Vehicle Code 20002 VC is the California law that defines misdemeanor hit and run. This section makes it a crime to flee the scene of an accident, without stopping and providing your information, when the accident caused damage to other vehicles or property.
20002 VC states that “the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists.”
Misdemeanor hit and run is punishable by up to 6 months in jail, fines of up to $1000.00, restitution to the victims for any property damage, and 2 points on the person’s California driving record.
The distinction between misdemeanor and felony hit and run turns on whether or not someone was injured. If the accident only causes property damage, then the state can only file misdemeanor charges. If the victim of the hit and run suffers bodily injury or death, then felony hit and run under California Vehicle Code 20001 VC may be charged.
California law requires a driver involved in an accident (that causes property damage or injuries) to stop at the nearest safe location and:
- locate the owner(s) of the other vehicle(s)
- present one’s drivers license and vehicle registration, if requested
- present the current residence address of the driver and the registered owner
- if the owner of the other vehicle is not present, leave a note in a conspicuous place with one’s address information and explaining the circumstances of the accident
VC 16025 requires the drivers to exchange insurance information as well or face infraction penalties of $250.
Examples of hit and run:
- Colliding with another vehicle and then driving away
- Hitting and damaging a light pole and fleeing the scene
- Striking a parked car and not leaving a note for the owner
There are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 20002. These include showing that:
- there was no property damage,
- the defendant did not realize there was a collision, and/or
- the defendant was misidentified
A violation of VC 20002 is charged as a misdemeanor in California (as opposed to a felony or an infraction).
The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
In lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When is hit and run a misdemeanor in California?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to VC 20002?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. What if the damage only occurred to my car?
- 5. What are related crimes?
1. When is hit and run a misdemeanor in California?
Vehicle Code 20002 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to fail to stop his/her vehicle, after being involved in an accident, when the accident resulted in some type of property damage.1
A prosecutor must prove four things in order to successfully convict a person of misdemeanor hit and run. These are:
- while driving, the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident,
- the accident caused damage to someone else’s property,
- the defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, that he/she had been involved in an accident that caused property damage, and
- the defendant willfully failed to stop at the scene of the accident or failed to provide the owner of the damaged property with his/her identifying information (e.g., such required information includes name and current address and insurance).2
Someone commits an act “willfully” when he/she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he/she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.3
In providing identifying information, an accused must have provided enough information so that the owner of the damaged property understood the accused was driving the vehicle.4
Note that a driver’s duty to stop at the accident scene applies no matter what party or driver caused the accident.5
Also note that this duty applies even if an accident occurred on private property (e.g., as in the case of a motorist driving through a homeowner’s fence). If the owner of the vehicle or damaged property is not there, the driver should leave a written note.6
Property damage under this statute does include any damage to a dog or other pet.7
Finally, California courts recently stated that civil compromises can no longer be used in misdemeanor California hit and run cases.8
2. Are there legal defenses to VC 20002?
Three common defenses to VC 20002 accusations are:
- There was no property damage,
- The defendant did not realize there was a collision, and/or
- The defendant was misidentified
Should the case go to trial, the D.A. must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
2.1. There was no property damage
An accused is only guilty under VC 20002 for failing to stop after an auto accident that caused some type of property damage. This means it is a defense for a defendant to show that, while the defendant may have sped off after an accident, no property damage was involved. It is also a defense for a defendant to show that, while the defendant’s own car may have been damaged, no other property was affected.
Example: Ed is parking when he dings the car behind him. Ed sees a scratch on his fender. But the other car shows no signs of damage. Ed also takes a photo of the car to show there is no damage. Ed then drives away without leaving a note.
A pedestrian who saw the collision writes down Ed’s license plate number. Then the pedestrian calls law enforcement to report a hit and run. But when Ed explains that only his car was damaged, any charges should be dropped.
Prosecutors do not care if an at-fault driver’s property was damaged. All that matters is any other property damage the collision caused. So that Ed’s car in the above example got dinged does not hurt his case.
2.2. The defendant did not realize there was a collision
It is not uncommon for minor car accidents to occur without one or both drivers realizing it. And if a driver has the radio on high, the driver may genuinely be oblivious to minor scrapes.
Example: Lara is driving on a windy day. Debris is constantly hitting her windshield and hood. During a sneeze she swerves, making contact with the car to her right and causing a slight dent. Lara feels something but assumes it is just more debris. Lara keeps driving. The other driver gets her license plate number. And Lara gets arrested for violating VC 20002.
Lara’s attorney explains to prosecutors that she would never intentionally flee the scene of an accident. And the attorney produces a weather report from that day showing particularly high winds. If the prosecutor realizes Lara had no criminal intent due to her lack of knowledge, the charges could be dropped. Then Lara would only be civilly liable to pay for the other driver’s repairs.
This “ignorance” defense is more effective when the defendant is driving an older or lower-cost car. More modern, high-end cars have sensors that beep loudly when other cars get too close.
2.3. The defendant was misidentified
The nature of hit-and-run accidents is that the culprit drives away too fast for anyone at the scene to get a good look at him or her. This can lead to innocent people being misidentified as the suspect.
Example: Jeffrey and his friend Cal both have black, curly hair. One day Jeffrey borrows Cal’s sedan. Jeffrey accidentally grazes a pedestrian with the side mirror, panics, and drives away. The pedestrian – who is not injured – manages to take a photo of the sedan, which shows the back of Jeffrey’s head and the license plate numbers. Police trace it to Cal and arrest him for hit and run. The pedestrian picks Cal out of a line up because of the black, curly hair. Fortunately, Cal’s attorney finds traffic camera footage near the time of the crash, showing that the person in the sedan was Jeffrey and not Cal.
Prosecutors often have insufficient evidence to positively identify who the at-fault driver was. In addition to relying on surveillance video, defense attorneys try to find eyewitnesses and any recorded communications showing that the defendant had an alibi at the time of the crash.
3. What are the penalties?
Hit and run causing no injury is punishable in California by:
- imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.9 10
Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).
In cases where the defendant made full restitution to the victim, the judge may dismiss the criminal as part of a PC 1377 civil compromise. This is more common for first-time offenders who were not drinking at the time.
4. What if the damage only occurred to my car?
It is not a California crime to leave the scene of an accident that caused no injuries or damage to the other car. But to be safe, the driver should take photos of the other car to show no damage occurred.
If the driver is unsure whether property damage occurred, then the driver should stop and exchange information with the other driver. Or if the other car was parked and unattended, the driver should leave a conspicuous note. Examples of car accident damage that may not be visible include:
- Misaligned tires;
- Reduced battery life;
- Delays to the computer’s diagnostic system; or
- Broken light bulbs
And anyone the driver hit might seem fine but could have sustained soft-tissue damage – this may take time to manifest.
Either way, most insurance companies require their policy-holders to notify them of all accidents even if they are minor. Otherwise, the insurer may deny any claim that may later arise out of the accident.
5. What are related crimes?
5.1. Felony hit and run – VC 20001
Vehicle Code 20001 VC is the California law that defines the crime of felony hit and run.
This section makes it a felony for a driver to flee the scene of an accident when another person killed or had a serious injury. Drivers are supposed to stop and give reasonable assistance to injured persons.11
A violation of VC 20001 is a wobbler offense. This means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.12
If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.13
If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by up to three years in state prison.14
5.2. 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.15
“Under the influence” means that a driver’s physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that he/she can no longer drive as well as a cautious sober person.16
In California, motorists can be prosecuted under this statute even if their blood alcohol concentration was below 0.08%.
A first, second or third offense under VC 23152a is charged as misdemeanors in California. Penalties for a DUI conviction may include:
- misdemeanor probation,
- DUI school, and
- a suspended license (though it may be possible to continue driving if the defendant installs an ignition interlock device (IID) in his car).
5.3. Driving without a license – VC 12500a
Vehicle Code 12500 VC makes it unlawful for a person to drive in California without a valid driver’s license.17
Note that the driver’s license does not have to be from California. It can be from any jurisdiction as long as:
- it was issued by the state or country in which the driver resides, and
- it is currently valid for the type of vehicle the driver is driving.
Driving without a valid license is a California “wobblette” offense. This means it can be charged as either a California misdemeanor or a non-criminal infraction.18
As an infraction, driving without a license carries a potential fine of up to $250.19
But if charged as a misdemeanor, VC 12500a can be punished by:
- up to six months in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.20
See our related article on Driving on a Suspended License (VC 14601.1(a)).
Call us for help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a hit and run offense under Vehicle Code 20002 VC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers can be reached 24/7. We are based in Los Angeles County but have law offices throughout the state of California, such as Pasadena, Orange County, Riverside, Long Beach, San Bernardino, San Diego, and more.
You may also wish to review our article on How long after a hit and run can I be charged?
For accusations in Colorado, please see our article on: “Colorado Hit and Run charges / Leaving the Scene of an Accident (42-4-1601 & 42-4-1602 C.R.S.).”
And, for accusations in Nevada, please see our article on: “Hit and Run Laws in Nevada (NRS 484E.010), Explained by Las Vegas DUI Defense Attorneys.”
- California Vehicle Code 20002 VC.
- CALCRIM No. 2150. Failure to Perform Duty Following Accident/Property Damage—Defendant Driver (Veh. Code, § 20002). See also People v. Carbajal (1995), 10 Cal.4th 1114.
- See same.
- People v. Kroncke (1999), 70 Cal.App.4th 1535.
- People v. Scoﬁeld (1928) 203 Cal. 703.
- People v. Stansberry (1966) 242 Cal.App.2d 199.
- People v. Fimbres (1930), 288 P. 19.
- People v. Dimacali (2019), 32 Cal. App. 5th 822.
- California Vehicle Code 20002c.
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code Section 20001.
- See same.
- See same
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code 23152a.
- California Vehicle Code 23152.
- California Vehicle Code 12500a.
- California Vehicle Code 40000.11.
- California Penal Code 19.8.
- California Penal Code 19.