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Is there a statute of limitations for a charge of hit and run in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

hit and run car bumper damaged

Under Assembly Bill 184, the statute of limitations (“SOL”) for a charge of hit and run in California is six years.

AB 184 was signed into law in 2014. Prior to this signing, the SOL for a hit and run charge was three years.

Under California criminal law, a statute of limitations refers to the maximum time period for which a prosecutor can file charges of an offense.

According to California law, “hit and run” is when a motorist hits a vehicle, person, or some property and then fleas the scene of the crime. The offense can be either a:

Please note that the law has a statute of limitations for crimes in order to help ensure fairness for defendants.

What is the statute of limitations for a California charge of hit and run?

Under Assembly Bill 184, the SOL for a charge of hit and run in California is six years.

This means a prosecutor must file a hit and run charge within six years from the date a motorist commits the offense. If he/she fails to do so, then no charges can be brought.

AB 184 was signed into law in 2014. Prior to this signing, the SOL for a hit and run charge was three years.

What is misdemeanor hit and run per Vehicle Code 20002?

Vehicle Code 20002 VC is the California statute that defines the crime of misdemeanor hit and run.

A person may be charged with this crime if he:

  1. leaves the scene of an accident,
  2. does so without first identifying himself to the other party or parties involved, and
  3. another's property was damaged in the accident.

These elements apply in every car accident, regardless of:

  • who was at fault, or
  • the amount of damage inflicted.

A violation of VC 20002 is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

What is felony hit and run per Vehicle Code 20001?

Vehicle Code 20001 VC is the California law that defines the crime of felony hit and run.

A prosecutor must show that a defendant did the following in order to prove that he is guilty under VC 20001:

  1. he was involved in an accident that resulted in injury or death to another,
  2. he knew an accident had occurred,
  3. he knew EITHER:

(a) that someone (other than himself) was injured or killed, OR

(b) that the accident was of such a nature that it was probable that another person was

injured or killed, and

  1. he willfully failed to inform someone of the accident.

Even though this offense is called "felony" hit and run, a violation of Vehicle Code 20001 is actually a wobbler. This means that the prosecutor can charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on:

  • the facts of the case, and
  • the defendant's criminal history.

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

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

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

  • imprisonment in the county jail for between 16 months and three years, and/or
  • a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000

If someone (other than the defendant) was killed or suffered a permanent, serious injury in the accident, then the defendant could face two to four years in state prison.

Why does the law have statute of limitations?

Statute of limitations exist to help ensure fairness for defendants. Evidence often gets lost or destroyed with the passage of time. Witnesses to crimes may also move after several years, or, they may no longer recall certain facts that took place. The result is that it would be unfair to pursue criminal charges against a person after a certain period of time has passed.

What is the Discovery Rule?

The Discovery Rule is used to determine when the statutory period for bringing criminal charges begins. The rule says that the SOL clock begins to run when an offense is discovered. So, for example, a person may commit a hit and run on January 1, 2019. If authorities do not learn of the crime until January 1, 2020, then they have until January 1, 2026 to bring charges.

Is there a statute of limitations for all crimes?

There is a statute of limitations for most crimes in California.

While the majority of misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of one year, California Penal Code 801 PC says that felonies have a SOL of three years.

But note that not all crimes have a statute of limitations. Under California Penal Code 799 PC, charges of the following crimes can be brought against a person at any time:

  • offenses punishable by death;
  • offenses punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for life or for life without the possibility of parole; and,
  • embezzlement of public money.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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