If you were recently involved in an accident and have been charged with not only DUI but also hit and run, the consequences of a conviction are significantly higher than for an "ordinary" DUI, and you should waste no time in securing the services of a skilled defense attorney.
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we understand the seriousness of facing a hit and run DUI charge, and we stand ready to apply our deep knowledge of the California Vehicle Code and of the local Los Angeles court system to win you the best possible outcome to your case.
To learn more about hit and run DUI defense in Los Angeles and Southern California, contact us anytime 24/7 for a free legal consultation by calling 424-281-3020.
What Constitutes a "Hit and Run DUI" Accident?
The rules for defining a DUI, driving under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating drug, are the same with all DUIs, including hit and run DUIs.
In California, you commit DUI if you operate a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher, .04% for commercial drivers, and .01% for drivers below the age of 21. Additionally, even less than the legal BAC limit is DUI if the alcohol can be shown to have impaired your driving ability, and any detectable amount of an intoxicating drug (illegal, prescription, or over the counter) is driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) if you’re driving was impaired by the drug being in your system.
However, when a DUI incident is combined with an automobile accident, additional complications can arise. First of all, there may be property damage, bodily injured, or even death caused by the DUI. But it may also be that the person driving DUI failed to stop at the scene of the accident and fulfill specific duties, such as assisting an injured victim or giving the other driver his/her contact information.
California Vehicle Code Section 20002 criminalizes hit and run accidents in which property damage only occurred. This is a misdemeanor offense but still very serious since it enhances your DUI sentence.
California Vehicle Code Section 20001 covers hit and run accidents causing bodily injury or death to someone other than the at-fault driver. This is often charged as a felony.
A hit and run accident can involve striking another vehicle on the road, a parked car, a pedestrian, a dog, or even a mail box. Fleeing the scene in order to avoid being identified is the definitive element. Those who commit DUI sometimes also commit hit and run in order to avoid facing two charges simultaneously, because they were driving on a suspended license, or to avoid it being discovered that they just violated their DUI probation.
The Elements of the Crime of Hit and Run
To prove a hit and run charge under VC 20001, the prosecution must demonstrate the following facts beyond all doubt:
- The defendant was driving a vehicle which became involved in an accident.
- The accident resulted in the serious bodily injury or death of another person.
- The defendant was aware of the occurrence of the accident and knew or ought to have known that it was likely to result in the injury/death of another.
- The defendant "willfully" neglected to carry out one or more of the duties all California motorists are expected to perform in such situations.
To prove hit and run under VC 20002, the elements of the crime are the same except that it is only property damage that resulted from the accident and it is property damage the he/she must have been aware occurred and should have known was likely to have occurred.
But what duties specifically are motorists expected to perform if involved in an accident?
The answer includes the following:
- To stop without delay at the scene of the accident.
- To give all "reasonable aid" to any injured persons present.
- To provide the owner of the other vehicle with your name, address, driver's license number, vehicle registration, or whatever information they may require to identify you and contact you if necessary.
- If the driver of the other vehicle is not the owner of it, then you must provide all relevant information to the controller of the other vehicle.
- If a police officer is present, you must provide him/her with said information and cooperate fully.
- If you hit a parked car or otherwise get into an accident when no one is present to give any information to, you must attempt to contact the owner of the property or leave a note firmly attached to the damaged property. After leaving the note, you must also contact the police department to report the accident.
Note that, under California law, motorists' duties apply regardless of who was the at-fault party in the accident. These duties also apply to injured passengers in the driver's own vehicle, to struck pedestrians, and regardless of what type of property may have been damaged.
For a DUI conviction, California Vehicle Code Section 23152 prescribes the following sentencing elements for even a first-time offender:
- 96 hours to six months in county jail.
- A fine of from $390 to $1,000.
- A license suspension of six to 10 months.
In simple DUI cases, you can likely get the jail time reduced or exchanged for community service, and you may well be able to get a restricted license after 90 days without even having an IID (ignition interlock device) requirement. A good defense lawyer will try to get your hit and run charge dropped so as to keep your sentence as light as possible, if a conviction cannot be avoided altogether.
When a DUI and hit and run are combined, your jail time and fines will increase, and you could get two points on your driving record from each conviction (four points total), which can make you a target of the DMV for at least a 6-month license suspension. Plus, a hit and run DUI can be charged as a felony, and a felony on your record will affect your ability to vote, own a firearm, and find gainful employment.
A conviction for hit and run under VC 20001 (with injury/death) can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the seriousness of the injury inflicted and on the defendant's criminal history. As a felony (serious injury/death), it is punishable by: a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 and up to 4 years in state prison. As a misdemeanor, it can carry the same fine but only a year at most in county jail.
A violation of VC 20002 (hit and run with property damage only) is punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in county jail.
Related or Included Offenses
Besides DUI and hit and run charges, there are other related or lesser included offenses often charged with a hit and run DUI. Some of these include:
- Fleeing the Scene Following Vehicular Manslaughter: If the prosecution can show that the defendant was guilty of "gross negligence" which caused the accident and the death of another person, a 5-year term in state prison can be sentenced due to the aggravated nature of the hit and run.
- DUI with Suspended License: IF your hit and run DUI was committed while driving on an expired/suspended license, you will likely spend at least 48 hours in county jail. Prior convictions for driving with a suspended license may increase both fines and jail time.
- License Suspended for Prior DUI: Similar to the above, but different, is committing hit and run DUI while driving on a license already suspended for a previous DUI. Under VC 14601.2, this crime is punishable by a minimum 10-day jail term, a heavy fine, and mandatory installation of an IID (ignition interlock device) on your vehicle.
- DUI Probation Violation: Those who are arrested for a new DUI, with or without a hit and run incident, while still on DUI probation for a previous DUI must stand before the court for a probation hearing. The judge will have power to sentence the offender to jail time that was avoided in exchange for probation in the earlier sentence since the terms of the probation were violated by the new DUI.
Common Defense Strategies
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have developed numerous effective strategies for defending against charges of DUI as well as against charges of hit and run.
The defenses against the DUI element of a hit and run DUI are the same as for other types of DUI. They include:
- Unlawful traffic stop.
- Arrest without probable cause.
- Failure to read arrestee his/her Miranda Rights.
- Planting or falsification of evidence.
- Failure to follow Title 17 protocols.
- Improper administration of FSTs or BAC tests.
- A still-rising BAC when tested; thus, a lower one while driving.
- Innocent reasons for failing an FST or a breathalyzer test.
- Errors and omissions in the police report.
- Lack of mental impairment; thus lack of physical impairment.
Defenses against the hit and run element of a hit and run DUI include:
- Only defendant negatively affected by accident: If the accident did not injure another person or damage another person's property but only injured or damaged the property of the defendant him/her self, no hit and run occurred.
- Lack of knowledge of the accident: In order for a hit and run to be successfully prosecuted, it must be shown that the defendant was aware of the accident. In a case where the vehicles made no physical contact or only very slight, momentary contact, it is entirely possible the defendant did not realize an accident had even occurred, much less what its effects might be.
- Defendant not involved in the accident: If the defendant's car was involved in the accident but he/she was not, the defendant did not commit hit and run. It may be the car was lent to a friend or family member, taken without permission, or stolen. In that case, someone else may have committed hit and run DUI with the defendant's vehicle, but the defendant certainly did not.
- Did not "willfully" leave the scene: It may be that the defendant was involved in an accident and was fully aware of that fact. He/she may also have left the scene of the accident without performing the duties expected of all motorists involved in an auto accident in California. However, the defendant did not "willfully" abandon the scene and commit a hit and run if there was a valid reason for leaving the scene. It could be, for example, that the defendant feared for his/her safety since the accident scene was dangerous, that he/she could not safely pull over immediately at the scene, or that he/she was in the midst of a medical emergency and had to race to the hospital.
Contact Us Today For Help
At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have intricate knowledge of the California legal system in regard to DUIs, hit and run accidents, and to their combination as hit and run DUIs.
While many assume that a hit and run DUI case is "impossible to win," we know different because we win them for our clients all the time. We know how to build a solid defense, challenge the evidence of the prosecution, and win a dismissal, acquittal, or a reduced charge/sentence.
For a free consultation on your upcoming DUI case, do not hesitate to call Los Angeles DUI Lawyer anytime 24/7/365 at 424-281-3020.