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San Diego Hit and Run Lawyer

Protect Your Rights After a Hit-and-Run Accident | Zentz & Zentz

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Defending San Diego, CA, Clients Accused of Hit-and-Run

Every driver in California has legal responsibilities that come into play after an accident. California state law requires all drivers to call the police to notify them of any accident that results in injuries, death, or substantial property damage.

If you have an accident, regardless of whether you believe you are at fault for causing it, it is always best to err on the side of caution and notify the police about the incident. Doing so creates an official police report. You may need to refer to this report in the future if you intend to seek compensation for any losses that occurred or if the other driver accuses you of causing the accident. If you cause an accident and do not report it as California law requires, you could face criminal prosecution for hit-and-run and substantial penalties.

The San Diego hit-and-run lawyers at Zentz & Zentz can provide the legal counsel you need if you are arrested for a hit-and-run offense. Depending on how the accident occurred and the resulting damages, you could be facing a misdemeanor or felony, both of which can entail substantial penalties. Our team can provide the legal representation you need in every phase of the criminal justice system so you can approach your case with greater confidence.

What Is Misdemeanor Hit-and-Run?

Hit-and-run incidents are prosecuted at the misdemeanor level when the crash only causes property damage but no injuries or deaths. A few examples of situations that can lead to hit-and-run charges include:

  • Driving away from an accident after hitting another vehicle. California law requires you to stop at the scene of an accident that causes injury, death, or property damage. You cannot simply leave the scene of an accident you caused just because you assume the damage was minimal.
  • Hitting a stop sign, light post, or other public fixture near the road and fleeing the scene. If you accidentally damage or destroy a roadside fixture or sign, you must take responsibility for it. Leaving the scene of the accident could lead to hit-and-run charges in addition to charges for willful destruction of public property.
  • Hitting a parked vehicle without leaving a note for the vehicle’s owner. If you hit another vehicle in a parking lot or sideswipe a parked car by accident, you need to stop and leave a note with your contact information for the vehicle’s owner if you cannot locate them.

If you commit a hit-and-run along these lines and the police locate you, you will be charged with misdemeanor hit-and-run. Unfortunately, many drivers believe that they can simply flee the scene quickly to avoid a penalty for an accident. However, there are many ways the police can potentially obtain a hit-and-run driver’s information, such as obtaining traffic camera footage from an intersection camera that captured the incident, eyewitness statements from people who saw the hit-and-run and reported it to police, providing them with the at-fault driver’s license plate number, or a report from the owner of a vehicle struck in a hit-and-run.

The penalty for misdemeanor hit-and-run in California is a minimum of $1,000 in fines and up to six months in jail. However, the prosecution can attach additional charges and penalties depending on how the accident occurred. Additionally, the defendant will be responsible for the victim’s damages, specifically the cost of repairing their vehicle.

What Is Felony Hit-and-Run in San Diego, CA?

A hit-and-run offense qualifies for prosecution at the felony level if the at-fault driver causes an injury or kills another person in the incident. Thus, the criminal case filed by the state will not only lead to more significant penalties than a misdemeanor hit-and-run, but the at-fault driver will also likely face civil liability for the victim’s damages, including their medical expenses, lost income, vehicle repair costs, and pain and suffering.

The penalties for felony hit-and-run depend on whether the at-fault driver caused non-serious injuries, serious injuries, or the death of another vehicle occupant. For non-serious injuries, the defendant faces up to one year in county jail with mandatory 90 days served, fines from $1,000 to $10,000, two points on their driver’s license, and restitution to the victim. If the defendant caused a serious injury or injury resulting in permanent damage or death, their penalties would escalate to up to five years in a California state prison, fines up to $10,000, two points on their driver’s license, and restitution to the victim.

It is possible in some situations for a defendant facing felony hit-and-run charges to have their sentence reduced to misdemeanor status, but this typically will not occur unless they complete a court-ordered probationary period and meet additional requirements assigned on a case-by-case basis.

Additional Charges You May Face in San Diego After a Hit-and-Run

While it’s important to know the standard penalties for hit-and-run violations in California, it’s vital to understand that these are merely benchmarks for what one can expect if charged with hit-and-run in San Diego. The reality is that many hit-and-run cases involve multiple criminal charges based on how they occur. There are a few ways a defendant could potentially face additional charges and thus more substantial penalties for a hit-and-run incident in San Diego, CA:

  • If an investigation discovers that the defendant caused the hit-and-run while driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, they will likely face DUI charges in addition to the hit-and-run charge. The DUI penalty will escalate depending on the extent of the damage the accident caused and whether it resulted in injuries or deaths to anyone involved. Most drivers convicted of DUI will face driver’s license suspension, fines, jail time, and mandatory drug and alcohol safety courses. Their hit-and-run violation may exacerbate their DUI charges and vice versa, leading to substantial legal penalties.
  • If the at-fault driver killed another driver or a passenger of another vehicle after a hit-and-run, they could face vehicular manslaughter charges. When an accident occurs, and an at-fault driver unintentionally kills another driver or passenger, they can face a charge of involuntary manslaughter. This indicates they caused death through negligence rather than lethal intent. However, suppose an at-fault driver causes an accident, knows they are responsible for causing it, and attempts to flee the scene. In that case, they may face voluntary manslaughter charges for their failure to take responsibility for their actions at the scene of the accident.
  • Suppose a driver causes a hit-and-run while driving on a suspended license. In that case, they could face additional penalties related to their driving privileges, including extended suspension time, fines, and mandatory driver safety school.

In light of the possibility of additional criminal charges being added to a hit-and-run offense, it’s vital for anyone who causes an accident to stop at the scene of the crash and accept responsibility for their actions. If they do not, they risk significant legal entanglements and even harsher penalties than would have occurred had they remained at the scene.

Can I Be Sued for Hit-and-Run in California?

If you injure someone else, kill someone, or cause significant damage to another person’s property in a hit-and-run, you could not only face criminal prosecution from the state but civil liability for the victim’s damages as well. In most criminal cases that involve victimization, the judge handling the defendant’s sentencing will likely require the defendant to pay restitution to the victim. However, the victim also has the right to sue the defendant under California’s personal injury laws.

The injured driver has the right to seek full compensation for all losses occurring from the hit-and-run incident. Because hit-and-run is predicated on willful bad behavior, namely fleeing the scene of an accident, the judge handling the victim’s civil suit will likely rule in favor of the plaintiff once they establish proof of the defendant’s liability. Thus, a defendant sued for hit-and-run could be compelled to pay the victim’s medical expenses, compensate them for any lost income resulting from the incident and property damage inflicted during the accident.

What to Do After Arrest for Hit-and-Run in San Diego, CA

If you are arrested for hit-and-run in San Diego, you must understand and take full advantage of your constitutional rights. When the police arrest an individual, they must read them their Miranda rights, informing the suspect of their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney. Exercise your right to remain silent, even if you feel the need to try to explain the situation. Anything you say can potentially be used against you in a criminal case, so it’s best to remain silent until you have an attorney present.

The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees legal representation to any American citizen accused of a crime. If the accused cannot pay for a private San Diego hit-and-run lawyer or does not wish to pay for private legal counsel, the court can appoint a public defender to represent them. This may sound like a good option for avoiding legal costs, but the average public defender cannot offer the same level of legal representation that you could expect from an experienced private defense lawyer. Public defenders must handle multiple cases at a time and can only provide clients with a few hours a day at most. A private San Diego hit-and-run defense lawyer can offer a more robust level of representation. Do not say anything after your arrest until you have secured legal counsel. Once you have a lawyer, they can help you start building your defense.

How Your Hit and Run Attorney Can Help With Your Defense

The legal definition of hit-and-run under California’s Vehicle Code is quite straightforward, so there are only a few possible defenses a defendant may attempt to use when facing hit-and-run charges at the misdemeanor or felony level. First, the defendant could claim a lack of knowledge. It’s possible the defendant had no idea they caused an accident. They could have hit a person or another vehicle and thoughted the impact was from a bump in the road. It’s also possible to avoid conviction for hit-and-run if the hit-and-run driver was responding to an emergency, such as driving to the hospital for emergency medical care.

Another possible defense is “diminished capacity,” sometimes called “involuntary intoxication.” The defendant claiming this defense must be able to offer evidence that they were drugged against their will in some way that diminished their ability to drive safely. Ultimately, it’s best to consult an experienced San Diego hit-and-run defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest for a hit-and-run incident.

An experienced defense attorney will explore every possible avenue of defense for their client. Typically, the first line of defense for any defendant in a criminal case attacks the validity of the prosecution’s evidence. The due process laws of the United States place the burden of proof in criminal cases on the prosecution, meaning the prosecution must provide clear and convincing evidence that establishes the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Thus, your defense attorney’s goal is to essentially prove that reasonable doubt exists.

Depending on how your hit-and-run incident occurred and the unique details of the situation, your attorney may also consult various expert witnesses, such as engineers, accident reconstruction experts, medical experts, and any other professionals who can clarify technical or complex aspects of the hit-and-run case. Your attorney may also call eyewitnesses who saw the incident in question occur to clarify how events unfolded, potentially skewing the case in favor of the defendant.

Find A Trusted Hit and Run Lawyer in San Diego, CA Today

Time is a critical factor in any criminal case. If you or a loved one has been arrested on hit-and-run charges, you could face a wide range of penalties that will affect your personal and professional life in various ways. One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to hire an experienced San Diego hit-and-run defense attorney as soon as possible to defend you.

The attorneys at Zentz & Zentz have years of experience representing clients in the most challenging criminal defense cases. We know how San Diego prosecutors handle their cases and seek convictions, and our team is ready to put this professional experience at your disposal in your hit-and-run case. If you are ready to discuss legal representation with an experienced San Diego hit-and-run defense lawyer, contact Zentz & Zentz to schedule your consultation with our team.

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