Have you been ARRESTED or contacted by the Police, a Detective, FBI, or CPS?
A hit-and-run offense is exactly what it sounds like – while driving, you crash into something (typically another vehicle) or someone, then knowingly flee the scene without bothering to identify yourself (either in person or via a note) and your vehicle (by noting your license-plate or vehicle-identification number) to the property’s owner, the injured person, or, most importantly, the police.
In other words, even in a non-injury property-only collision, you’re supposed to immediately stop and, at minimum, leave a piece of paper with your name and contact information (including your residential address) so that the owner (or whoever controls the property) can reach you (20002 VC). But if you actually strike a person, you are compelled to actually identify yourself to a police officer; thus, pinning a note on your victim before you take off will not suffice to avoid criminal culpability.
In the state of California, If you hit-and-run property, you’ll likely be charged with a misdemeanor. A felony hit-and-run charge typically entails you striking and injuring (or killing) another person before leaving the scene (20001 VC, 20003 VC & 20004 VC). Regardless, the prosecutor has the ultimate say in the nature of the criminal charge against you. For example, if you were drunk or driving on a revoked license at the time of even a non-injury crash, or if you caused serious injury, you can be certain you’ll be facing a felony prosecution.
In the event of an injury, California law requires you to render ASAP as much assistance as reasonably possible to the wounded party – failure to do so will result in a likely felony charge. If you killed the victim, you are required to notify police (or California Highway Patrol in unincorporated vicinities) as soon as practically possible (i.e., without undue delay).
Also, the identifying information must be provided contemporaneously; thus, contacting the other party a day or two later will not suffice to satisfy your legal duty. Another of these duties requires that you provide your driver’s license upon request to the other party.
– In late May 2007, LAPD arrested actress Lindsay Lohan (The Parent Trap) after a vehicle collision in Beverly Hills on suspicion of a misdemeanor hit-and-run, driving while intoxicated, and possessing cocaine. I mid-September 2012, Lohan was arrested for another misdemeanor hit-and-run after allegedly fleeing another vehicle collision. Six months later, she pled no contest to both hit-and-runs and was ordered to complete three months’ in-patient treatment at a rehabilitation facility; one month of full-time volunteer work; and a year-and-a-half of mental-health counseling sessions.
– In late May 2013, according to the LA City Attorney, singer Chris Brown (born Christopher M. Brown) – who was on formal probation at the time for assaulting his girlfriend at the time, the singer Rihanna, in February 2009 – plowed into another vehicle in LA but failed to give the person driving the other car any of his own information; and when the other person insisted he do so, Brown fled the scene in his car. One month later, he was charged with two misdemeanors: hit-and-run and operating a vehicle without a valid California driver’s license. His maximum possible sentence: one hundred and eighty days in the county lock-up (for the hit-and-run), not including any additional jail time for the probation violation, plus $2,000 in fines.
– In mid-May 1999, LAPD arrested comedian Andy Dick (born Andrew R. Dick) for allegedly ramming his vehicle into a traffic-light pole (following a boozy night of club-hopping on the Sunset Strip), after which he attempted to flee the scene. The DA’s Office later prosecuted Dick for felony cocaine possession, as well as the following misdemeanors: hit-and-run; DUI; possessing marijuana; and possessing drug paraphernalia. After successfully completing a year and a half of formal diversion, Dick’s judge eventually dismissed all the charges (after he had initially pled guilty to all of them).
– In late October 2019, LA police arrested model Lori Harvey, the twenty-three-year-old stepdaughter of famous comedian Steve Harvey (WB network’s The Steve Harvey Show; born Broderick Stephen Harvey) for allegedly committing a hit-and-run by crashing her car into a parked sedan in LA, then attempting to leave the scene on foot without providing her information as required by law. Police arrived after receiving a Nine-One-One call from a local resident who allegedly saw her walk away from the scene. The District Attorney’s Office charged her with misdemeanor hit-and-run involving property damage, and a misdemeanor for resisting a police officer, with a total maximum potential sentence of twelve months in county jail.
– In early November 2017, LAPD alleged that Hawthorne resident Shante Johnson led them on a high-speed pursuit through DTLA in a stolen moving van that resulted in damage to several parked automobiles before finally crashing into an LAPD patrol car in hot pursuit. Thirteen months later, after reaching an agreement with the DA’s Office, she pled no contest to a single misdemeanor hit-and-run with property damage, as well as several felonies for ADW (the van) and flight to escape a police pursuit. After awaiting in jail for almost ten months for trial, the judge gave her a suspended sentence of almost seven years in a state penal institution, sixty months of formal probation, twelve months of in-patient substance-abuse treatment, and a restitution order.
If you’re convicted of a felony hit-and-run-with injury, you will get anywhere from one to four years in prison. A misdemeanor conviction will expose you to a maximum of six months in jail (again, assuming no one was injured).
If you received a jail or no-jail term, you will also end up with three or five years of probation for misdemeanors and felonies, respectively. (Any prison sentence automatically renders you ineligible for probation under state law.)
You’ll also be fined one thousand dollars and ten thousand dollars for misdemeanors and felonies, respectively.
Next, the judge may also require you to perform community service (usually instead of jail) and pay victim restitution.
Further, you will face adverse consequences with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, with a minimum of two points accruing to your record up to a restriction, suspension, or even permanent loss of your driving privileges. The sanction will be determined at a DMV administrative hearing.
Finally, if you are any sort of licensee (as a doctor, lawyer, real estate agent, etc.), you may face the suspension or loss of that license. Immigration or military service consequences, if applicable, may also result from a hit-and-run conviction.
Whenever possible in non-injury/misdemeanor hit-and-runs, we will try to work out what’s commonly known as a civil compromise (Cal. Pen. C. sections 1377 PC & 1378 PC). This is where the victim is willing to accept financial remuneration from our client as restitution for the property damage. In such instance, once the victim is made financially whole, the judge will then dismiss the case, including over any objection by the prosecuting lawyer.
Likewise, if you are a first-time offender, we will make every possible effort to secure a diversion program – either formal or informal – instead of incarceration. Under this program, you would plead guilty to a misdemeanor or felony charge, but sentencing would be put off until you’ve had a chance to complete all the other requirements – namely, probation, community service, counseling, victim repayment, etc. Once that happens, the judge will then change your plea to one of not guilty and dismiss the entire case. Diversion is usually reserved for misdemeanor hit-and-runs, but also occasionally for property-damage-only felony cases.
Thus, under both civil compromise and diversion programs, you would have no criminal record (although your arrest will remain in all relevant databases).
Hit-and-runs are also similar to DUIs in the sense that adverse DMV consequences are likely to result, as well as, again, possible adverse licensing, employment, or immigration issues. Therefore, we always take a comprehensive approach to handling these cases. And although we also always personally represent the client at the DMV administrative hearing, we may bring onboard other attorneys or specialists with whom we’ve worked for years and who specialize in those other areas. It always amazes us when we see other defense counsel advising their clients to take felony deals or even certain misdemeanor no-contest or guilty pleas without also advising them that doing so will cost them their livelihood or even their lawful residence status here.
Sometimes, if necessary, we’ll hire an accident reconstructionist expert to either consult us on the hit-and-run matter or even serve as a testifying expert witness, depending on the test results and their professional opinion.
Particularly in these kinds of cases, visual aids – including animated, digital, and CGI reconstructions – can be powerfully persuasive tools and enable juries to get a clearer understanding of the facts. In fact, we have enjoyed considerable success in convincing the DA’s Office not to pursue hit-and-run prosecutions where our evidence showed, for example, that the vehicle collision was entirely the fault of the other driver. We have even been able to successfully argue that our client, who had a prior DUI conviction, was not the driver at fault – despite the fact that he had blown just under the legal limit of .08 at the time of his arrest.
We refer to these as Pre-File cases, meaning that the client hired us either at the beginning of the criminal investigation, or shortly after the case has been referred for prosecution to the DA’s Office. In this type of situation – i.e., where the DA’s Office or even the police detectives investigating the case are still trying to recreate the accident and determine your culpability – you should move as quickly as possible to consult with a competent attorney.