There are many ways for an otherwise law-abiding citizen to get in criminal trouble in a city the size of Los Angeles without ever intending any wrong-doing or harm. One way to do this is by being involved in a “hit and run” type of incident. It should not be difficult for you to imagine a scenario where you are in a busy parking lot or driving down the street, and for a host of reasons ranging from innocent distraction or noise to less innocuous being overtired or on medication and you hit another vehicle.
This is a common occurrence usually handled by insurance companies or privately between the parties themselves. Sometimes, depending on the severity of the incident, and the damages, and the police will be called. Where things get complicated and criminal is when one party leaves the scene. This is commonly called a “hit and run”.
It does not matter if you left the scene in your car or left your car at the scene and fled on foot or been picked up by a friend. If you have left the scene without providing information or have left inaccurate or false information (The “fake note” scenario).
In California, what is commonly called “HIT AND RUN” is codified in Vehicle Code Section 2002 which provides:
“The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. Moving the vehicle in accordance with this subdivision does not affect the question of fault. The driver shall also immediately do either of the following:
(1) Locate and notify the owner or person in charge of that property of the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle involved and, upon locating the driver of any other vehicle involved or the owner or person in charge of any damaged property, upon being requested, present his or her driver’s license, and vehicle registration, to the other driver, property owner, or person in charge of that property. The information presented shall include the current residence address of the driver and of the registered owner. If the registered owner of an involved vehicle is present at the scene, he or she shall also, upon request, present his or her driver’s license information, if available or other valid identification to the other involved parties.
2) Leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or other property damaged a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle involved and a statement of the circumstances thereof and shall without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city wherein the collision occurred or, if the collision occurred in unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.
(b) Any person who parks a vehicle which, prior to the vehicle again being driven, becomes a runaway vehicle and is involved in an accident resulting in damage to any property, attended or unattended, shall comply with the requirements of this section relating to notification and reporting and shall, upon conviction thereof, be liable to the penalties of this section for failure to comply with the requirements.
(c) Any person failing to comply with all the requirements of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.”
California Vehicle Code Section 2002 is very clear and specific. It does not matter who is at fault you must comply with the requirements as listed above.
A hit and run can occur even when your car hits a parked car and causes relatively minor damage and you leave the scene. You may not even realize that an accident has occurred. A bystander or eye witness may take down your license plate number and call the police. It is even possible to be in busy traffic, or on the freeway, and be involved in a collision where one or both parties “takes off” or leaves the scene of the incident. You may even lose each other in to the normal flow of traffic, or due to the speed of the vehicle, or road or weather conditions such as darkness, rain or bad lighting. Even in this situation someone can be charged with a hit and run violation. Even failing to provide complete or accurate information can lead to a criminal filing and can land you in jail for up to six months.
Perhaps you were involved in a situation that is similar to this. You may have been sent a letter by the City Attorney. You may have received a telephone call from a detective, or someone may have come around asking questions about you or your vehicle. It is important at this point not to speak to anyone and to seek the advice of a competent attorney and follow that attorney’s direction. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can find the information for you based on the information you give and can locate reports and speak to the officers and parties involved.
An attorney can guide you through this process, keep you out of trouble, and even guide the case back into the civil arena. A Civil case is one where only money is involved (still a problem if you don’t have any) and a criminal case is one where incarceration and loss of ones freedom is involved. A misdemeanor as cited above can carry penalties of up to six months in county jail. If injuries are involved or other issues such as hitting a pedestrian, or you were under the influence you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately because these types of situations are often classified as a felony hit and run, usually injuries are involved, can carry penalties of more than a year in the State Prison.
Over the years many people who have been involved in hit and runs have come to me and I have helped get them out of trouble. Sometimes I have been able to make sure that no charges were filed and even when charges were filed, I was able to either get them dismissed or have been able to resolve them with relatively minor consequences.
I use many techniques based on years of negotiation and legal knowledge including California Penal Code Section 1377-1378.
California Penal Code Section 1377, 1378 provide:
“When the person injured by an act constituting a misdemeanor has a remedy by a civil action, the offense may be compromised, as provided in Section 1378, except when it is committed as follows:
(a) By or upon an officer of justice, while in the execution of the duties of his or her office.
(c) With an intent to commit a felony.
(d) In violation of any court order as described in Section 273.6 or 273.65.
(e) By or upon any family or household member, or upon any person when the violation involves any person described in Section 6211 of the Family Code or subdivision (b) of Section 13700 of this code.
(f) Upon an elder, in violation of Section 368 of this code or Section 15656 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.
(g) Upon a child, as described in Section 647.6 or 11165.6″
An experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer can solve many hit and run cases by negotiating damages and payment for you and protecting you from criminal liability and jail time. By using this code section effectively an experienced attorney can navigate the deep and muddy waters of the criminal justice ocean and get you safely ashore. As an attorney, I can locate the investigator and speak with the investigator. I can contact the other parties and draft letters for them to sign and I know the way to present it to the District Attorney, he City Attorney and the judge so they can “sign off” on it.
Although Penal Code Sections 1377 and 1378 provide for a civil remedy thus allowing the criminal court to dismiss a case, usually a prosecutor has to agree to it and it is most certainly in the judge’s discretion whether to grant a dismissal under Penal Code Section 1377-1378.
Other factors include the severity of the incident, the age of the person involved, prior criminal record, the victim’s desire for prosecution, and other factors not cited here.
There are some Justifications for leaving the scene of an accident. One of these is to seek immediate medical attention. The social policy here is self evident. We don’t want an injured person to stay at the scene of an accident at the cost of their own life, limb or health. In emergencies leaving the scene of an accident may be allowed.
This justification may apply if you are injured in the accident or someone else is injured and you take them to the hospital. Perhaps you were already on the way to the hospital when the accident occurred.
Other situations may also arise. Perhaps you were a passenger who left the scene and you are afraid someone may think you are driving, or perhaps you lent your car out to a family member or friend who has a similar physical description to you. All of these scenarios can be handled by an experienced criminal defense attorney.
WHAT NOT TO DO
What is important is to take action and make the situation “right”. You have made a couple of mistakes and questionable decisions you had and accident and left the scene. Do not make matters worse by continuing to make decisions yourself. It is a mistake to avoid the problem and hope that it will go away. It is also a mistake to try to handle the matter yourself by trying to talk to the Police, the other party or by telling lies.
It is a mistake and a further crime to falsely report that your vehicle was stolen or to make any other false report. Regardless of the situation, even if you have further complicated the matter it is important to get into the solution by contacting a criminal defense attorney immediately and let someone who has successfully dealt with these cases handle it. You are entitled to a defense and the situation, if handled correctly may not be near as bad as you may think. There is always a solution and help is available and just a telephone call away.
**NOTE: The above article is a legal opinion only based on California law only and should not be construed as specific legal advice. If you are not in California, you need to consult an attorney in your State to find the applicable laws. It should also be noted that every legal situation is fact specific and different. You should seek independent legal advice for your matter and not rely on the article above which is general in nature. J.R.