Author: Mariya Melkonyan | Published: November 13, 2023 | Category: DUI

Hit-and-run DUI charges are some of the most complex in California because they involve two separate offenses.

So much so that penalties can range from small fines to life in prison, depending on the severity of the incident and other aggravating factors.

Here, you’ll learn all you need to know about hit-and-run DUI (California) cases, including the penalties, laws, example cases, and how to navigate them.

The sooner a knowledgeable DUI attorney gets involved in your case, the higher the chances of a successful defense. Contact Maryia Melkonyan at or (424) 901-3131.

Definition of Hit-and-Run DUI (California)

Man ducking near his car with a hand on his head denoting worry with text over which reads hit-and-run DUI (California) — penalties, charges, laws, and more. Additional text at the bottom reads The Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan.

In short, a hit-and-run DUI in California involves two crimes — driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol and leaving the accident scene.

Let’s dive deeper into each of these charges.

What Is Considered a Hit-and-Run in California?

A hit-and-run happens when a driver flees the scene after striking another vehicle, object, or person.

By law, drivers are required to remain at the scene when an accident happens. They’re also responsible for exchanging contact information and insurance cards, and calling the authorities.

Because the gravity of a hit-and-run varies greatly, it’s a wobbler offense. This means the prosecutor can choose to file the case as a felony or as a misdemeanor.

For example, while an accident that caused property or vehicle damage will result in a misdemeanor, an accident causing personal injury or death will be tried as a felony. Even if the victim suffers very minor injuries, it’ll likely still be charged as a felony.

What Is Considered Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in California?

DUI charges result from operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In legal terms, a person is deemed “intoxicated” when they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more. Legal drugs and over-the-counter medications can lead to a DUI arrest just like illegal drugs.

For instance, driving under the influence of marijuana or sleep aid medications is illegal.

While most DUI cases are classified as misdemeanors, a few DUI charges in California are filed as felonies, including:

Since DUIs can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, they’re considered a wobbler offense. While it makes these charges more complex for the average person, it gives a savvy attorney more room to argue a case.

If you’re being charged with DUI, hit-and-run, or both. Call Maryia Melkonyan at (424) 901-3131 or email her at to schedule a free initial case review.

DUI Hit-and-Run Examples

As mentioned, a DUI hit-and-run involves driving drunk or on drugs and fleeing the scene after an accident. 

The question is: what counts as an “accident”? Here are some examples:

  • Colliding with a parked or moving vehicle
  • Side-swiping another vehicle
  • Hitting a pedestrian, cyclist, or animal
  • Damaging public property (e.g., traffic signs)
  • Colliding with an object (e.g., a tree)

In addition, both unintentional and intentional instances can be considered DUI hit-and-runs, and fault does not determine hit-and-run charges — it’s everyone’s legal duty to remain at the scene even if another driver is to blame for the accident.

What Happens if You Get into an Accident While Drunk in California and Flee the Scene?

If you get into an accident while drunk in California, you’ll be persecuted under California Vehicle Code 23152 or 23153. Even if you’re drunk or on drugs, you must call the police if you get into an accident.

The consequences can range from getting a small fine to life in prison, depending on the aggravators.

Let’s go over the penalties for a DUI and hit-and-run to better understand why the potential consequences vary this much.

What Is the Penalty for a DUI in California?

In California, first-time DUI offenders can get one or more of the following penalties:

  • $390 to $1,000 in fines
  • Three to five years of probation
  • 48 hours to six months in jail
  • Community service
  • Six-month driver’s license suspension
  • Completion of a state-approved DUI education program 
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in the offender’s vehicle

Subsequent DUI offenses, aggravating factors, and other considerations can lead to increased penalties — more on this later.

What Is the Penalty for a Hit-and-Run in California?

The penalties for hit-and-run misdemeanors in California typically include:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • One to three years of probation
  • Up to six months in jail

Whereas for hit-and-run felonies, penalties usually include:

  • Up to $10,000 or more in fines
  • Three to five years of probation
  • Two to four years in state prison for injury-related cases
  • Longer state prison sentences for cases involving death

Note that the driver can get both prison or probation time and a fine. They may also have to compensate the victim for medical expenses and lost wages.

What Are the Penalties for a Hit-and-Run DUI in California?

In California, there’s no specific charge for hit-and-run DUIs. Instead, the driver will face multiple charges and get a combination of the penalties mentioned above.

This is one of the reasons why hit-and-run DUI charges are some of the most complex — hiring an experienced DUI attorney can be the difference between paying a fine or doing jail time. 

Penalties for a hit-and-run DUI depend on the gravity of the offense, prior strikes, and other aggravators. Let’s go over a few examples to understand how penalties can go from small fines to a life sentence.

Example 1: No-Fault Hit-and-Run DUI Causing Minor Injuries

To convict a driver of a hit-and-run DUI felony, the prosecution has to prove:

  • Intoxication
  • And a traffic law violation
  • Or negligence resulting in injury

For instance, if an intoxicated driver is involved in an accident and another person gets minor injuries, but they did not violate traffic laws and the other driver was at fault, an experienced DUI defense attorney can likely reduce the charges to a misdemeanor.

Example 2: At-Fault Hit-and-Run DUI Causing Death

Vehicular manslaughter involves causing someone’s death by driving with gross negligence. The penalty is a maximum of six years in state prison. But it’s a wobbler offense — it can be reduced to a misdemeanor.

However, if the driver is intoxicated and flees the scene, the sentence can range from several years to life in prison.

Example 3: At-Fault Hit-and-Run DUI Causing Death with Aggravators

When a person has a prior DUI conviction and subsequently causes a fatal accident while driving under the influence, they may be charged with second-degree murder. This is known as “Watson murder” and can also result in a life sentence.

The sad reality is that whatever charges you’re facing, the prosecutor will push for the highest penalty possible — even without full evidence.

A seasoned DUI defense attorney will fight for you and make sure the circumstances of your case are presented fairly. They may even get the charges reduced or dismissed altogether.

Contact Maryia Melkonyan today for expert legal defense in your hit-and-run DUI case.

If Convicted and Sentenced to Prison, Are the Sentences Served Concurrent or Cumulative?

If convicted and sentenced to prison, the judge may order the sentences to be carried out concurrently or cumulatively (i.e., at the same time or after one another).

This is another reason why hiring a DUI defense lawyer immediately is crucial. The sooner an attorney gets involved in your case, the higher the chance of a successful defense.

Additional Penalties for a Hit-and-Run DUI in California — Insurance, Driving Privileges, and More

In addition to fines and imprisonment, a hit-and-run DUI conviction may result in:

  • Losing certain driving privileges
  • IID installation for breathalyzer tests 
  • Completion of a court-approved DUI education program
  • Insurance becoming more expensive or refused altogether
  • Insurance policies being cancelled post-conviction
  • High-risk insurance (SR-22) being mandated
  • Paying a hefty restitution to the victim
  • Living with a criminal record, which will likely affect employment and housing opportunities

Are There Legal Defenses to a Hit-and-Run DUI Accident in California?

There are various legal defenses for a hit-and-run accident in California.

A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney can boost your chances of getting the sentence reduced or even dismissed. They can:

  • Reduce penalties by negotiating a plea bargain
  • Prepare you for your DMV hearing, so your license doesn’t get suspended
  • Advise you on the best strategy and guide you through the complex legal system

As a former Deputy District Attorney with 13 years of experience, Maryia Melkonyan has prosecuted all sorts of felony and misdemeanor cases, including several DUIs and hit-and-runs.

Knowing how prosecutors think allows her to anticipate their every move and build an airtight defense strategy for you. Contact her today for a free initial case review.

FAQs About Hit-and-Run DUI in California

What Happens if You Refuse to Take a Blood-Alcohol Test?

You’re not legally obliged to take a field sobriety test. However, refusing a chemical blood-alcohol test leads to license suspension and will aggravate your case if you’re charged with a DUI offense.

Can You Get a DUI Days After an Accident?

Yes, you can get a DUI charge days after an accident if law enforcement gets evidence (e.g., eyewitnesses).

How Long After an Accident Can You Be Charged with DUI?

You can get charged with a misdemeanor DUI up to one year after the event, or up to three years later for felony DUIs.

How Long Does a Hit-and-Run Stay on Your Record in California?

A hit-and-run conviction stays on the criminal record permanently, affecting several aspects of your life, including access to employment and housing.

Check out our guides on criminal record clearing and criminal record sealing for guidance.

How Many Points Is a Hit-and-Run DUI in California?

A hit-and-run DUI in California can result in two separate point assessments: one for the DUI offense and another for the hit-and-run. The number of points depends on the severity of the incident.

Does Insurance Cover Hit and Run in California?

Yes, insurance in California can cover hit-and-run incidents, particularly with uninsured motorist coverage.

Facing Hit-and-Run DUI Charges? An Expert DUI Attorney Will Fight for You 

Hit-and-run DUI charges are complex and potentially very damaging.

On one hand, dealing with two wobbler offenses and a long list of potential aggravators makes it incredibly hard for the average person to navigate.

On the other hand, they give an experienced DUI attorney several angles to argue your case — that’s why it’s crucial to get competent legal representation as early as possible.

With 13 years of experience as a former Deputy District Attorney, Maryia Melkonyan will use her expertise to fight for you and ensure no stone is left unturned.  Schedule your no-obligation case review today.

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