What Is the Hit-and-Run Investigation Process in California?

Hit and run investigation process in California - HendersonWere you recently involved in an accident where the other driver fled the scene? The focus is naturally on your health and safety, but once the dust settles, questions arise. Like, Do police investigate hit-and-runs? What are the penalties for the driver who fled? 

Like most states, California takes hit-and-run accidents seriously. It has a defined investigation process and legal consequences for perpetrators. This blog post will guide you through the process, explore the legal ramifications for perpetrators, and outline resources available to help you get compensation for your injuries.

The Hit-and-Run Investigation Process in California

The physical injuries you may have sustained are compounded by the frustration of the driver fleeing the scene, leaving you with unanswered questions and financial burdens. However, understanding the investigation process, your role in aiding it, and your legal options can empower you to move forward with greater clarity and confidence.

Reporting the Accident

Once you’ve ensured your safety and gathered any possible evidence, contact the police to report the hit-and-run accident. Your cooperation and detailed recollection of the incident can significantly aid the investigation. The more information you can give the police, the better-equipped law enforcement will be to apprehend the perpetrator. 

Documenting the Accident Scene

The initial steps taken by law enforcement will focus on securing the accident scene and collecting any available evidence to help identify the hit-and-run driver. Officers will act swiftly to secure the accident scene, preventing further accidents or contamination of evidence. They will then thoroughly document the scene with photographs of skid marks, debris scattered across the roadway, and any damage to your vehicle. Detailed measurements and diagrams of the accident scene are also crucial for accident reconstruction experts, who may be called upon later to analyze the events that transpired.

Interviewing Witnesses

The police will prioritize interviewing any bystanders who may have witnessed the accident. These interviews aim to gather details about the hit-and-run vehicle, the driver’s behavior, and the direction they fled in. The more information witnesses can provide, the better law enforcement’s chance of identifying the culprit. Officers will obtain contact information from the witnesses if further clarification or details are needed later in the investigation.

Collecting Physical Evidence 

Officers will meticulously collect any physical evidence found at the scene. Physical evidence could include paint chips from the hit-and-run vehicle, fragments of broken glass, or even tire tracks left behind on the pavement. This physical evidence can be compared to specific vehicle models later, helping to narrow down the search. Additionally, officers might collect any debris from the at-fault vehicle, such as hubcaps or trim pieces, which can provide valuable clues about the make and model.

Checking Vehicle Records

Once the initial scene investigation is complete, law enforcement will shift gears toward identifying the driver responsible. Your ability to provide a detailed description of the vehicle involved in the hit-and-run investigation process is vital. A proper vehicle description includes the vehicle’s make, model, and color, as well as any distinctive features like bumper stickers, spoilers, or unique rims. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be for law enforcement to narrow their search. Recalling details like the vehicle’s condition (dents, scratches, rust) or any unusual sounds it made (engine noise, exhaust leaks) can also be helpful.

Authorities will conduct a comprehensive search of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records for vehicles matching the description you provided, along with details like location and time of the accident. These details can give a pool of potential leads for further investigation. For example, if you recall a specific license plate detail or a unique identifying feature, officers can use that information to narrow the DMV search considerably.

Canvassing the Area

Depending on the circumstances of the accident, officers might canvass the surrounding area for additional witnesses or video footage. Canvassing could involve visiting nearby businesses or homes to see if security cameras captured the hit-and-run incident. Witness accounts from bystanders who may not have been directly involved in the accident but saw something suspicious in the moments leading up to or after the collision can be instrumental in identifying the culprit.

By combining witness statements, physical evidence, and a detailed vehicle description, law enforcement can build a solid case to help identify the hit-and-run driver.

Penalties for Hit-and-Run Offenders in California

California law mandates that drivers involved in any accident resulting in injury or property damage stop and exchange information. Leaving the scene of an accident constitutes a hit-and-run violation. The severity of the charges depends on whether the accident resulted in property damage, injury, or death.

Here’s a breakdown of the relevant California Vehicle Code (CVC) sections:

  • Misdemeanor hit and run. If the accident results in property damage only, the offender faces a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Felony hit and run with injury. If the accident results in injury, the offense becomes a felony, with potential consequences of up to 3 years in state prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and a suspended driver’s license.
  • Felony hit and run with death. In the tragic event of a hit-and-run accident resulting in death, the offender faces a significant felony charge, potentially leading to 4 years to life in state prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and a revoked driver’s license.

Knowing the legal ramifications for hit-and-run drivers can provide some peace of mind, but the emotional and financial impact on victims requires further exploration. While the criminal justice system focuses on punishing the offender, a personal injury lawsuit allows you to pursue compensation for the damages you’ve incurred. Compensation may include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and even property damage. If you’ve been injured in a hit-and-run accident, Henderson Law can help you throughout the legal process and fight for the maximum compensation you deserve.

Resources for Victims of Hit and Runs

The emotional and financial toll of a hit-and-run accident can be significant. Here are some resources available to help victims in California:

The California Victim Compensation Board (VCB)

The VCB offers financial assistance for hit-and-run accidents that result in injury or death. Financial assistance can help cover medical bills, lost wages, and funeral expenses. It’s important to note that VCB benefits have limitations and may not fully compensate for all your losses. For a comprehensive recovery plan that addresses pain and suffering, lost future wages, and other damages, a personal injury lawsuit may be necessary. Henderson Law can help you explore all your options and determine the best course of action for your situation.

Hit-and-Run Accident Attorney

Attorneys have access to resources and investigative tools not readily available to the public. They can work with police to analyze the accident scene, interview witnesses, and explore traffic camera footage to identify the hit-and-run driver. The sooner you involve an attorney, the sooner they can begin this investigation, maximizing the chance of finding the culprit.

If the hit-and-run driver can’t be found, your attorney can help you explore other avenues for compensation, such as a claim against your own uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance.

Get Back on the Road to Recovery 

For over 25 years, Michael Henderson has been a fierce advocate for injured victims in Santa Rosa, including those involved in the hit-and-run investigation process. His courtroom experience and relentless pursuit of justice have secured substantial compensation for hundreds of clients. Michael is dedicated to helping those devastated by personal injury. Don’t let a hit-and-run driver leave you stuck with the financial burden of your accident. Contact Henderson Law today for a free consultation, and let us fight for the justice you deserve.