In Virginia, fleeing or leaving the scene of a traffic accident or committing “hit-and-run”– and particularly if anyone has been injured – is a serious crime. If you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident, you must be advised and defended by a Roanoke hit-and-run attorney.
A felony conviction for leaving the scene of an accident in Virginia can mean jail or prison, a harsh fine, and a driver’s license revocation or suspension. If serious injuries or a fatality happen, or if drugs or alcohol are involved, a term in jail or prison is the probable sentence.
But until it happens, none of us can know how we might respond to the powerful emotions – like fear and panic – that can surface when a serious accident occurs. Each hit-and-run case is unique. In 2018, more than 4,800 hit-and-run incidents were reported in Virginia.
What Can Determine the Outcome of a Hit-and-Run Case?
The precise details of any particular hit-and-run accident, and how the drivers and passengers involved respond or fail to respond in those circumstances, will be critical elements in determining a defendant’s guilt or innocence.
How is hit-and-run or “leaving the scene of an accident” defined in Virginia? What are the penalties for drivers who are convicted of leaving the scene? Are there penalties for passengers? How will a Virginia hit-and-run lawyer defend you against a leaving the scene charge?
If you’ll keep reading, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you’ll also learn more about your rights if you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident in the Roanoke area or anywhere in the state.
How is the Law Against Leaving the Scene Enforced in Virginia?
Virginia’s “hit-and-run” statutes are found in Virginia Code §§ 46.2-894 through 46.2-900, but they don’t use the terms “hit-and-run” or “leaving the scene of an accident.” Everyone in Virginia should know the two key provisions of the law against leaving the scene of an accident:
- The law applies to both passengers and drivers. You could face penalties even if you weren’t driving when the accident happened. If a passenger age 16 or older is in the vehicle involved in a traffic accident and leaves the scene, that person may be charged.
- Your legal duties after a traffic accident do not hinge on who was at fault for the crash. Everyone involved must stop, and a driver must provide the driver’s name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number to the police, and if anyone is injured, summon medical help.
Why Do People Leave the Scene of Accidents?
Leaving the scene is often linked with other crimes. A driver may decide to flee from an accident because that driver:
- has no auto insurance or has no valid driver’s license
- is driving a stolen vehicle
- is driving under the influence
- is carrying illegal drugs or weapons
- has been named in an active arrest warrant
Leaving the scene is a crime that can happen whenever a traffic accident occurs. If you are involved in a traffic collision, get the other vehicle’s description and license plate number first. Until the police arrive, stay alert to the possibility that the other driver might attempt to flee.
How Does Virginia Prosecute Leaving the Scene Cases?
Leaving the scene is typically reported by accident victims or witnesses. If you leave an accident scene without reporting the accident to the police, summoning needed medical assistance, or – for drivers – exchanging the required information, you could face criminal charges.
If a suspect can be identified, police officers obtain an arrest warrant. At an arraignment hearing, a judge explains to the suspect his or her charges and rights. The penalty for a leaving the scene conviction will be determined by the answers to these questions:
- Was the defendant a driver or a passenger in the accident?
- Was the damaged vehicle occupied?
- Were there victims who suffered injuries or death?
- What is the total cost of the damages?
What Penalties Are Imposed for a Leaving the Scene Conviction?
Most leaving the scene charges in Virginia will be prosecuted as Class 4 misdemeanors, Class 1 misdemeanors, Class 5 felonies, or Class 6 felonies. What are Virginia’s penalties for someone who is convicted of leaving the scene of an accident?
- The charge is a Class 4 misdemeanor if the damaged property or vehicle was unattended and the damage is valued at less than $250. A Class 4 misdemeanor conviction is penalized by a fine of not more than $250.
- The charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor if the damaged property or vehicle was attended and the damage is valued at under $1,000, or if unattended, the damage is valued at $250 to $1,000. A Class 1 misdemeanor conviction may be penalized with up to twelve months in jail and/or up to a $2,500 fine.
- A driver who fled from an accident that resulted in one or more injuries or fatalities or in property damage exceeding $1,000 could be charged with a Class 5 felony punishable upon conviction with a prison term of one to ten years, or alternatively, up to twelve months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
- A passenger who fled from an accident that resulted in one or more injuries or fatalities or in property damage exceeding $1,000 could face a Class 6 felony charge punishable upon conviction with one to five years in prison, or alternatively, up to twelve months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Virginia prosecutors also have the discretion to charge a passenger with a lesser, misdemeanor leaving the scene charge.
What Defenses Can Be Offered?
A Roanoke criminal defense attorney may offer one of these defenses on your behalf if you are charged with leaving the scene of an accident:
- You were neither a driver nor a passenger in the accident.
- You were injured in a way that prevented you from complying with the law.
- You were injured in a way that temporarily diminished your ability to think clearly.
- The police violated your legal rights during an arrest, search, or interrogation.
If you have left the scene of an accident in or near the Roanoke area, or if you think that you will be charged with leaving the scene, arrange to speak with a Roanoke hit-and-run attorney as quickly as you can.
If you’re placed under arrest and charged with leaving the scene, politely exercise your right to remain silent, don’t answer any questions, and insist on having your attorney present during any questioning.
That is your right. Make certain that you are represented by a Roanoke defense lawyer who will advocate – aggressively and effectively – for justice on your behalf and take your leaving the scene case to its best possible conclusion.