Vehicle Code 20001 VC – Felony “Hit and Run” in California

 


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 for a person to flee the scene of an accident in which another person has been injured or killed.

While this statute sets forth the law regarding felony hit and run, VC 20002 sets forth the California law on misdemeanor hit and run.

According to 20001 VC:

“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.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 20001. These include showing that:

Penalties

A violation of VC 20001 is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine between $1,000 and $10,000.

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.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

cyclist injured in auto accident

1. When is hit and run a felony?

Vehicle Code 20001 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to flee the scene of an accident in which another person has been injured or killed.1

A prosecutor must prove four things in order to successfully convict a person under this statute.2 These are:

  1. while driving, the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident,
  2. the accident caused injury or death to someone other than the defendant,
  3. the defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, that he had been involved in an accident that injured or killed another person3, and
  4. 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 police 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?

If a person is accused of felony hit and run, then he can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.

Three common defenses to VC 20001 accusations are:

  1. no injury or death,
  2. falsely accused, and/or
  3. coerced confession.

2.1. No injury or death

Recall that an accused is only guilty under VC 20001 if he failed to stop after an auto accident caused some type of injury or death to another person. This means it is always a solid legal defense for a defendant to show that, while he 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 he fled and there was property damage involved in the accident.

2.2. Falsely accused

Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to get prosecuted based on false allegations. People get falsely accused out of

  • jealousy,
  • revenge, and
  • anger.

Thus, it is a valid defense for a defendant to say that a party falsely accused him of violating Vehicle Code 20001.

2.3. Coerced confession

California law states that police may not use overbearing measures to coerce a confession.

If a party can show that the police coerced him into a confession, then:

  1. the judge may exclude the confession from evidence, or
  2. the case could get dropped altogether if the party got pressured into confessing to a crime he didn't commit.
money under a gavel
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

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, the crime 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:

  1. misdemeanor hit and run – VC 20002,
  2. driving under the influence – VC 23152a, and
  3. 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:

4.3. Vehicular manslaughter – PC 192c

Penal Code 192c is the California statute on vehicular manslaughter.

According to PC 192c, a person commits this crime when he:

  1. causes the death of another person while driving a vehicle, and
  2. 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…

california personal injury attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 20001 VC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

For hit and run accusations in Colorado, please see our article on: “Colorado Hit-and-Run / Leaving the Scene of an Accident (42-4-1601 & 42-4-1602 C.R.S.).

And, for hit and run accusations in Nevada, please see our article on: “Hit and Run Laws in Nevada (NRS 484E.010), Explained by Las Vegas DUI Defense Attorneys.”


Legal References:

  1. 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…”

  2. CALCRIM No. 2140. Failure to Perform Duty Following Accident: Death or Injury—Defendant Driver (Veh. Code, §§ 20001, 20003 & 20004).

  3. See also People v. Holford (1965), 63 Cal.2d 74.

  4. See also People v. Scheer (1998), 68 Cal.App.4th 1009.

  5. See People v. Crouch (1980), 108 Cal.App.3d Supp. 14.

  6. CALCRIM No. 2140.

  7. People v. Kroncke (1999), 70 Cal.App.4th 1535.

  8. People v. Scofield (1928) 203Cal. 703.

  9. People v. Stansberry (1966) 242 Cal.App.2d 199.

  10. People v. Martinez (2017), 2 Cal. 5th 1093.

  11. California Vehicle Code 20001 VC.

  12. See same.

  13. See same.

  14. California Vehicle Code 20002 VC.

  15. People v. Scofield (1928) 203 Cal. 703.

  16. California Vehicle Code 20002c VC.

  17. See same.

  18. California Vehicle Code 23152a VC.

  19. California Vehicle Code 23152 VC.

  20. California Penal Code 192c PC.

  21. California Penal Code 193 PC.

  22. See same.

  23. See same.

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