A hit and run is always a serious traffic offense, but California recognizes a difference between situations where only property is damaged or where people are injured. If someone damages property while in their car and then drives away, they’ll be charged with a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor hit and run charges can arise seemingly every day. It might not seem like a big deal that you hit someone’s mailbox, but under the law, a prosecutor can charge you with a crime. Instead of letting a simple situation get out of hand, call a San Diego traffic lawyer right away to learn more about your rights.
California Vehicle Code Section 20002 states that anyone involved in a collision that damages property, including another vehicle, must immediately stop at the closest location that doesn’t interfere with traffic or anyone’s safety. The driver must determine the owner of the damaged property and notify them of their personal information. If the owner of the damaged property isn’t present, the drive should leave a note on the vehicle or other property with their name and address, and then notify the police of the incident as soon as possible.
Most people think of cars or people when they hear of hit and runs, but it can be any type of property such as pets, landscaping, mailboxes, lamp posts, or stop signs. It’s difficult for many people to see harming an animal as damaging property, but under the law, a pet is merely the owner’s personal property.
Calling the authorities or leaving your information may all seem like common sense, but it isn’t rare for a person to be involved in a seemingly minor collision with another car, object, or animal and drive away.
Examples of hit and runs involving damaged property include:
- Jamie wants to make a right turn so he slowly moves between the curb to his right and the car in front of him. He doesn’t quite have enough room and his car scrapes the other vehicle’s bumper. Jamie completes his right turn and keeps driving.
- Alex realizes she’s going the wrong way so she decides to use someone’s driveway to turn around. When she backs out, she hits a mailbox, causing it to be bent toward the ground. Instead of knocking on the front door or leaving a note, she drives away.
- Kurt was running late for dinner reservations and speeding when he hit a dog that came into the road. Kurt got out of the car and gently moved the injured dog to the side of the street. But, instead of calling the authorities, he got back in his car and sped toward the restaurant.
It’s important to note that you can be charged with a hit and run even in situations that weren’t your fault. For instance, if you were hit by another car while driving, but you didn’t want to stop and trade information, you could be charged with a hit and run.
If the hit and run only involved damage to property then it’s a misdemeanor crime in California. If someone is convicted of a misdemeanor hit and run, they can be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail, years of probation, and a maximum fine of up to $1,000. You may also be required to pay restitution to the owners of the property you damaged.
It may seem unjust to spend 6 months in the county jail or even longer on probation for hitting an object. After all, you didn’t hurt anyone. This is why it’s so important to have an attorney represent you for this type of offense. An experienced San Diego hit and run lawyer will work to minimize the statutory consequences of conviction, including as little jail time as possible and a minimal fee.
It isn’t only jail time and a fine people need to worry about when charged with a misdemeanor hit and run. Even a misdemeanor will give you a criminal record, and because the crime involved driving, it could damage your ability to get certain jobs in the future. A driving offense can make it difficult to get your commercial driver’s license or work as a delivery or sales person.
This crime also puts two points on your driving record. If you receive two more points within the same 12 month period, your license could be suspended or revoked.
The defenses available to you depend on your specific case, and an experienced attorney can help determine the strongest defense available. You may be able to show that only your own property, likely your car, was damaged. You might also be able to prove that you didn’t realize you were involved in an accident or that anyone else’s property was damaged.
You may be able to avoid criminal prosecution if you’re able to work it out with the owner of the damaged property. Whether it’s with another driver or a mailbox owner, if you can work out a civil compromise, you might not be prosecuted. However, if you have a poor driving record and there are aggravating circumstances like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then this is unlikely to be available to you.
When to Contact a San Diego Hit and Run Lawyer
Even misdemeanor offenses should be taken care seriously as they can lead to a criminal record and a tainted driving record. If you were charged with a misdemeanor hit and run, call Jessica McElfresh right away at (858) 756-7107 to learn more about the offense and how she can defend your rights in court.