Hit and Run/Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime in all 50 states. When you hit another vehicle or pedestrian, you have a legal obligation to stay at the scene, exchange identification information with the other parties involved, and offer assistance to anyone who has been injured. Failure to do this can result in a hit and run charge which can carry penalties such as jail or prison time, suspension or revocation of driving privileges, fines, restitution to the victim/s and more.
The severity of your punishment depends on the circumstances of your case and whether the charges are filed as a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanor hit and run charges are usually filed for minor traffic accidents with minimal property damage. Felony hit and run charges are more serious and involve major property damage or incidents in which another person is injured or killed.
If you have been accused of leaving the scene of an accident, it’s important to obtain experienced legal representation as soon as possible to ensure your rights are protected. Having a skilled criminal defense attorney by your side gives you a fighting chance of defeating a hit and run charge or at the very least minimizing the consequences of a potential conviction. Don’t try to navigate the criminal justice system on your own. A criminal defense lawyer will know the local traffic laws in your state as well as how the local court process works. In addition, they will have the resources needed to conduct a thorough investigation and interview all relevant witnesses.
What to Do After a Traffic Accident
- Immediately stop at the scene
- Assist anyone who is injured (call 911)
- Notify local law enforcement (police or sheriff’s department)
- Provide and exchange proper identification including your name and address, driver’s license, vehicle registration number, and insurance information
What if I Hit An Unattended Vehicle or Fixture?
If you hit an unattended or parked vehicle, building or other property, then you must stop and attempt to either locate and notify the owner or operator, or make the effort to leave a note with your name and address stating what happened. It’s also necessary to contact the nearest law enforcement authority and report the incident.
Criminal Charges vs. Civil Charges
After a traffic collision, it’s natural for fear and panic to kick in. Your first instinct may be to run and hide to avoid getting into trouble. Unfortunately, when it comes to a hit and run, the cover-up is often worse than the crime, meaning you will find yourself in more legal trouble by leaving the scene of an accident than if you had just stayed and reported the accident to the appropriate authorities. By staying at the scene, you may be able to minimize or eliminate criminal liability and avoid spending time behind bars. However, there is still the possibility that you will face civil charges which may involve a civil compromise or paying restitution to the alleged victim.
Common Reasons for Leaving the Scene of the Accident
Some of the most common reasons someone leaves the scene of an accident includes:
- driving an unregistered vehicle
- don’t have car insurance
- don’t have legal citizenship status in the U.S.
- driving on a suspended or invalid license
- driving under the influence
- existing warrants out for their arrest
- transporting illegal drugs or stolen property
Don’t try to outrun law enforcement. If someone saw your car or license plate, there is most likely a warrant out for your arrest.
How to Beat a Hit and Run Charge
A criminal defense lawyer will develop a customized defense strategy that gives you the best chance at achieving a favorable outcome. Here are the most common defenses utilized in a hit and run case:
“Mistake of fact” – you genuinely did not realize that you actually struck another vehicle or person. It may have been late at night on a poorly lit road. If you heard or felt that you hit something, you may have believed it was a stray animal or some type of debris. Conversely, if you observed that you did in fact hit another vehicle or person but were confident that no one was injured, you may have felt that it wasn’t necessary for you to stay at the scene.
Feared for your own safety — if you were in a neighborhood with a high incidence of crime or were in a situation that you felt could escalate into violence, you may be able to claim that your concern for your safety prevented you from immediately stopping your car,
Insufficient evidence to prove who was driving the vehicle – police officers often identify the car involved in a hit and run accident, but not the actual driver.