Hit-and-Runs: Misdemeanors vs Felonies
Car accidents are incredibly stressful. Whether it resulted in a minor dent in a bumper or catastrophic injuries, your first reaction may be complete panic. What should you do? What if you get in trouble? Will you face criminal charges? These questions may motivate you to simply leave the scene and drive away, hopefully ensuring that no one will know you were involved in the accident. If you do so, however, you will be committing a criminal act. If you are caught, you will face harsh penalties, although these penalties may vary depending on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
But the question is: what’s the difference between the two?
Hit-and-Runs and Misdemeanors
A hit-and-run misdemeanor charge will usually be considered if there is property damage, but no injuries. If another person becomes injured as a result of the accident, however, the charges are likely to become more severe.
For example, you may have been driving slowly or in bumper to bumper traffic when you rear-ended the car in front of you. Because you weren’t traveling at a high speed, the person in the other car may be physically fine, although their bumper is heavily dented. If you did not pull over and exchange information, then it is a misdemeanor.
Even if the other car didn’t have anyone in it and wasn’t moving, such as in a parking lot, it is still a misdemeanor if you struck another vehicle and then neglected to find the owner or at leave a note providing your information.
Hit-and-Runs and Felonies
As you may have already figured out, a hit-and-run becomes a felony if the accident resulted in someone becoming injured. If you drive away from someone who needs medical attention following an accident, then you will likely be facing felony charges after being caught.
The penalties you may face after being charged with a hit-and-run will depend on whether you are being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
If you are facing misdemeanor charges, then you may be facing:
- Up to a year in a Los Angeles county jail and/or
- Up to a $1,000 fine
On the other hand, if you have been charged with a felony hit-and-run, then upon conviction you may be sentenced to:
- Up to four years in a California state prison and/or
- Up to a $10,000 fine
On top of the fine and prison sentence, the felony charge will go on your criminal record. This can impact your existing employment, as well as any future opportunities. Your ability to vote, keep a license, own a firearm, and travel abroad will be severely limited, or completely restricted.
Fault: Does It Matter?
The short answer is, when it comes to hit-and-runs, no. Even if the accident was not your fault, you are still legally required to exchange information with the other drivers involved. If you are involved in an accident that was caused by someone else, and you neglect to stop, then you may be charged with a hit-and-run.
That being said, if it was unsafe for you to stop, such as if the accident was caused by the other driver being aggressive and you feared for your life, then you may not be charged so long as you report the accident to the local authorities as soon as you can.
Defending Hit-and-Run charges
There are many defenses that someone charged with a hit-and-run may be able to employ during their trial. Common ones include:
- You were only a passenger and were not driving the vehicle when the accident occurred
- You did not know/had not noticed there had been an accident
- The accident did not result in any injuries
- The accident did not result in any property damage
Finding the right defense for your case will require a detailed look at your case. If you have been charged with a hit-and-run, you don’t want to leave that process up to someone who isn’t experienced enough to tackle it successfully. Contact Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP at (213) 688-0460 and find out why we’re considered to be one of the best criminal defense firms in the country.