The law requires drivers to stop at the accident scene if they cause an accident while driving, failure to stop could charge them with a hit and run. You could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony hit and run if you flee the scene of an accident without exchanging your information.
When you cause a hit and run accident while intoxicated, you will be charged with a DUI hit and run. DUI and hit & run are serious crimes in California.
However, charges for the offense do not automatically mean you will go to jail. Bakersfield DUI Attorneys works with people facing DUI-related charges helping them with their criminal defense. Our results in similar cases have included reduced or dropped charges and lesser or alternative sentencing for our clients.
Definition of DUI Hit and Run
A DUI is one of California's serious offenses that affects major spheres of your life, including your freedom, driving record, insurance premiums, and employment.
Most drivers flee from the scene of an accident if they are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol for fear of persecution for a DUI offense. Others are unaware of having caused an accident, especially minor accidents.
Other reasons drivers flee from an accident scene include:
- The driver is driving without a valid driver's license.
- The driver has outstanding warrants and does not want to be arrested.
- Panic (the flight-fight response)
- Uncertainty about whether they should report the accident
- Aggression from other motorists and road users
- The driver does not have insurance.
The law requires every driver who is in an accident to stop and exchange information if they are involved in an accident that causes property damage, injury, or death. You are to give your personal information, vehicle details, and insurance information to law enforcement, other drivers, pedestrians, or parties involved in the accident.
In case you damage someone’s property, you must leave a note with this information if the owner is not around. Leaving the scene of an accident without leaving this information is considered a hit and run.
You would be charged with a DUI hit and run offense if you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol when you committed the hit and run accident. These two separate offenses could be charged concurrently, often with severe consequences to the defendant.
The prosecution has to prove elements of both a California DUI and a California hit and run for the court to convict you of DUI hit and run.
Vehicle code 23152(a) prohibits driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. You could also be charged for a DUI offense under Vehicle Code 23152 (b), which makes it a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher.
If you are a commercial driver, the BAC limit is .04%. Commercial drivers have more to lose when charged with a DUI hit and run offense. You could lose your license as a commercial driver for life, as well as your source of livelihood.
Hit and run charges will apply based on the definitions under vehicle codes 20001 and 20002, which define felony and misdemeanor hit and run offenses.
Vehicle code 20001 makes it a felony to flee the scene of an accident when that accident caused another person's injury or death. The law requires you to stop, even if you were not at fault for the accident.
Vehicle code 20002 makes it a misdemeanor offense to flee the accident scene when the accident caused property damage.
Some of the elements that the prosecution has to prove for a DUI hit and run conviction include:
- You caused an accident while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- You fled the accident scene.
- The accident caused injuries, death, or damage to someone's property.
- You knew or should have known that you caused an accident.
- You willfully failed to stop and perform your legal obligations after an accident.
Some of the legal obligations you must perform when an accident occurs include:
- Stopping at the accident scene
- Exchanging your personal information with law enforcement and people involved in the accident
- Providing reasonable assistance to those injured in the accident
Since a DUI hit and run is a DUI offense, your DUI criminal record will affect the sentencing and nature of charges you receive. For instance, if this is your fourth DUI in ten years, you could be charged with a felony offense. In addition, the damages arising from the accident will also determine whether the prosecution charges the offense as a felony or a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor charges apply in cases without aggravating factors such as severe bodily injury or death of the victim. Having multiple victims in a DUI hit and run could also result in sentence enhancements.
In the past, people were allowed to go through a civil compromise, which allowed them to pay restitution to the victim to avoid criminal charges for misdemeanor hit and run. However, the Supreme Court ruled that hit and run charges punish the act of fleeing from the scene, not causing the collision. Therefore, if you commit a misdemeanor hit and run (causing property damage), reimbursing the victim will not help you avoid criminal liability.
Legal Defenses for DUI Hit and Run
Fighting a DUI hit and run charge requires a solid defense. You can work with your Bakersfield DUI defense attorney to identify the circumstances in your case before developing a defense strategy.
Fighting DUI hit and run charges means you will be fighting charges for two serious offenses. Both a DUI and a hit and run could be charged as felonies in the presence of aggravating factors such as a fourth DUI or the death of an accident victim.
Common defenses to DUI hit and run charges include:
- You were not driving under the influence — A DUI offense aggravates a hit and run. However, if you can prove that you were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the charges become a hit and run. In most hit and run offenses, the driver will not be found at the accident scene. If you were not at the accident scene, the prosecution will rely on circumstantial evidence to determine that you were driving under the influence. For example, you could have gotten home and drunk alcohol before the police arrived three hours after the accident. This means that when they test you for alcohol, you will show a high BAC. Your attorney can challenge the BAC results by presenting expert testimony and witness testimony to show that you were not under the influence at the time of the accident.
- You were not the one driving — Hit and run accidents often lead to misidentification of the actual driver. You could be mistaken for another person, or someone else had your vehicle at the time of the accident. If you were not driving at the time of the accident, you cannot be guilty of either a DUI or a hit and run. Your DUI defense attorney will present evidence such as witness testimony about your whereabouts at the time of the accident. Surveillance cameras, when available, also help in identifying the perpetrator.
- You did not leave the scene willfully — You are only guilty of a hit and run if you fled the scene of an accident willfully and intentionally. However, you are not guilty of a hit and run if you fled the scene for your safety. For example, if you were injured and left the scene to prevent further injury to yourself and others, you can use this as a defense. However, the actions you take after leaving the scene will give more insight into your intentions. For example, you should leave the scene and notify law enforcement officials to leave your information with them. You could also have been incapable of performing your legal duties due to severe injuries that incapacitate you, for instance, if you were unconscious after the accident.
- You were not aware that an accident, property damage, or injuries occurred — Scenarios such as these are common in minor accidents that do not show apparent signs of injuries such as bleeding or amputations. When such accidents occur, both parties could check their vehicles or themselves and, feeling or seeing no damages, leave without exchanging information. When these injuries arise later, it could lead to hit and run charges. Your attorney, however, can prove that you were unaware of the injuries or property damage at the scene of the accident and did not willfully fail to provide your information.
- Police misconduct when gathering evidence for the offense — Police officers must follow the right procedures when investigating you for a crime. Mistakes often happen, especially with DUI test samples, leading to inaccuracies in the results. The law takes these mistakes seriously, and attorneys can use them to challenge the admissibility of that evidence in your case. Such errors usually increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome, such as reduced or dismissed charges. The prosecution is also more inclined to negotiate a favorable settlement.
- No one else was injured or had their property damaged during the accident — You do not have a legal obligation to stop and exchange your information if no one else was injured in the accident. The same applies when only your property was damaged. You will have to show that you ascertained that no one else was injured in the accident, for instance, by stopping to check for damages or injuries.
Your defense strategy will differ based on the circumstances of your offense. It would be best if you collaborated with your attorney by presenting all the facts about the accident.
These facts will help your attorney determine your case's strengths and weaknesses before determining the best possible approach that could work for your case.
Your attorney will also examine the evidence the prosecution has against you. This evidence is critical since it allows your attorney to explore your case further and identify potential issues.
In addition to examining the evidence, your attorney will engage with investigators to conduct their evidence gathering. He or she will visit the accident scene, request surveillance evidence, and seek witnesses who can provide additional details about the accident.
Some of the possible outcomes of a DUI hit and run defense include:
- Dismissal of all the charges for both a DUI and hit & run
- Dismissal of either DUI or hit and run charges
- Reduction of felony charges to misdemeanor charges
- Reduced or alternative sentencing (for example, you receive the minimum sentence or probation instead of incarceration
- A conviction for both offenses
Plea bargaining is one of the common parts of DUI offenses where the prosecution and defense avoid the uncertainty of trial by settling for a compromise. Here the defendant could plead guilty or no contest to some charges for a reduced or alternative sentence.
Your attorney will advise you on the best action and your chances at trial. Other factors that count into whether to take a plea deal include:
- Your risk tolerance (are you willing to handle the uncertainty of trial?)
- The strength of the prosecution’s case
- Your criminal history
Penalties of DUI Hit and Run
DUI hit and run is a serious charge to face in California. You are simply facing combined charges for two serious offenses that come with substantial fines, incarceration, and additional consequences such as suspension of your driver’s license.
The penalties you receive will depend on the circumstances of the offense, and any aggravating factors such as:
- Having a high BAC
- Killing or severely injuring another person
- Having many prior DUI offenses
The penalties for misdemeanor hit and run include:
- A minimum of six months in jail
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Summary probation for up to three years
- Two points on your driving record
- Victim restitution
The penalties for DUI will depend on your criminal history. When convicted for misdemeanor DUI, the penalties include:
- Summary probation
- Incarceration in a county jail for up to six months
- Mandatory attendance at a DUI school
- Fines of up to $1,000
The penalties for DUI felony charges include:
- Incarceration in state prison for between 16 months and three years
- Mandatory attendance at a DUI school
You will be convicted for misdemeanor hit and run if you caused property damage only.
You will face felony hit and run charges if you flee the accident scene and cause injuries or death of the victim. Felony hit and run (VC 20002) is a wobbler offense in California. When convicted as a misdemeanor, the penalties include a maximum of one year in county jail and $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.
When charged as a felony, you face up to four years in state prison and fines between $1,000 and $10,000. In both cases, the court could sentence you to probation instead of incarceration.
When you face both DUI and hit & run charges, the penalties are likely to be stiffer. These penalties will also depend on whether the charges run concurrently or consecutively. Concurrent charges run at the same time, while consecutive charges begin when the other charge ends. Some of the penalties when convicted for a misdemeanor include:
- Between $350 and $1,000 in fines
- Three to five years of summary probation
- One to three years of your driver's license suspension (the length of license suspension will depend on your DUI criminal history. You could install an IID, which restores your driving privileges but requires you to submit a breath sample before you start driving and at intervals while driving.)
- Victim restitution
- A minimum of 90 days in jail if the charges are run concurrently and a term of one year and six months if the charges are run consecutively
If convicted for felony DUI hit and run, you face penalties such as:
- A fine of $1,000 to $5,000
- Incarceration for up to four years and 16 months — The time varies depending on the severity of injuries the victim suffered. Multiple injuries to multiple victims also increase the potential incarceration time. You will also spend a long time in prison when the charges run consecutively).
- Suspension of your driver’s license for up to 5 years
- A strike on your record
Hit & run and DUI are driving crime offenses that directly affect your insurance premiums. Your auto insurance company is likely to increase your insurance premiums or cancel your policy when it comes up for renewal.
The accident victims also have the right to file a civil lawsuit against you for damaging their property or injuring and killing their loved ones. Therefore, your financial obligations are likely to be very high after a conviction for a hit and run offense.
The prosecution could charge you with other offenses in addition to or instead of DUI hit and run charges based on the circumstances of the crime. One of the common charges associated with DUI hit and run is vehicular manslaughter.
Penal code 192 defines vehicular manslaughter as engaging in a lawful or unlawful act that could lead to another person's injury or death, and you end up killing the person.
Some of the lawful and unlawful acts that could lead to vehicular manslaughter charges include:
- Misdemeanor drunk driving
- Reckless driving
- Distracted driving
The court will look for negligence before convicting you for vehicular manslaughter. Negligence occurs when you behave in a manner in which a careful and reasonable person could not behave under similar circumstances.
The penalties for the offense vary based on the degree of negligence you displayed and the severity of the victims' injuries.
The penalties for vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence include a maximum of one year in county jail, up to $1,000 in fines, or summary probation instead of incarceration.
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a more severe offense that is treated as a wobbler in California. Gross negligence occurs when you act with a wanton disregard for the lives of others, for example, by speeding in a heavy traffic area. The penalties for a misdemeanor charge include a year in county jail (or misdemeanor probation) and $1,000 in fines.
The penalties for a felony conviction include up to six years in state prison and a fine of $10,000.
Whether you are convicted for a felony or a misdemeanor, the DMV will revoke your license for up to three years.
Where the prosecution can prove that you were intoxicated at the time of the accident, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
You are guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if you drove a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and committed another lawful or unlawful act that led to the victim's death.
If you acted with ordinary negligence, you would be guilty of a wobbler offense under PC 191.5 (b). The penalties for a misdemeanor include:
- Misdemeanor probation
- A maximum jail sentence of one year
- Fines of up to $1,000
The penalties for a felony conviction include:
- Formal probation
- Up to four years in state prison
- $10,000 in fees and fines
- License suspension for one year
If you acted with gross negligence, you would be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under PC 191.5(a). The offense is always a felony whose penalties include up to ten years in state prison and suspension of your driver's license for up to three years.
Find a Bakersfield DUI Hit and Run Attorney Near Me
When you face charges for two serious driving crimes, the least you can do is work with an experienced attorney. DUI and hit & run charges can upset your life very quickly. You face the likelihood of incarceration, fines, and loss of your driving privileges.
A conviction for a DUI hit and run has ripple effects on other areas of your life, such as your insurance premiums and your employment prospects.
Bakersfield DUI Attorneys helps you if you are facing charges for a DUI hit and run. We examine the case thoroughly and develop a solid defense strategy to attain the best possible outcome.
Take advantage of our free initial consultation to discuss your case with our DUI attorneys. Call us at 661-215-5660 to book your free consultation.