DUI is a serious crime in the country today, more so in the state of California. California treats DUI cases with the seriousness they deserve because of the high number of fatal accidents that have resulted from drunk driving. The possibility of causing a crash when one is Driving Under the Influence is usually high. When an accident occurs, fleeing from the accident scene is even more severe and can heighten your DUI charges. If therefore, you or your loved one is involved in a DUI Hit and Run in Orange County, you should contact the best defense attorney if you do not want to suffer severe consequences of both crimes. Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer is a team of professional DUI defense attorneys that you can trust.
Legal Definition of a DUI Hit and Run
A DUI Hit and Run occurs when a person drives while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol and causes an accident, then flees from the accident scene. In such a case, the offender will have committed and can be accused of two crimes:
- Driving Under the Influence
- Hit and Run
Hit and Run
Even when drugs are not involved, Hit and Run is in itself a severe offense. In California, the action is illegal as provided under Section 20002(a) of the CA Vehicle Code. A Hit and Run happens when a driver causes an accident or gets into an accident, then flees from the accident scene before taking any action. Any accident counts here, including collisions with vehicles, animals, fixed objects and any other property. When this happens, and the motorist leaves the accident scene without identifying themselves or assisting anyone that might need help, they can be accused of Hit and Run.
California state laws state that once a person has been involved in a crash, they should do the following:
- Immediately and if possible, the driver should locate the owner of the vehicle they have been involved in the accident with or the property they have Once the driver has been found, exchange information with them if they request it. The type of information you should provide in this case is your address, license, registration, as well as your insurance.
- If the owner of the vehicle or property cannot be located at that instant, that is in case the car you hit was parked; you should still leave your details for the owner to contact you afterwards. This can be done by issuing a written note with all your details, including your name and address. Also, the driver is expected to call the police and inform them about the accident.
Driving Under the Influence
In California, Driving Under the Influence is one of the most severe crimes, attracting heavy penalties and grave consequences that could significantly affect your life. Even without resulting in an accident, DUI is severely punished. Generally, California treats DUI as a misdemeanor offense. However, it could be a felony offense if the offender has similar prior convictions, or if there were aggravating factors like injuries, property damage, and death.
If a driver is facing a DUI charge for the first time, and they did not cause an accident, which means that no injuries or deaths resulted from the DUI offense, they may spend a few days behind bars at the most and pay some money as fines. However, they still get a driver's license suspension for at least six months, which is hard if one has to go to work, back home, and run errands every day.
If, on the other hand, you are facing a second, third or fourth DUI charge, or you caused severe injuries on another person or while Driving Under the Influence, you could be imprisoned for not more than five years or more, depending on how grave the offense was. Also, or in place of that, you might have to pay more substantial fines not exceeding $100,000. The worst of it all is that you could lose your driving privileges for life. There would be other mandatory requirements if the DUI were severe, such as a requirement to install the ignition interlock device (IID) in the offender's car.
The Combination of DUI and Hit and Run
DUI and Hit and Run are both grave crimes in California. When they are combined, the offender might face so many years behind bars, pay more substantial penalties, and also face more severe consequences that will affect several aspects of their lives. Whether or not you are Driving Under the Influence, the driver has specific duties they need to perform if they get involved in a crash. This is more so if the accident results in property damage, injuries, or death of a person. These duties, as mentioned above, will include staying at the crime scene until it is safe to leave. After waiting, you need to provide your information, ensure that the injured are taken care of and that everyone else is safe. It would be best if you also inform law enforcement officers after the accident.
However, in Hit and Run situations, the driver does not stay or wait to be held accountable for what has happened. Most drivers get scared, especially if they are already Driving Under the Influence because they feel that they will automatically be held responsible for the accident. To evade the significances that result from being liable for the accident and Driving Under the Influence, they decide to flee from the scene of the crash immediately after the accident occurs.
Other times, Hit and Run offenders flee because they do not have insurance coverage or they are afraid that the rates of their insurance might be increased.
DUI and Hit and Run might also happen for the same reason as above. For fear of being arrested for DUI and facing additional charges, a driver might decide to run from the accident scene even before helping out the injured.
There are other instances when a driver is impaired to the point of not knowing if they have caused an accident. In such a situation, the driver will leave the accident scene. Whether the driver was aware of the crash or not, they will be arrested for DUI Hit and Run. If found guilty, they will face the consequences of both crimes.
Generally, when put on trial, the presiding judge, in most cases, has some or complete discretion in determining the penalties for the crime committed. This has to be done within the range of the specific law. However, the severity of the sanctions will be determined by the judge. In that case, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, you could face several possible penalties for Hit and Run DUI. Note that since your case involves a Hit and Run, there are minimal chances that your sentence could be lenient. Your case could even include enhanced punishments for both crimes.
Penalties for DUI Hit and Run
If a driver is arrested for Hit and Run while Driving Under the Influence of drugs and alcohol, they might end up facing severe punishments, which might include fines and time behind bars. There are mainly two possible kinds of charges they could face:
- Hit and Run involving physical injury as provided under Section 20001 of CA Vehicle Code
- Hit and Run involving property damage, contrary to Section 20002 of CA Vehicle Code
If the arrest involves either of these two types of charges, note the following:
- You could be accused of Hit and Run even when you are not liable for the resulting accident. As long as you left the accident scene, you will face Hit and Run charges even though the other motorist or the pedestrian was at fault. The requirement by the law is for everyone that gets involved in a car crash to remain at the accident scene and exchange the required information.
- If the accident resulted in injuries, you should give out your details even though the person injured was driving with you in your car. This should be done even though the injured party does not want to file the case with the police.
- You may be allowed to leave the crime scene after an accident, but only if you were going to get medical treatment. In that case, you will not be accused of Hit and Run even if you were Driving Under the Influence and you caused the accident.
A Hit and Run crime can be treated as a misdemeanor or felony in California
Misdemeanor Hit and Run as provided under Section 20002 of CA Vehicle Code
For a Hit and Run crime to be treated as a misdemeanor, it must satisfy the following elements:
- That the driver fled from the accident scene intentionally, without providing the necessary identifiable information about themselves to all the parties involved in the accident
- That the resulting crash caused property damage
- That the driver was well aware that they had caused the accident and that property belonging to another person was damaged
Note that a misdemeanor Hit and Run will only involve property damage. If a Hit and Run offense resulted in the physical injury of another person, it would be treated as a felony. The rule will still apply even though the resulting extent of destruction from the crash was minimal. Note that property damage, in this case, will not only involve another vehicle. It could mean any other property that has been damaged, including a building or even a fence.
What are the driver’s duties in the case of a misdemeanor Hit and Run?
There are three primary duties of a person who gets involved in a crash that results in property damage:
- They must stop the vehicle immediately
- If other people have been involved in that accident, the driver must provide their name, address and any necessary information to them
- If other people at the crime scene ask for their information, they should willingly provide it
If the car you were driving at the time of the crash is not yours, you should be willing to give the owner's name and address to the other parties and anyone else that needs that information. If this is not done, then you will face Hit and Run charges.
Note that even if another driver was liable, and you were partly involved in that accident, which resulted in the damage of property, you should not flee the accident scene until a law enforcement officer clears you.
If the owner of the property is not at the accident scene, call law enforcement officers and leave a note with your details on the property that was damaged.
However, if it is only your car that was damaged in the accident, and you were at fault, you will not be charged with Hit and Run even if you left the crime scene without informing law enforcement officers.
Punishments for Misdemeanor Hit and Run
A misdemeanor offense may not sound so severe, but in the case of Hit and Run, the sanctions can be quite severe. In most cases, the penalties will be determined by the amount of damage that has resulted from the accident. Generally, the punishment will be:
- Incarceration for at least six months
- Fines amounting to up to $1,000
- Both a fine and jail term
- Probation for a period of up to three years
- Two more points will be added to your driving record
- The requirement to pay compensation for the property that was damaged
Felony Hit and Run Offense as Provided under Section 20001 of CA Vehicle Code
As mentioned above, Felony Hit and Run occur when a driver causes an accident that results in a physical injury of another person or people, then flees from the crash scene. Elements of this crime will be:
- A driver intentionally leaves the accident scene without giving the involved parties the said driver’s details
- The accident the driver or another driver caused resulted in another person or other people getting injured
- The driver was well aware that a crash occurred and that another person had been injured
Note that there are accidents that only cause damage to property or personal injuries but others result in both. In such cases, and depending on the presiding judge and the amount of damage the accident has caused, the driver could face both or either misdemeanor and felony Hit and Run charges.
There are instances where a Hit and Run offense that resulted in physical injuries can be treated as a misdemeanor. Again, this depends on the prosecutor, and if the injuries sustained were not so severe and hard to prove.
Penalties for Felony Hit and Run
If your charge qualifies to be a felony, these are the possible penalties you could get:
- A fine that could range between $1,000 and $10,000
- Imprisonment in state prison for a period of up to three years. Prison time could be more if the accident resulted in death or severe bodily
DUI and Hit and Run
As mentioned above, a drunk driving charge is, in most cases, a misdemeanor. However, in the presence of aggravating factors like fleeing the accident scene, causing property damage or injury of another person, it will be treated as a felony. Hit and Run with DUI automatically brings forth those two aggravating factors and so, the offense qualifies to be an aggravating DUI and will be charged like so.
What this means is that other than facing a Hit and Run charge, you will face a separate aggravating DUI charge, which increases the penalties you are likely to receive as above. Some of the common penalties you will face for DUI in addition to your Hit and Run punishments include:
Misdemeanor DUI resulting in physical injury, punishable by:
- A fine of between $350 and $5,000
- Probation for between three and five years
- Suspension of your driver’s license for between one and three years
- The requirement to pay restitution to the affected persons
Felony DUI resulting in physical injury, punishable by:
- A fine ranging between $1,000 and $5,000
- Incarceration in prison or jail for a maximum period of four years. If the accident caused severe bodily injuries, prison time would be increased
- Driving license suspension for a period of five years on maximum
- A strike will be credited following the state’s 3-strike law
Possible Defenses for Hit and Run
If you are facing both charges of Hit and Run and DUI, it is crucial to work closely with a professional DUI attorney to have either or both of the charges dropped or reduced. If not, you might be facing very severe penalties that could affect your life for a very long time. In defense of your Hit and Run charges, your attorney can use the following strategies:
There was no property damage
When an accident occurs in most cases, another car gets damaged. However, there are instances where only the vehicle belonging to the driver who caused the crash gets damaged in a Hit and Run incident. You can only be found guilty if another car or another person's property was damaged as a result. If your attorney can prove that it was only your car that was damaged in the incident, you may not face Hit and Run charges.
The driver did not know about the accident or the damage
A significant element of a Hit and Run offense is that the driver intentionally fled from the crash scene. If they did not know that there was an accident, and as a result, some property was damaged, the prosecutor may not find them liable for that offense. A smart attorney can convince the court that it was true that the offender did not realize that they had caused property damage. If their argument works, you will be acquitted of the Hit and Run charges. However, this defense will not work if the resulting damage was significant.
The defendant did not cause the accident
In this case, your attorney will try to prove that you were not the one driving the car at the time the accident occurred. Sometimes people allow other people to drive their cars. There are instances of stolen vehicles, causing accidents and fleeing the scene. If you can convince the court that you were not driving the vehicle at that time, you may not be found guilty of Hit and Run even if it was your car that was involved in the accident.
Charges Related to Hit and Run DUI
Depending on the circumstances of the case, a person facing Hit and Run DUI charges could also face the following:
Reckless driving - the crime is defined as operating a car in willful disregard of the safety of other people or property. If there is evidence to show that you purposely or knowingly drove a vehicle in a manner that poses a danger to other motorists, pedestrians, or property, you may be charged with reckless driving.
Vehicular manslaughter - this crime is defined as driving a car with great negligence, which then results in the illegal killing of another person. This is a grave crime in California. If you caused an accident in which the passengers in the other car died from the sustained injuries, then you flee the accident scene, you will be charged with both Hit and Run and vehicular manslaughter. You could also face the charge if you caused an accident in which a passenger inside your car died. The offense carries a prison term of up to six years plus suspension of your driver’s license.
Find an Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer Near Me
DUI and Hit and Run are both severe offenses in California. These offenses, together with other related crimes you could face if found guilty, can leave you serving many years in state prison. As if that is not enough, you may lose your driving privileges for good. What you need is an expert DUI defense attorney to guide, advise, and defend you in the trial. At Orange County DUI Lawyer, we have the right skills, experience, and time to help you with the case as well as plan a strong defense. With the proper argument, we could have all your charges reduced or dropped. Call us at 714-820-9592.