Misdemeanor Hit and Run – California Vehicle Code Section 20002
Actual Case No. 1
Susan was involved in a fender bender rear-collision vehicle accident. After the collision the vehicle that Susan hit continued to drive away. Susan drove a ways down the road and then pulled to the side of the road. Susan’s intention was to determine whether the other vehicle had stopped so that Susan could discover whether the other car had been damaged. The traffic was heavy, and Susan could not figure out where the other vehicle was located. The police arrived and made contact with Susan. The police cited Susan for hit and run in that Susan did not exchange information with the other driver. I was able to convince the D.A. that Susan had done everything she could to contact the other driver and it was at no fault of her own that Susan could not locate the motorist. As a result of our arguments the District Attorney dismissed the charge against Susan.
Actual Case No. 2
Pedro was driving late at night and made a turn onto a freeway on-ramp. Pedro lost sight of the roadway and ran up onto the median and struck a sign, knocking it over. Pedro extricated his car, but did not know who to call about the damage. Pedro’s intent was to call the authorities the next day. A passing motorist saw Pedro’s vehicle intertwined with the sign and called the police. Peter was driving away as the police arrived, and the police pulled Pedro over. Pedro explained that he had not known what to do, but the police cited him for hit and run anyways. Pedro came to see me, and I was able to convince the District Attorney that Pedro acted in good faith and just did not know what to do. Pedro paid restitution for the broken sign and we were able to get the charge dismissed for him.
WHAT IS A MISDEMEANOR 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 misdemeanor hit and run under V.C. 20002, the accident must have caused only property damage. In other words, if the accident also caused injury to someone other than the defendant, it cannot qualify as a misdemeanor hit and run under V.C. 20002.
In order to convict a defendant of a misdemeanor hit and run, the prosecution must show that the defendant failed to abide by the requirements set forth in V.C. 20002 by proving the following elements:
- The defendant was in a vehicle accident that caused damage to another’s property;
- The defendant knew that the accident had caused property damage (or was likely to have caused property damage); and
- The defendant willfully failed to: (a) stop immediately at the scene of the accident OR (b) provide the owner/guardian of the damaged property with her name and current address (as well as the name and address of the owner of the vehicle if she does not own the vehicle herself).
Notably, the driver can provide the required information either by giving it to the person directly, or by including the information in a written note that is left in a conspicuous place on the damaged vehicle/property. Additionally, the driver must also provide her driver’s license and vehicle registration to the property owner/guardian upon request.
EXAMPLES OF A MISDEMEANOR HIT AND RUN
- Nick is driving through a narrow residential street when he accidentally scrapes a parked car with his own truck. Knowing that he doesn’t have the money to pay for the damage, he quickly drives away, hoping that no one saw him. Nick can be charged with a misdemeanor hit and run because he failed to stop and leave his information on the damaged vehicle.
- While pulling out of her driveway, Lisa ends up backing her vehicle into her neighbor’s brick fence. Worried, Lisa inspects the fence but is pleased to discover that the fence was undamaged by the collision. Consequently, she drives away without leaving any information. Lisa’s actions do not constitute a misdemeanor hit and run because the accident did not cause any property damage.
PENALTIES FOR V.C. 20002
V.C. 20002 is a misdemeanor and can result in the following penalties:
- Imprisonment in the county jail for up to six (6) months,
- A maximum fine of $1,000, and/or
- Any other conditions for probation that a judge determines to be appropriate.
COMMON DEFENSES FOR V.C. 20002
- 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’s property was damaged by the collision. If no one else’s property was damaged by the accident, 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.
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