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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
In California, first-time DUI offenders can get one or more of the following penalties:
Subsequent DUI offenses, aggravating factors, and other considerations can lead to increased penalties — more on this later.
The penalties for hit-and-run misdemeanors in California typically include:
Whereas for hit-and-run felonies, penalties usually include:
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.
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.
To convict a driver of a hit-and-run DUI felony, the prosecution has to prove:
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.
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.
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, 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.
In addition to fines and imprisonment, a hit-and-run DUI conviction may result in:
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:
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.
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.
Yes, you can get a DUI charge days after an accident if law enforcement gets evidence (e.g., eyewitnesses).
You can get charged with a misdemeanor DUI up to one year after the event, or up to three years later for felony DUIs.
A hit-and-run conviction stays on the criminal record permanently, affecting several aspects of your life, including access to employment and housing.
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.
Yes, insurance in California can cover hit-and-run incidents, particularly with uninsured motorist coverage.
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.