Car accidents usually make people think of civil liability—issues like who will have to pay for the damage and any injuries. Most drivers are also aware of how accidents can affect auto insurance rates.
But, if you get into an accident and don't abide by certain requirements, you can end up facing criminal charges, regardless of who was at fault for the collision. Hit-and-run is a crime that has to do with the aftermath of an accident rather than its cause.
In this article, we'll explain how hit-and-run is generally defined and the consequences you could face for a hit-and-run conviction.
The laws of each state are a little different. However, all states impose certain duties on drivers who are involved in an accident. When a driver fails to meet these duties, he or she can be charged with what is commonly called a "hit-and-run" offense.
The laws of most states don't actually use the term "hit-and-run." Generally, hit-and-run statutes use more descriptive terms. Some examples include:
But regardless of the official name, attorneys, judges, and pretty much everyone else tend to use the term hit-and-run for short.
To establish a hit-and-run charge, prosecutors must prove several elements in court. Typically, these elements consist of showing the driver was involved in an accident resulting in property damage or injuries and that the driver failed to:
These elements are fairly consistent among states, though the details sometimes differ.
Generally, drivers must stop and provide information when an accident involves property damage or injuries. So, if a driver just hits a curb or something like that and there's no damage or injuries, the driver doesn't have to stop or do anything else.
State laws differ somewhat on the specific information a driver must provide at the scene of an accident. However, in most states, drivers are required to provide at least some of the following:
Generally, drivers must provide this information to all others involved in the accident, including other motorists and pedestrians.
Typically, drivers must make reasonable efforts to locate the owner of an unattended vehicle or property that is damaged in an accident. In most situations, leaving a note (that includes the information listed above) in a conspicuous place will suffice.
Drivers who are involved in an accident that involves injuries or death generally must remain at the scene of the accident and provide reasonable assistance. In most cases of this type, rendering aid or assistance means contacting medical personnel and/or law enforcement.
Laws can provide stiff punishment for hit and run, though specific penalties vary from state to state. In most places, prosecutors can charge the offense as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case.
A collision that results in a death or serious injuries will typically lead to felony hit-and-run charges. In some states, even a hit-and-run accident that causes significant property damage can mean a felony charge. Typically, though, if no one was injured in the collision, the charge will be a misdemeanor.
Both felony and misdemeanor convictions can result in jail sentences (felony convictions can even lead to prison time), fines, and license revocation.
A misdemeanor hit-and-run conviction generally carries:
Depending on the circumstances, the convicted motorist might also face license suspension or revocation for up to a year or so.
The consequences of a felony hit-and-run conviction are normally quite a bit more severe than those for a misdemeanor violation. Depending on the situation, the convicted driver could be looking at:
The penalties tend to be most serious in cases where someone was killed or seriously injured.
As mentioned above, car accidents usually involve civil liability. Hit-and-run collisions are no exception. Usually, civil liability is just the amount it takes to pay for damages and actual injuries. However, hit-and-run accidents sometimes involve punitive damages, which can significantly increase the amount the driver has to pay.
If you've been arrested in relation to a hit-and-run accident, the consequences can be severe. A qualified criminal defense attorney can let you know how the law applies in your case and whether you have any viable defenses. Having an experienced attorney at your side can make all the difference when you're facing serious criminal charges.