Vehicle Code 20001 VC is the California statute that defines the crime of felony hit and run with injury. This section makes it a crime to flee the scene of a car accident in which another person has been injured or killed.
If the accident only causes property damage but no injuries, then prosecutors can only file misdemeanor hit and run charges per Vehicle Code 20002 VC. But if the accident injures or kills another person, the state can charge the more serious crime of felony hit and run.
20001 VC states that “the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident…”
Examples of illegal acts under this code section include:
- Lisa injures a pedestrian after hitting him with the front of her car and then speeds off down the road.
- Hanna, driving while intoxicated, hits a person in a parking lot (with her car), breaks the person’s leg, and then drives out of the lot.
- Trevon kills another driver in an automobile accident and then drives away without stopping.
Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a hit-and-run accident under Vehicle Code 20001. These include showing that:
- there was no injury or death,
- it was unsafe to stop, and/or
- the accused was not the driver
|Hit and run causing injury or death in California
|As a misdemeanor:
As a felony:
|Hit and run causing only property damage in California
|Always a misdemeanor:
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When is hit and run a felony?
- 2. How do I fight a “hit and run with injury” charge?
- 3. What are the penalties for felony hit and run?
- 4. Related offenses
1. When is hit and run a felony?
Vehicle Code 20001 VC is the California statute that makes it a felony for a person to flee the scene of an accident in which another person has been injured or killed.1 It is the injury that makes the crime of hit and run chargeable as a felony. If the accident only causes property damage but no injury, then it can only be filed as a misdemeanor.
A prosecutor must prove four things in order to successfully convict a person of hit and run felony.2
- while driving, the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident,
- the accident caused injury or death to someone other than the defendant,
- the defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, that he had been involved in an accident that injured or killed another person3, and
- the defendant willfully failed to perform one or more of the following duties:
- (a) to immediately stop at the scene of the accident,
- (b) to provide reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident4, and/or
- (c) to give to the person injured, or any police officer at the scene of the accident, his personal information (e.g., name and current address).5
Someone commits an act “willfully” when he does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he intend to:
- break the law,
- hurt someone else, or
- gain any advantage.6
In giving personal information, an accused must have provided enough information so that an injured person or a law enforcement officer understood the accused was driving the vehicle.7
Note that a driver’s duty to stop applies no matter what party or driver caused the accident and injury.8
Also note that this duty applies even if an accident occurred on private property.9
If a defendant is convicted of felony hit and run, then a judge:
- may award restitution for those injuries caused by the defendant’s criminal flight, but
- may not award restitution for injuries resulting from the accident itself.10
2. How do I fight a “hit and run with injury” charge?
Three common defenses to VC 20001 accusations are:
- there was no injury or death,
- it was unsafe to stop, and/or
- the accused was not the driver.
2.1. There was no injury or death
An accused is only guilty under VC 20001 if the accused failed to stop after an auto accident caused some type of injury or death to another person. This means it is a defense for a defendant to show that, while the defendant may have sped off after an accident, no injury or death was involved. But, the driver in this case could still be guilty of a crime (misdemeanor hit and run, per VC 20002), if the driver fled and there was property damage involved in the accident.
Example: Jim is driving when he hits a bicyclist and flees the scene. The bike is bent but the cyclist is fine. But the cyclist decides to fake various injuries to get Jim in big trouble. Jim gets arrested for felony hit and run. But Jim’s attorney obtains medical records that show the cyclist sustained no bodily injury. Since the only damage was to the bike, the charge gets lessened to misdemeanor hit and run.
Defense attorneys may rely on medical experts to testify that a “victim’s” injuries are false or self-induced.
2.2. It was unsafe to stop
Sometimes the safest thing to do after a collision is to keep driving. This may be true if:
- There is no place to pull over safely;
- The other driver – or other people on the scene – appear angry and ready to fight the defendant; or
- The defendant is transporting someone to the ER, and there is no time to stop
These excuses may be sufficient to persuade the D.A. to reduce or lessen the hit and run charges.
Example: Benny is driving through a rough neighborhood when he T-bones a sedan, causing the passenger in the sedan severe whiplash. Benny initially stops. But then the sedan driver storms over to Benny while holding a pistol. Frightened for his life, Benny floors the gas pedal and speeds away. Here, Benny seems justified in leaving the scene. He feared for his safety. If he gets charged with hit and run, the defense attorney can try to explain to prosecutors that he fled out of necessity.
Benny in the above example would do well to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. The attorney could then help him report the incident to the police in way that shows Benny was blameless for fleeing the scene.
2.3. The accused was not the driver
Collisions often happen in a flash, especially on high-traffic streets. And if the at-fault driver flees right away, the victim may have no idea what the driver looks like.
Example: Owen parks his Porsche at a valet. The valet driver Ted takes it for a joyride. But then Ted sideswipes another car, causing the other driver a fractured collarbone. Ted flees the scene and returns the Porsche to valet. But the injured driver manages to get down the car’s license plate number. Soon police identify the car owner as Owen and arrest him for felony hit and run. But Owen has proof he was at work at the time of the collision. So prosecutors dismiss the case against Owen.
Often there is a lack of evidence tying the owner of a car to the culprit in a hit and run. And if car owners have alibis placing them away from the collision, the hit and run charges should get dropped.
3. What are the penalties for felony hit and run?
A violation of VC 20001 is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.11
If charged as a misdemeanor, a hit and run conviction is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine between $1,000 and $10,000.12
Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation.
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the state jail for up to four years, and/or
- a maximum fine between $1,000 and $10,000.13
In lieu of prison time, a judge may award a defendant with felony (or formal) probation.
4. Related Offenses
There are three crimes related to felony hit and run. These are:
- misdemeanor hit and run – VC 20002,
- driving under the influence – VC 23152a, and
- vehicular manslaughter – PC 192c.
4.1. Misdemeanor hit and run – VC 20002
Vehicle Code 20002 VC sets forth the California law on misdemeanor hit and run.
According to VC 20002, it is a crime for a person to fail to stop his vehicle, after being involved in an accident, when the accident resulted in some type of property damage.14
Note that a driver’s duty to stop applies no matter what party or driver caused the accident.15
A violation of this statute is charged as a misdemeanor in California.16
The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.17
4.2. Driving under the influence – VC 23152a
Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC is the California DUI law that makes it a crime for a person to operate a motor vehicle while “under the influence” of alcohol.18
“Under the influence” means that a driver’s physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that he can no longer drive as well as a cautious sober person.19
In California, motorists can be prosecuted under this statute even if their blood alcohol concentration was below 0.08%.
A first, second and third offense under VC 23152a are charged as misdemeanors in California. Penalties for a DUI conviction may include:
- misdemeanor probation,
- DUI school, and
- a driver’s license suspension (though it may be possible to continue driving if the defendant installs an ignition interlock device (IID) in his car).
4.3. Vehicular manslaughter – PC 192c
According to PC 192c, a person commits this crime when he:
- causes the death of another person while driving a vehicle, and
- does so by negligently committing either an unlawful act that is not a California felony, or a lawful act that may cause death.20
The penalties for this offense depend on whether the defendant acted with
- gross negligence, or
- ordinary negligence.
If an accused acted with gross negligence, then vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.21
The maximum misdemeanor sentence is one year in county jail. The maximum felony sentence is six years in state prison.22
If an accused acted with only ordinary negligence, then Penal Code 192c is a California misdemeanor. The maximum sentence is one year in county jail.23
Were you accused of felony hit and run in California? Call us for help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 20001 VC, we invite you to contact our criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 by phone, on social media, or through our contact form. We are based in Los Angeles but create attorney-client relationships throughout the state.
Also see our article on the hit and run investigation process in California.
For hit and run accusations in Colorado, please see our article on Colorado Hit-and-Run / Leaving the Scene of an Accident (CRS 42-4-1601 & 42-4-1602) and felony hit-and-run (CRS 42-4-1601).
- California Vehicle Code 20001 VC. This code section states: “The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident…”
- CALCRIM No. 2140. Failure to Perform Duty Following Accident: Death or Injury—Defendant Driver (Veh. Code, §§ 20001, 20003 & 20004).
- See also People v. Holford (1965), 63 Cal.2d 74.
- See also People v. Scheer (1998), 68 Cal.App.4th 1009.
- See People v. Crouch (1980), 108 Cal.App.3d Supp. 14.
- CALCRIM No. 2140.
- People v. Kroncke (1999), 70 Cal.App.4th 1535.
- People v. Scoﬁeld (1928) 203Cal. 703.
- People v. Stansberry (1966) 242 Cal.App.2d 199.
- People v. Martinez (2017), 2 Cal. 5th 1093.
- California Vehicle Code 20001 VC.
- See same.
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code 20002 VC.
- People v. Scoﬁeld (1928) 203 Cal. 703.
- California Vehicle Code 20002c VC.
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code 23152a VC.
- California Vehicle Code section 23152 VC.
- California Penal Code 192c PC.
- California Penal Code 193 PC.
- See same.
- See same.