Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How to Win a Hit & Run Case in California (VC 20002)

If you leave the scene of a collision in California without exchanging identifying information, you will be charged with the crime of "hit & run" under section 20002 of the California Vehicle Code.  If only property damage is involved, then the case will likely be treated as a misdemeanor.  If someone was injured or killed, you can be charged with a felony.

Hit & run cases are notoriously difficult for prosecutors to prove.  It may be easy to establish that your car was involved in the collision, but the DA often has a very hard time proving that you were driving and that you knew (or should have known) that you caused property damage.  If you were not driving, you have no legal obligation to "snitch" on the actual driver.

Even if the facts of your case are well-established and easily proven, you might still have an opportunity to have the charges thrown out.  California law allows judges to dismiss some misdemeanor charges pursuant to a "civil compromise agreement", or "civ comp" for short.  Luckily, "hit & run" is one charge that may qualify for a civ comp dismissal.

In a civ comp, the victim must appear before a judge and acknowledge that he or she has been compensated for whatever losses they experienced due to your crime.  Usually, this means that you simply write a check to the victim.  Often, though, the victim may acknowledge that he received a check from your insurance carrier.

Your attorney should speak with the victim and negotiate a small but reasonable sum to cover the victim's damages.  I would not advise a defendant to reach out to a victim or to conduct the negotiations himself for several reasons.  First, you could be accused of witness intimidation.  If the victim does not fully understand the law, or if you make the victim feel uncomfortable, he or she may complain that you attempted to influence their testimony.  That can lead to more serious charges.  Additionally, you could accidentally talk yourself into bigger trouble by confessing to elements of the crime that were not already well-established.  By allowing your lawyer to do the talking, you can avoid these hazards.

The judge has discretion to either approve or deny a proposed civil compromise.  If the court approves the agreement, then the criminal charge is dismissed against the defendant.

Judges may deny proposed civ comp agreements when they feel that a dismissal is not in the interests of justice, or when the particular charge is ineligible for such relief.  Charges that may NOT be civilly compromised include felonies, crimes against police, crimes committed "riotously", any crime committed with the intent to commit a felony, domestic violence charges, and crimes against elders or children.

"Hit & run" is probably the charge that is civilly compromised the most often, but other charges may also qualify.  Vandalism, assault, battery, trespassing and theft may be resolved by civ comp, as well.

Victims often agree to civilly compromise cases because accepting a civ comp may be the quickest, easiest way to recoup their losses.  By accepting your proposed deal, the victim can avoid the headaches and uncertainty of going to trial, testifying as a witness, and then trying to pursue / enforce an eventual restitution award.  A good defense attorney should be able to clearly explain this to process to the victim so that he or she understands and agrees to cooperate.

If you or a loved one is accused of hit & run (VC 20002) in California, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Orange County Hit & Run Lawyer