How Do I Beat a Misdemeanor Hit and Run VC 20002 (a) or a Felony VC 20001 ?
There are a lot of hit and run accidents out there. Most are misdemeanors where there is only property damage. Some are felony VC 20001 because someone is hurt or otherwise injured whether or not the victim goes to the hospital or refuses medical attention. Maybe it is simply the increased news coverage, but, it seems like both felony hit and run VC 20001 and misdemeanor VC 20002 are on the rise.
There are two realities about them that are very contrasting. The first is that they really should not happen. Aside from the fact that it is against the law to be in an accident and leave the scene without exchanging contact/insurance information, to do so is both terribly inhumane and often counter- productive. If we all worked to take responsibility for our actions, the world would be a much more pleasant place to live. Furthermore, in a panicked or “fluid” situation, like a collision a person might flee from the scene. If that is you, there is little or no way of knowing if you will be caught.
So, by fleeing, you may just be making things worse for yourself in the end. Remember, while we see a lot of hit and runs in the news, we also see serious accidents where someone is hurt or seriously injured and even killed, and the other driver stays and ends up not being charged with any crime. Just think, if you were in an accident where someone was injured, by staying, calling 911 and providing help, you might just save a life rather than committing a crime if you leave. The law states that if you know you there is injury, it is your duty to call 911 or somehow get the injured help. But, if you leave, you have no idea if someone with a phone camera is taking a video of you and your license plate. We, at San Diego Defenders, have had several cases where our client’s front plate came off in the crash and others where there is a security camera in the gas station or convenience store parking lot with video that showed their car.
The second reality, in sharp contrast to the first, is that most hit and runs are never solved. While any of the above mentioned situations could happen, many do not. Witnesses rarely get any phone video footage of the accident. Witness descriptions of vehicles and the people reporting are usually poor if not worthless in such a scary situation. Trying to get a license plate number of a fleeing vehicle is a crap shoot. Partial plates can sometimes help, but usually don’t. Many of us that have found damage to our beloved automobile and there is no note with insurance information! The accidents go unsolved.
There has been much improvement in forensic evidence gathering and analysis in hit and run cases. From broken head lights, turn signals or even chips of paint, investigators can sometimes identify the make and model of the suspect vehicle. The problem with that, especially in a major metropolitan area, is that only reduces the possible suspects to thousands of potential vehicle owners and whoever else might be driving their vehicle.
There are also more surveillance cameras around us all the time that can be used to get a picture of a vehicle and perhaps its driver and maybe even determine what direction or route it took when it ran.
One of the difficulties of being a defense attorney is that sometimes, the advice we ethically are obliged to give clients does not gibe with what’s right and wrong. If a client were to call and seek advice after they committed a hit and run, it can be cold. As defense lawyers, we cannot advise out clients to do anything that is against their penal interest and at the same time, we must advise them of their duty under the law. Simply put, if it could get them in trouble for a crime or make things worse, we have to tell them not to do it. However, we must inform them of their duty to report. It is what’s known as a Hobson’s choice. “Damned if you do” and a potential “damned if you don’t.”
So, if they “got away” after the hit and run and there is no reason to believe they will be caught, when they ask if they should report it, the answer is probably yes and no, “don’t say anything to anyone.” We cannot advise them on how to cover their tracks, put the vehicle in the garage, replace a headlight etc. If you need any body work you can’t do yourself, take it to a friend or a shop that won’t ask too many questions. We cannot tell them those things because we cannot assist them in getting away with the crime.
But, if they ask what to do, we advise our clients that any situation where you could be facing a criminal arrest or charge, you should retain a very good and experienced attorney. Whether it is San Diego Defenders or some other firm, the client should retain an attorney. And, in our opinion, a good attorney that is retained by a client in this situation should contact the client’s insurance company to inform them that the vehicle has been in an accident and that, as their lawyer, we cannot disclose who we think might have been driving the vehicle. The fact is that the insurance travels with the insured vehicle. We say, NO STATEMENT will be given by our client at this time.
Why is the lawyer reporting the accident a good thing? Because your lawyer has the protection of the attorney-client privilege. Why does the insurance company appreciate the lawyer reporting the accident? Because they have a fighting chance of settling claims as quickly as possible. Why is it good to have a competent lawyer representing you in a hit and run situation? Because if a detective or investigating officer calls the client, the client can refer them to their lawyer or give the lawyer the law enforcement officer’s number so THE LAWYER can call and take the heat!
Having said that, I have the utmost respect for the individuals who do turn themselves in. I am currently dealing with a client who hit a pedicab and unknowingly broke the passenger’s leg. He tried to go back, but, he’d blown out a tire and had to fix it. When he couldn’t find the scene of the crash, he went home and called the cops on himself. Because of all of that, he got the minimum possible sentence from the Judge and we are now making a motion to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor. Then we’ll get his record expunged. He also couldn’t live with himself after it happened and wasn’t nagged by guilt or worry of being caught.
On the other hand, we have resolved many cases without charges being filed. Sure, the officer would like to make an arrest, but if there is only property damage involved, then a good officer wants to facilitate the payout of insurance money to the individuals with damaged cars, walls and whatever property may be involved. In a recent case, I negotiated a settlement with the rider of bicycle that was hit but not injured. New bike paid for with a little extra and reduced charges to a minor misdemeanor under the “disturbing the peace” section of PC 415 with fines under $500 and expungement without great difficulty. Truly a win win!