Suppose someone were accused of hitting another vehicle with their vehicle. Suppose that the vehicle were sufficiently loud, bouncy, and difficult to maneuver (for instance, a 1970 Ford F250) that the driver did not realize they hit anything. If the driver would have known, they would have stopped and given their insurance information. If the driver is charged with hit and run (in Los Angeles County, California), what does that mean for the driver?
Hit and run, with no injury, is subject to Vehicle Code 20002. A person who fails to stop and notify has committed
a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.
The description of the crime is 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. Moving the vehicle in accordance with this subdivision does not affect the question of fault.
The scary language of the statute notwithstanding, one element of the crime is missing, namely knowingly doing so. The corresponding jury instruction incorporates the full law including caselaw requirements, in particular
To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:
- While driving, the defendant was involved in a vehicle accident;
- The accident caused damage to someone else’s property;
- The defendant knew that (he/she) had been involved in an accident that caused property damage [or knew from the nature of the accident that it was probable that property had been damaged]; AND
- The defendant willfully failed to perform one or more of the following duties: (a) To immediately stop at the scene of the accident; OR (b) To immediately provide the owner or person in control of the damaged property with (his/her) name and current residence address [and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle the defendant was driving]
This means you either need to learn how to defend yourself in court against an experienced lawyer (if you didn't know this aspect of the law, you probably shouldn't assume you can carry off this defense), you give in and plead guilty and take your chances, or you hire an attorney. Just saying "I didn't know" is not good enough, so lawyer up.