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Hit and Run Investigation Process California – How it Works
Police generally start investigating a California hit and run case by visiting the scene of the accident, interviewing the victim and gathering evidence. Law enforcement then go to identify the driver who fled the scene, usually by:
piecing together the evidence they gathered,
viewing surveillance camera footage (if available),
Note that if the police are successful in identifying the hit and run driver, the person will likely face criminal charges. In addition, the victim can try to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the driver and recover compensation for things like:
1. How does a police department begin a hit and run investigation?
Once police officers learn of hit and run cases, they usually start by visiting the accident scene. If a victim does not need emergency medical attention and is still present, police will speak with that person. Police use this initial interview to get a general idea about what took place.
While still at the scene of an accident, law enforcement will examine the scene for other possible sources of evidence. This other evidence may include:
license plate numbers gathered by witnesses,
statements from witnesses,
photographs of the accident scene,
photographs of any damaged vehicle or property,
tire marks on the ground, and
another vehicle’s paint on the victim’s car.
Police usually document this information and evidence in a police report.
2. Is visiting the accident scene enough?
In some cases, possibly. Sometimes the police can piece together the evidence they gather at the accident scene to identify the hit and run driver.
For example, maybe a witness got a clear view or picture of the driver’s license plate number. The police could then run a search of the number or contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to gather the driver’s personal or identifying information.
The police can then use this information to find, question and charge the suspect.
3. What if no clear leads immediately surface?
Sometimes the evidence gathered at a hit and run accident scene will not provide clear leads as to whom the offender was.
In these cases, law enforcement often look for other sources of evidence. A common source is surveillance camera footage that captured the accident. This footage can provide such details as:
a clear image of the hit and run driver,
the driver’s license plate number, and/or
the make, model, and color of the driver’s vehicle.
Any or all of these details could help in an arrest.
Sometimes the police can seek other evidence by interviewing more people. For example, they could visit stores or businesses near the accident scene and learn if anyone possibly has helpful information on the event.
Police could also contact local hospitals or urgent care clinics to try and learn if any drivers were treated because of a random car crash.
In hard cases, local police may bring the story to the news. The result is that the details of the case get told on varying news outlets, including television and social media. The story of the case may cause someone to come forward with convincing information as to whom the guilty driver is.
4. Does an insurance company investigate a hit and run?
If you are a victim of a hit and run and you suffer either a personal injury or property damage, you can file an insurance claim to recover compensation for your damages.
If you file an insurance claim after a hit and run, the insurance provider will often investigate the incident.
An insurer investigates a hit and run accident to determine if it will provide you with compensation for your losses.
An insurance company’s investigation may include:
analyzing your insurance policy,
reviewing any pertinent police reports,
reviewing any available medical records,
speaking with witnesses,
looking at photos of any damaged motor vehicles or property, and
reviewing videos of surveillance cameras (for example, if a person hit an unattended vehicle or parked car in a parking lot).
5. Can an attorney help?
Yes. Both personal injury attorneys and criminal defense lawyers provide critical help in hit and run cases.
A car accident lawyer can help you file an insurance claim and negotiate it on your behalf. If the claim is not successful, the lawyer can help you file a civil lawsuit against the hit and run driver.
A defense attorney can help you raise a legal defense to contest a charge so that you can avoid any prison or jail time for the offense.
Most attorneys provide free consultations, meaning you can receive legal advice at no cost.
Further, your communications with an attorney are protected by the attorney-client relationship. This means a lawyer can only disclose your confidences after getting your consent.
Under California Vehicle Code 20001 VC, felony hit and run is punishable by up to four years in jail or prison. Under California Vehicle Code 20002 VC, misdemeanor hit and run is punishable by up to six months in jail.
About the Author
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.