There are certain responsibilities that we all agree to when we get a license to drive an automotive vehicle. These duties all have an important goal: to make the roads as safe as possible. One of those responsibilities that is incredibly important is stopping to offer assistance, call for help, and staying present at the scene of any accident in which you’re involved..
But life is never as cut and dry as we would like and that means there are a number of potential reasons that may cause you to fail to stop when you should. But only some of those reasons work as a potential defense to a hit-and-run charge.
To see how a hit & run charge is defended, we must first make sure we understand how a hit-and-run is defined. With a definition in hand, we’ll be able to look at what steps should have been taken after you are involved in an accident. Finally, we’ll see what kinds of defenses an experienced attorney will consider for a charge like yours.
What is a Hit-and-Run in Virginia?
Virginia Code § 46.2-894 informs us that:
- “The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident in which a person is killed or injured or in which an attended vehicle or other attended property is damaged shall immediately stop as close to the scene of the accident as possible without obstructing traffic…” and identify yourself to law enforcement authorities, the other involved person if possible, or to someone traveling with the other involved person.
This might be a bit of a wordy way to express it but it covers the key features of a hit-and-run:
- The duty to stop falls on the driver (mostly)
- There must be an accident
- A person must be injured or killed, or an attended property must be damaged
- You must stop where it is safe to do so without getting in the way of traffic
- You must identify yourself to law enforcement and to the other person or their companion.
These features are important to digest because a solid defense against a hit-and-run charge must challenge some of them. If the necessary elements are not there, a charge would be inappropriate.
Hit-and-run can be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. There are also similar charges for passengers involved in a hit-and-run, so it is possible to be charged with a form of hit-and-run without having been behind the wheel. If the driver fails to report the accident, every person 16 years and older has a duty to report their own identification information and the name of the driver to law enforcement within 24 hours.
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident – Driver (Felony): Accident with an attended vehicle or property that caused death, injury, or more than $1,000 in property damage. This is a Class 5 felony that is punishable by one to 10 years in prison, or at the discretion of the judge, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and/or a fine of not more than $ 2,500. Also, if an accident occured with unattended property and the accident results in injury to or the death of any person then it is a Class 6 felony punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years, or in the discretion of the judge confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and/or a fine of not more than $ 2,500.
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident – Driver (Misdemeanor): An accident with an attended vehicle or property in which there was no injury or death and less than $1,000 in property damage is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and/or a fine of not more than $ 2,500. Additionally, if the vehicle or other property struck is unattended and the damage is less than $250 then it is a Class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $250.
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Attended Property – Passenger (Felony): If the accident caused injury or death and you failed to contact the proper authorities, it is a Class 6 felony that is punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years, or in the discretion of the judge confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and/or a fine of not more than $ 2,500.
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident with Unattended Property – Passenger (Misdemeanor): Passengers cannot be charged with a felony for an accident only resulting in property damage, only a misdemeanor. If the accident resulted in only property damage it is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by jail for not more than 12 months and/or a fine of not more than $ 2,500. If the damage is less than $250 then it is a Class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $250.
What Are You Supposed to Do at the Scene of an Accident?
As the description of a hit-and-run informs us, it is the driver’s duty to find a place where they can safely park and contact the authorities. This should be the first thing you do when involved in any kind of serious accident or minor ones, too.
You also have an obligation to report any injuries, your name, address, driver’s license number and vehicle registration number to law enforcement and the other driver. You should offer assistance to anyone that is injured and try to get them medical care.
If you hit a parked car or unattended property then it is your responsibility to make a reasonable effort to find the owner. If you are unable, you are supposed to leave a note with your contact information. Regardless of whether you found the owner, you are also responsible for contacting and letting the police know within 24 hours.
What Defenses Are There for a Hit-and-Run Charge in Virginia?
There are a few different defenses which an experienced attorney may use. One is to look at the details of the situation and see if it even fits a hit-and-run charge. The charge may be completely inappropriate out of the gate.
Leaving the scene of a mishap is a crime and this means that the authorities have certain obligations to follow when investigating. An attorney might find that the police failed to secure the proper warrants or other aspects of law enforcement procedures that they are legally required to uphold. A failure to follow proper procedure could be ground to get your charges dropped.
Another angle of defense is to accept that the situation occurred but to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Judges may be more lenient upon seeing that the driver in the case has taken it upon themselves, even at their attorney’s recommendation, to take specific driving classes or programs. These might not eliminate charges but they can reduce the punishments imposed.
Should I Get an Attorney if I’ve Been in a Hit-and-Run?
An attorney isn’t just your friend in the courtroom. They’ll help you to investigate the circumstances around the situation resulting in your charges. These investigations let you gather resources that help prove your innocence. Plus, they’ll understand all the laws you don’t yet.
This makes an attorney not just a good resource to have at your side when facing a hit-and-run charge. It makes them the best resource you could have. So yes, you should absolutely work with an attorney like Seth C. Weston if you’ve been charged with hit-and-run, DUI, or reckless driving in Virginia.