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Defenses to a Hit and Run Involving Death

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Oct 30, 2023

Many people either have a warrant out for their arrest or are charged with a California Vehicle Code 20001 VC felony hit and run that resulted in death. Typically, we see that a lot of people were intoxicated at the time that they got in the accident. 

In other words, Vehicle Code 20001 VC is the statute defining felony hit and run with injury. This law makes it a crime to flee the scene of a car accident in which another person has been injured or killed.

If the accident only causes property damage but no injuries, then prosecutors can only file misdemeanor hit-and-run charges per Vehicle Code 20002 VC. But if the accident injures or kills another person, the state can charge the more serious crime of felony hit and run.

Defenses to a Hit and Run Involving Death
California Vehicle Code 20001 VC is the statute for felony hit and run resulting in death.

Unfortunately, for the police and prosecutors in these scenarios, a lot of times they can't prove the DUI because unless they get their hands on the person, they are unable to test them to prove that they were drinking and driving, and a lot of times they may suspect it but don't have the evidence to prove it.  But once caught, that person is still left with a felony hit and run, resulting in death.

Vehicle Code 20001 says, "(a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person other than themselves, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004.

(b) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), a person who violates subdivision (a) shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison or in a county jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.

(2) If the accident described in subdivision (a) results in death or permanent, serious injury, a person who violates subdivision (a) shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years or in a county jail for not less than 90 days nor more than one year, or by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine. However, in the interests of justice and for reasons stated in the record, the court may reduce or eliminate the minimum imprisonment required by this paragraph.

(3) In imposing the minimum fine required by this subdivision, the court shall take into consideration the defendant's ability to pay the fine and, in the interests of justice and for reasons stated in the record, may reduce the amount of that minimum fine to less than the amount otherwise required by this subdivision.

(c) A person who flees the scene of the crime after committing a violation of Section 191.5 of, or paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 192 of the Penal Code, upon conviction of any of those sections, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed, shall be punished by an additional term of imprisonment of five years in the state prison. This additional term shall not be imposed unless the allegation is charged in the accusatory pleading, admitted by the defendant, or found to be true by the trier of fact. The court shall not strike a finding that brings a person within the provisions of this subdivision or an allegation made pursuant to this subdivision.

(d) As used in this section, “permanent, serious injury” means the loss or permanent impairment of function of a bodily member or organ."

Accident Was Not Your Fault

One possible defense in these cases is that whatever accident occurred was not your fault.  Let's say that somebody ran a red light, struck your vehicle, and ended up dying, and you fled the scene for whatever reason. 

The argument could be that you're not the one that caused the person's death.  They caused their death because they ran the red light.  The substantial factor test sometimes occurs when two or three entities, people, or situations cause a death.  Let's say two drivers were both equally at fault. 

One was driving under the influence, and a death occurred with the driver who was not under the influence.  Suppose the prosecutors can show that the driver under the influence was a substantial factor in the accident, hence the death. In that case, they can prosecute them for the hit and run, and then because the person died, they would have that additional allegation in there.

You Were Not Driving

So, one potential defense is that you didn't cause the accident.  Another possible defense I see a lot in these cases because the car drove away is that you were not the one driving the vehicle.  The police, obviously, know this defense, so they will try to prove that you were, in fact, driving the car.

Defenses for Hit and Run Charges
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If there's video at the intersection where the accident happened, somebody at the scene can identify you if you're the registered owner and admit you were driving the car. 

That's why it's essential in this run causing death; you want to get an attorney immediately.  I have you come in.  We sit down and go over all the details and discuss the best moves in the future. if we decide, we will contact law enforcement because they will ultimately come to you anyway.

I often see people's license plates fall off at the accident scene, so they get arrested later on because the police eventually figure out who they are.  Somebody gets the license plate at the location.  If this is going to happen, we may decide that the best move is simply to have me contact the police on your behalf, find out who the investigating officer or detective is on the case, and play from there. 

So, there are defenses to these cases, but obviously, each case turns on its facts.  I've been doing this now for 30 years.  I started out working for the district attorney's office. I became a superior court judge in the early 1990s and became a criminal defense attorney, and I've been defending people like you. So, if you need the best, you've come to the right place.  Pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. 

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.