Felony Hit and Run – California Vehicle Code Section 20001
WHAT IS A FELONY HIT AND RUN?
A hit and run occurs when the driver of a vehicle fails to follow the proper protocol after being involved in a car accident. In order to qualify as a felony hit and run under V.C. 20001, the accident must have caused injury or death to someone other than the defendant.
In order to convict a defendant of a felony hit and run, the prosecution must show that the defendant failed to abide by the requirements set forth in V.C. 20001 by proving the following elements:
- The defendant was in a vehicle accident that caused death or injury to someone else
- The defendant knew that the accident had caused death or injury to another person (or was likely to have caused death or injury); and
- The defendant willfully failed to: (a) stop immediately at the scene of the accident; (b) provide his (and/or his injured passengers’) license/identification to anyone involved in the accident or to any responding police officer upon request; (c) provide reasonable assistance to anyone injured in the collision (such as arranging to transport the injured party to receive medical care if it’s required or requested); OR (d) to give anyone involved in the accident or any responding police officer the defendant’s (and/or his injured passengers’) name and current residence as well as the registration number of the vehicle he was driving.
Additionally, if the accident caused the death of any person but the police failed to come to the scene of the accident, the defendant is also required to contact a local police department or California Highway Patrol with the above-listed information.
Finally, it is worth noting that the driver of a vehicle in such an accident must perform the above-listed duties regardless of whether he was at fault for the accident or not.
EXAMPLES OF A FELONY HIT AND RUN
- Mary is driving carefully to her boyfriend’s house one night when another vehicle suddenly slams into her car. Furious, Mary exits her vehicle but quickly discovers that her car is undamaged. After hearing a voice call for help, Mary looks over at the other vehicle and realizes that the other driver has sustained severe lacerations. Not wanting to get involved, especially since she didn’t cause the accident, Mary ignores the other driver’s request for medical assistance and drives away. Despite the fact that Mary didn’t cause this accident, she can still be found guilty of a felony hit and run for failing to follow the duties set forth in V.C. 20001 and 20003.
- Cameron is scared about being late to work for the third time this week, so he speeds through his small neighborhood going about 40 miles per hour. Suddenly, a small girl runs in front of Cameron’s car and Cameron ends up hitting her. Though Cameron feels badly, he’s more worried about getting fired, so he continues driving and assumes that the little girl is okay. Even though Cameron doesn’t know for sure that the small girl was injured or killed, he was aware that it was extremely probable that such a collision would cause injury or death to the girl. As such, he can be found guilty of a felony hit and run since he failed to stop and follow the proper protocol.
PENALTIES FOR V.C. 20001
Though it’s commonly referred to as “felony hit and run,” V.C. 20001 is actually a wobbler crime, so it can be charged as a felony or brought down to a misdemeanor, depending on the case itself and the defendant’s own criminal history.
Additionally, V.C. 20001 distinguishes between penalties depending on the severity of the injury involved in the accident. Specifically, the penalties are more severe if the accident in question caused a death or permanent, serious injury. (Note: as used in V.C. 20001, “permanent, serious injury” means the loss or permanent impairment of the function of a body part/organ. )
Penalties if Injury is Minor
- Imprisonment in the county jail or state prison for up to one (1) year; and/or
- A fine between $1,000 and $10,000.
Penalties if Injury is Serious and Permanent:
- Imprisonment in a county jail for a minimum of ninety (90) days and a maximum of one (1) year (if offense reduced to misdemeanor);
- Imprisonment in a state prison for (2), three (3), or four (4) years (if offense is charged as a felony); and/or
- A fine between $1,000 and $10,000.
COMMON DEFENSES FOR V.C. 20001
- The defendant did not actually know that he was involved in a collision. This defense tends to be more successful when the collision is minor, such that the driver could have reasonably failed to notice that an accident even occurred.
- Only the defendant was injured by the collision. If no one else is injured other than the defendant, then the defendant actually has no duty to stop and exchange information.
- The defendant was not actually involved in the accident because his car had been stolen or borrowed by someone else.
- The defendant did not willfully leave the scene of the accident. This defense tends to be used when it was not safe for the defendant to stop and stay at the scene of the collision.
HOW WE CAN HELP