffers a serious, permanent injury or dies, the driver would be charged with felony hit and run. If the injury is not serious or permanent and is not fatal, the offense may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
What Are the Penalties of Felony Hit and Run?
If a driver flees the scene of an accident that results in a serious, permanent injury or death, he or she may face the following penalties if convicted under CVC 20001:
- Incarceration of two, three, or four years in the state prison, or in a county jail for a term of 90 days to one year;
- A fine of $1,000 to $10,000; or
- Both the incarceration and the fine.
Under some circumstances, the court may eliminate or reduce the minimum imprisonment term stated above. If the offense involves voluntary manslaughter or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a conviction can result in an additional five-year term in state prison.
If the accident results in injuries that are non-serious, non-permanent, and non-fatal, the offense may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. In this scenario, the maximum incarceration term for a conviction would be one year.
What Should I Do If I’m Hit by a Driver Who Flees the Scene?
If you are hit by a driver who flees the scene, your instinct might be to chase after him or her. This, however, is not a good idea and could result in you facing criminal charges and possibly being involved in a subsequent accident.
- Move your vehicle to the side of the road;
- Call the police;
- Write down everything you remember about the vehicle (and provide these details to police) including its make, model, color, license plate number, and any identifiers such as stickers or property damage; and
- Contact a car accident lawyer.
Discuss Your Case with a Car Accident Lawyer in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you or a member of your family was harmed in a hit and run accident, contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks to discuss your case. In addition to compensatory damages, you may also be able to collect punitive damages from the at-fault driver.
Attorney Michael D. Waks can make sure your claim accounts for all the damages you may be owed, and he will fight aggressively to pursue the highest possible settlement. To speak with a member of our team in a free consultation, call (562) 206-1939 or send us a message on our Contact Page.
Download & Print Our Free Car Accident Emergency .PDF
After a serious collision, many drivers overlook critical evidence and forget to obtain essential information from the other parties involved. That’s why we created our Car Accident Emergency .PDF to help accident victims respond appropriately in the worst-case scenario. Click Here to download and print out this handy document for free. Be sure to keep it in your glovebox so you’re always prepared.
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