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How You Should Deal With a Hit and Run Case
After practicing criminal law for over 20 years I have built up an impressive number of successful results in hit and run cases [California Vehicle Code Section 20002(a)]. The following describes the manner in which I handle these cases and it is the way every lawyer should handle these cases although in fact few do.
Just so its clear: hit and run in California occurs when someone hits another vehicle OR some other property (guardrail, wall, curb) and causes damage no matter how little and then fails to report it to the party who owns the property OR report it to the CHP within 2 hours of the accident. (California Vehicle Code Section 20002(a))
The first thing anyone should do when they have committed a hit and run is contact a qualified lawyer. DO NOT speak to the police without speaking to a lawyer first. Although you may think its obvious you were responsible for the accident you have no way of knowing what the police know. DO NOT make their case for them by confessing.
Commonly, after a hit and run, the police will get the plate number from a witness and then go to the person’s house right away. If you are at home the police can arrest you but generally they will give a citation if the only damage is property damage. If they smell alcohol OR suspect drug use around the time of driving they can treat you like a drunk driving/driving under the influence suspect and ask you to perform field sobriety tests and even require you to give blood or breathe to assess you for intoxication and then decide whether or not to arrest you for Driving under the Influence (DUI). A chemical test taken within three hours of driving may be used as evidence against you in a Drunk Driving case. (Some hit and run drivers leave the scene because they are intoxicated.)
The police may also decline to track down the individual that night or be unable to locate them and so they might just send a letter to the individual’s address based on the plate number from a witness. DO NOT call the officer. Speak to a qualified lawyer first. Please note that if you decline to have a lawyer call the police they might issue a warrant for you.
Once the police have made contact in person or by letter the lawyer should speak to the police and try to settle the matter PRIOR to the case getting sent to the District Attorney’s office. (The police are responsible for the investigation but it is the District Attorney who takes the investigation and files charges with the court).
California permits suspects in some property crimes to resolve their cases through a process called Civil Compromise under Penal Code Sections 1377-1378. This provision allows money to be paid to the victim to compensate them for their loss and the case dismissed. While the law specifically says that the judge and the victim must be in agreement for this to occur, in practice, the police investigating the matter can resolve the case in the manner of a civil compromise with the result that the police investigation is never sent to the District Attorney and the matter is simply closed without input from a judge. Attorney Will Bruzzo has managed to convince many police officers and victims of these crimes to agree to a civil compromise resolution. This is the ideal result because not only is there no court appearance but there are no charges filed. This is as clean a result one can achieve for a client in this situation.
If the victim or the police officer is not interested in civil compromise (strictly speaking if there is bodily injury to an individual then civil compromise is not appropriate but in practice hit and run cases with bodily injury can still be resolved with civil compromise.) then the case will proceed to the District Attorney’s office. It is good practice to also attempt to resolve the matter with the District Attorney prior to them filing; certainly no harm is done in trying. If the victim agrees to the civil compromise and signs an agreement to that effect or has verbally agreed, then the District Attorney can accept that arrangement and not file the case.
If all those attempts at civil compromise fail, then ultimately the Attorney can propose a civil compromise to the Judge. I have had cases where the District Attorney objected to the civil compromise but the victim wanted to resolve the matter in that way and the Judge went along and dismissed the case.
In summation, it is important to get a qualified attorney involved quickly in the process and try to resolve the case as early as possible. The three stages which provide an opportunity for resolution are: (1) during the police investigation; (2) when the matter is with the District Attorney but not filed; and (3) in court.
Attorney William W. Bruzzo has built up a practice of successfully resolving many hit and run cases [California Vehicle Code Section 20002(a)] without the client ever entering a plea of guilty or even going to court on some occasions, despite the fact the client clearly violated the law.