Vehicle Code § 20002a VC defines misdemeanor hit and run as fleeing the scene of an accident causing only property damage and no physical injuries. 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.”
Five key things to know about misdemeanor hit and run are:
- Penalties include a maximum of 6 months in jail or misdemeanor (summary probation), fines of up to $1,000, restitution to the victims for any property damage, and 2 points on your California driving record.
- It is considered “hit and run” to flee any accident without locating the owner(s) of the other vehicle(s) and presenting your license and registration if asked.
- If you hit a parked vehicle and cannot find an owner, then you must leave a conspicuous note with your address and explaining the circumstances of the accident.
- Potential legal defenses include that there was no property damage, you did not realize there was a collision, or you were misidentified.
- Fleeing a car accident that results in physical injury can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony hit and run under California Vehicle Code 20001 VC.
|Hit and run causing only property damage in California||Always a misdemeanor:
|Hit and run causing injury or death in California||As a misdemeanor:
As a felony:
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
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 occurred only 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 to fail to stop your 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 you of misdemeanor hit and run. These are:
- while driving, you were involved in a vehicle accident,
- the accident caused damage to someone else’s property,
- you knew, or reasonably should have known, that you had been involved in an accident that caused property damage, and
- you willfully failed to stop at the scene of the accident or failed to provide the owner of the damaged property with your identifying information(such required information includes your name and current address and insurance.2
Note that your duty to stop at the accident scene applies no matter who caused the accident.3 This duty applies even if an accident occurred on private property (such as in the case of you driving through a homeowner’s fence). If the owner of the vehicle or damaged property is not there, you should leave a written note.4
Property damage under this statute does include any damage to a dog or other pet.5
2. Are there legal defenses to VC 20002?
2.1. There was no property damage
You are guilty under VC 20002 for failing to stop after an auto accident only if it caused some type of property damage. This means it is a defense to show that, while you may have sped off after an accident, no property damage was involved.
It is also a defense to show that, while your own car may have been damaged, no other property was affected.
2.2. You did not realize there was a collision
It is not uncommon for minor car accidents to occur without one or both drivers realizing it. If you had the radio on high, you may genuinely be oblivious to minor scrapes.
This “ignorance” defense is more effective when you are 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. You were 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 them. This can lead to innocent people being misidentified as the suspect.
Police investigation of a hit and run may determine that it was your car, but not necessarily that you were the one driving. Prosecutors often may 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 you 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 $1,000.6
Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award you with misdemeanor (or summary probation).
You also face infraction penalties of $250 in fines if you fail to exchange insurance information in violation of VC 16025.7
Note that California courts recently stated that civil compromises can no longer be used in misdemeanor California hit and run cases.8
4. What if the damage occurred only 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. Though to be safe, you should take photos of the other car to show no damage occurred.
If you are unsure whether property damage occurred, then stop and exchange information with the other driver. Or if the other car was parked and unattended, 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
Anyone you hit might seem fine but could have sustained soft-tissue damage – this may take time to manifest.
Either way, most insurance companies require their policyholders 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?
- DUI (VC 23152(a))
- DUI causing injury (VC 23153)
- Exhibition of speed (VC 23109(c))
- Driving without a license (VC 12500(a))
- 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 consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers can be reached 24/7.
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)”
- California Vehicle Code 20002 VC. See also People v. Greeley (Cal. App. 6th Dist., 2021) 70 Cal. App. 5th 609; People v. Ellis (Cal. App. 5th Dist., 2019) 43 Cal. App. 5th 925.
- 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. You commit an act “willfully” when you do it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that you intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage. In providing identifying information, you must have provided enough information so that the owner of the damaged property understood you were driving the vehicle. (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.
- California Vehicle Code 20002c. See also People v. Busser (Cal. App. 4th Dist. July 20, 2010) 186 Cal. App. 4th 1503.
- VC 16025.
- People v. Dimacali (2019), 32 Cal. App. 5th 822.