Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm is a Vista, California-based law firm reputable for helping people charged with driving under the influence offenses. The DUI criminal law firm has practiced criminal law for many years, making its’ attorneys stand out in defending cases like DUI Hit and Run. Our attorneys understand the uniqueness of each driving under influence charge, and use the Hit and Run as well as DUI laws to defend people accused of these charges. In California, these cases occur regularly, and they carry hefty fines and sentences to a convict. Thus, it is essential that you contact our Vista attorneys to help reduce or drop the charges you are facing.

What is the Difference between Hit and Run and DUI Crimes under California Criminal Law?

Section 20001 of California Vehicle Code requires that a driver stops at an accident scene (after injuring another person or causing death) and exchange his/her personal details with the law enforcers, the other driver, or victims involved. If the driver damages property (including vehicles) because of his/her actions and doesn’t stop at the scene, then he/she would be violating California Vehicle Code section 20001, and would be committing a Hit and Run offense as per CVC 20002 (a). A Noteworthy point is that the prosecution under CVC 20002 alone does not take into consideration whether the driver was intoxicated – a proof that the accused fled from the scene and that there were tangible damages caused by the accident are the most significant crime elements in a hit and run case.

On the other hand, a person commits CVC 23152 DUI crime if they are driving under the influence of intoxicants such as drugs or alcohol, or a combination of drugs and alcohol. Therefore, unlike the section 20002 offense, the proof that the driver was intoxicated is the most crucial crime element in any drunk-driving prosecution and conviction. The prosecution, through police investigations or reports from a drug recognition expert, should ascertain that the suspect’s blood had traces of drugs that are prohibited during driving. Such drugs include illegal ones like methamphetamine and in some cases, legally medicinal drugs like marijuana. Besides, the trial has to show that there was less percentage of alcohol in the suspect’s blood (as required by law) during the incident. The DUI laws require that a person should not drive when their blood has a minimum 0.08% of alcohol or 0.04% of alcohol for commercial vehicle drivers. For drivers under the age of 21, the percentage should not exceed 0.01.

In cases where the driver violates both the above vehicle code sections, he/she can be charged with a DUI Hit and Run offense. If convicted, the accused would face severe penalties characterized by driving license suspension, state prison terms, monetary fines, and mandatory undergoing a DUI School.

What Happens When a DUI Accident Occurs in California?

  1. California vehicle code 20001(a) dictates that an accident perpetrator should stop immediately at the crime scene. Otherwise, law enforcers would locate the driver and apprehend him/her promptly. If they are successful in stopping the driver, proper examinations should be carried out on the driver to assert that he/she was the one involved in the accident. These tests include searching and examining traces of blood on the suspect's vehicle, listening to bystanders descriptions of what they saw during the incident, and examining video evidence taken at the scene, for instance, through CCTV.

  2. The driver should share personal information with the traffic police, legal authority, or victims involved at the accident scene. The personal information required is the name of the driver, current address of residence, and the vehicle’s registration details that caused the accident. The driver should also give the necessary help to the victim such as taking them to the hospital for treatment or calling 911 for emergency help to the victim.

  3. The driver should be tested for the amount of alcohol or drugs in the bloodstream. This chemical test proves whether the driver was intoxicated while driving.

If the accident leads to property damage, then the driver should stop immediately, locate the owner of the property and register their personal information or leave a clear note to an open and obvious place such as the building or vehicle damaged. The note should reflect personal details and what happened. Leaving the scene where you have damaged properties is a crime under misdemeanor category and when prosecuted, it is punishable in accordance with California vehicle code 20002.

Normally, the driver at fault is always scared and terrified knowing that it was his/her fault damaging another person’s properties, injured another person, or has resulted in death. It’s a normal reaction, but a prompt connection with a defense attorney helps such drivers to limit the possibilities of double charges or felony penalties.

What Proves a DUI Hit and Run Conviction under California Law?

The prosecutors are tasked to confirm various elements to charge the crime as a drunk-driving crime with hit and run. These elements include:

  1. The perpetrator caused the accident while driving under alcoholic influence or any drug influence;

  2. The said perpetrator fled the scene;

  3. That the accident caused tangible damages to a person (death or injuries) or someone’s property;

  4. That the driver was at fault – he/she was of the knowledge that someone’s property has been damaged in the cause of the accident before taking off;

  5. That after the accident, the perpetrator failed to do what is required by the law in case of an accident – stopping the vehicle, giving personal details i.e. name, residence, and registration, and complying with a BAC test.

What are the Major Categories of DUI Hit and Run Offense?

Those charged with DUI Hit and Run cases have first-hand versions of what happened. The drivers involved might not even realize if they actually hit a person or damaged a property, or might have caused the accident in a place where it is prohibited to stop. Possession of an invalid license, being over drunk, or being scared of being jailed are as well as possible explanations for accidents. In all these cases, DUI Hit and Run are classified under either felony DUI or misdemeanor DUI.

An incident is termed as a misdemeanor hit-and-run if: (a) the accident was a minor accident (with no aggravating factor like death), but the driver at fault just decided to walk away unnoticed; (b) the driver caused the collision due to influence of drug/alcohol – even if he incurred no injury – but took off; (c) the perpetrator took off after damaging someone’s property.

For a DUI Hit and Run to be considered a felony, there must be an involvement of human victims rather than properties. If the driver under influence kills or injures a person at the scene and takes off, he/she would have committed a felony regardless of the value of the damaged properties as well as the degree of the injury to the person. In the case of a minor accident where the driver takes off after committing the offense, but in the long run, it is discovered that the accident caused injuries to the other persons, the driver would face felony DUI charges in accordance with DUI laws. Generally, if injuries are involved in an accident but the driver involved runs away, without doing what is required by the law, the driver is convicted of a California felony DUI Hit and Run under CVCs 20001, 20002, and 23152.

Different Penalties for a DUI Hit and Run

If one is guilty of this offense, the jury uses two statutes to determine the penalties and punishments for the convict. California Vehicle Code 20001 defines penalties where there are serious or permanent injuries to another person – some injuries can lead to impairment or alteration of body parts. Likewise, CVC 20002 prescribes the penalty issued for DUI Hit & Run with damage to properties. Depending on how serious the crime might be, one will face either misdemeanor penalties or felony penalties.

Accident that Causes Injuries

Under California law, if this offense results into injuries to the person(s) involved other than yourself, either a misdemeanor or felony penalties would apply. The charge is dependent on the seriousness of injuries and the driver’s criminal record.

If charged with a misdemeanor under CVC 20002 (b) (1), you face several punishments:

  • Jail term for a period not exceeding twelve months;
  • A fine ranging from one thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars; or both fines and imprisonment.

Taking into account that you were under intoxication, additional penalties apply. They include: the DMV can add two points on your driving license, informal probation not exceeding three years or restitution. You can as well face a combination of all these penalties. On the other hand, if convicted of a felony in the above section, the person would face similar penalties, but with a maximum jail term of three years.

Your attorney can negotiate your case leading to a civil comprise in an attempt to settle the misdemeanor hit-and-run conviction. If an agreement is reached, you will need to pay all your damages. Consequently, the hit & run charges will be dropped by the prosecution.

If the prosecution drops hit and run charges, the DUI crime is convictable with imprisonment for sixteen months to three years in state prison; a fine of one thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars or both; suspension or revocation of license.

Accident Causing Serious Body Injuries or Death

This kind of DUI Hit and Run is convicted under 20001(b) part 2 under California law. This too is a wobbler. However, because of the dependency on the seriousness of the offense, the penalties and punishment are more stringent. As a misdemeanor, conviction under DUI Hit and Run with serious injuries or death {20001b (2)} has these penalties: at least 3 months and at most 12 months in jail, a fine of between one thousand dollars and ten thousand dollars, or both the fine and jail term.

In case of a conviction of a DUI felony under CVC 20001b (2), one is sentenced to 2, 3, or 4 years state imprisonment, a Monetary fine of between 1,000 dollars and 10,000 dollars, or both the fine and imprisonment.

Are there Additional Charges or Penalties to a DUI Hit and Run Conviction?

Conviction for a DUI Hit and Run leads to an addition of a minimum of 2 points to the offender’s driving record by the DMV. A period of six-month license suspension can occur if one’s points amount to four in a single-year period. Suspension of your driving license in addition to DUI Hit and Run penalties is dependent on your driving record.

If your car is insured, the car insurer can cancel your insurance coverage or increase your premiums as well. More so, in the event that you are sued by the property owner whose property you damaged in the incident, you will be required to pay for the extra amount that is not insured.

If found guilty, anyone that incurred injuries during the accident has a right to sue you. Similarly, if you cause death to anyone, the victim’s family has a right to file a case under the civil law. This means you will have to pay an agreed amount to the victim’s family.

Taking off from the scene after causing death can also be prosecuted as a penal code 191.5 vehicular manslaughter offense, with an additional imprisonment of five consecutive years.

Potential Defenses to Hit-and-Run Conviction while Drunk-driving

Challenging CVCs 20001, 20002, and 23152 charges depend on the facts presented before the jury. Your attorney will critically examine the evidence leveled against you and identify the fouls in prosecution, hence, challenge the validity of the charges. Below are legal defenses Vista DUI attorneys can present in your case:

  1. You were not the one driving the vehicle. If the attorney proves that someone else was driving the vehicle during the accident, you will be invalidated from the charges since the hit and run charges are valid only when you were driving the vehicle;

  2. The crime happened above your will and control. This can happen in case of unconsciousness, that is, you caused an accident but fell unconscious and wasn’t able to observe legal requirements in accidents, then a passenger in your vehicle drove you away. It is also not possible to take care of the victims, as the law requires. Additionally, if an angry mob surrounded your vehicle and getting out would be risky to your life you would not be required to stop;

  3. You did not willfully refuse to provide personal information as required by CVC 20001. If after the accident you became incapacitated, and one of the people around decided to take you to the hospital for medication without giving out personal information (which is a requirement under the law), then you did not willfully refuse to give the information. The circumstances or situation at hand forced you not to;

  4. You didn’t realize that there were damages or even an accident happened. Take, for example, you are driving and on reaching a stop light, you rear-end another vehicle. After stopping, you both don’t notice any damages. Therefore, you drive off. However, after some time, the driver of the other car reports to the police that his vehicle was damaged on reaching home. The attorney can help to prove to the court that the charges are not hit & run since you didn’t flee out of knowledge that you caused an accident.

    This scenario is similar in a case of bodily injury. Often, an injury occurs after the accident and not before. For instance, the only tangible damages after an accident are on the vehicle, but a victim complains days later of pains and a medical examination ascertains that the injuries are as a result of the accident. The attorney can argue that you had no knowledge of injuries at the scene, and you didn’t refuse to provide necessary help to the victim.

  5. If after taking your blood alcohol content or a chemical test to gauge the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream, it’s evident that you were not under any influence; the attorney would argue for the reduction of your charges to only a hit & run.

Who Pays for Damages and Injuries?

In most cases, the victims incur expenses involved in the DUI hit and run through their insurance. This is because the drivers evade after collisions. Compensation would occur if the police catch up with an offender. Besides, the victims can press charges for compensation from the offender. It is prudent to seek legal help from a DUI defense attorney first rather than simply complying with investigators’ and victims’ demands.

How Can a Vista DUI Hit and Run Attorney Near Me Help?

If a DUI Hit and Run conviction are looming, understand that there are available options that can help you reduce your charges. Hiring an attorney from Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm would help your possibility in getting your case dismissed or charges reduced. They help you to avoid life-changing consequences and the guilt that is associated with such convictions. This will help you redeem your driving privileges as well as insurance premiums. Reach out to us at 760-691-1540 and talk to our experienced criminal defense lawyers. The solution for your case is with us!