Vehicle Code 20002 VC - Misdemeanor Hit and Run in California

Updated


Vehicle Code 20002 VC
is the California statute that defines the crime of misdemeanor hit and run. This section makes it a crime for a person to flee the scene of an accident that resulted in some type of property damage. This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail.

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.”

California law requires a driver involved in an accident (that causes property damage or injuries) to stop at the nearest safe location and:

  1. locate the owner(s) of the other vehicle(s)
  2. present one's drivers license and vehicle registration, if requested
  3. present the current residence address of the driver and the registered owner
  4. 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

The distinction between misdemeanor and felony hit and run turns on whether or not someone was injured. If the accident only caused property damage, then the state can only file misdemeanor charges. If the victim of the hit and run suffered a bodily injury, the felony hit and run under Vehicle Code 20001 VC may be charged.

Examples

  • Colliding with another vehicle and then driving away
  • Hitting and damaging a light poll and fleeing the scene
  • Striking a parked car and not leaving a note for the owner

Defenses

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 victim agreed to a civil compromise

Penalties

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.

Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).

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

Head on car crash

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 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:

  1. while driving, the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident,
  2. the accident caused damage to someone else's property,
  3. the defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, that he had been involved in an accident that caused property damage, and
  4. the defendant willfully failed to stop at the scene of the accident or failed to provide the owner of the damaged property with his identifying information (e.g., his name and current address).2

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.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 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).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 hit and run cases.8

courtroom with judge at helm
A good legal defense can get your charges reduced or even dismissed

2. Are there legal defenses to VC 20002?

Three common defenses to VC 20002 accusations are:

  1. There was no property damage,
  2. The defendant did not realize there was a collision, and/or
  3. The victim agreed to a civil compromise

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 the police 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 collisions 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 misdemeanor hit and run.

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, 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 victim agreed to a civil compromise

Prosecutors are often willing to drop misdemeanor hit and run charges if the defendant pays the victim full restitution for damages. This is called a "civil compromise." This may include money for:

  • Car repairs;
  • Insurance deductables; and
  • Any other out-of-pocket expenses

Example: Carla is driving when she rear-ends another car by mistake. Scared, Carla immediately drives away. The police later arrest her for hit and run. The other driver was not hurt. But the other car sustained $2,000 worth of damages. Carla volunteers to pay the entire amount. Since the other driver is satisfied by this, the D.A. elects to drop the criminal charges.

VC 20002 cases typically involve only property damage. And as long as the victim becomes "whole" financially, the D.A. may agree to dismiss the criminal case.

man behind bars

3. What are the penalties?

A violation of this statute is charged as a misdemeanor in California.9

The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.10

Please note that in lieu of jail time, a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary probation).

4. What crimes are related to hit and run?

There are three crimes related to this section. These are:

  1. felony hit and run – VC 20001,
  2. driving under the influence – VC 23152a, and
  3. driving without a license – VC 12500a.

4.1. 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 was injured or killed.11

Although the law is called "felony" hit and run, 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

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.15

"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.16

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 is charged as misdemeanors in California. Penalties for a DUI conviction may include:

4.3. 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

Call us for help…

criminal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 20002 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 20002 VC. 

  2. 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.

  3. See same.

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

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

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

  7. People v. Fimbres (1930), 288 P. 19.

  8. People v. Dimacali (2019), 32 Cal. App. 5th 822.

  9. California Vehicle Code 20002c.

  10. See same.

  11. California Vehicle Code 20001.

  12. See same.

  13. See same

  14. See same.

  15. California Vehicle Code 23152a.

  16. California Vehicle Code 23152.

  17. California Vehicle Code 12500a.

  18. California Vehicle Code 40000.11.

  19. California Penal Code 19.8.

  20. California Penal Code 19.

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