At Virginia Criminal Attorney Firm, we believe that the best defense begins with you picking the right attorney, thus, we offer customized criminal defense services which are tailored to meet each client needs while serving the areas of Fairfax, Virginia and the entire Northern Virginia area.
A hit and run conviction according to Virginia laws could lead to serious implications on your life such as a suspended driver’s license, demerits points on your driving record, potential jail time and heavy fines, increased vehicle insurance premiums, and a permanent criminal record. Therefore, we invite you to join us as we elaborate further and in detail on the law in regards to a hit and run charge and cover potential defenses that could lead to reduced charges or even a dismissal of your alleged offense.
When Can a Hit and Run Crime be Charged in Virginia?
A hit and run charge, also commonly known as ‘leaving the scene of an accident’ charge, could be preferred if you left the scene of an accident without stopping to identify yourself as the driver of a vehicle involved in the accident. The charge does not matter who is to blame for the accident. The law may also punish passengers sixteen (16) years and above in vehicles involved in a hit and run accident, that go over a twenty-four (24) hour period without being reported to law enforcement from the occurrence of the accident.
Under the Virginia Code, sections 46.2-894, 46.2-895, 46.2-896, 46.2-897, 46.2-898 and 46.2-899 the law obligates you as a driver of a vehicle which has caused or has been involved in an accident to:-
- Make a stop as near as possible to the scene of the accident without hindering the movement of other vehicular traffic,
- Give out your personal information such as the driver’s name, their physical address, the vehicle license plate number and the driver’s license number to a police officer, the victim in the accident who can be either a pedestrian or a driver, any of their passengers, a witness in the scene of the accident and the owner of any destroyed property as a result of the accident,
- Offer any required medical assistance to anyone who sustains injuries due to the accident, including taking them to a hospital or calling emergency response teams if need be,
- Make sensible attempts to locate the owners or custodian of any unattended property or unattended vehicles damaged in the accident and report your personal credentials including driver’s name, contact information, and vehicle registration and license number details to other parties involved. In cases where the other parties are untraceable, the law requires you to make a note which indicates your name, physical address, contact information, vehicle registration number, and driver’s license details and place the note in such a way that it is conspicuous to any concerned parties at the scene of accident on the damaged property.
- Make a report in writing to Virginia State police within 24 hours after the accident indicating the date, time and location of the accident and give a driver’s description of any property damage.
A driver is exempted from adhering to the above requirements if they are too injured in the accident to comply. They are however required to report to law enforcement as soon as possible after recovery. They are also supposed to locate the victims of the accident or the custodians of any damaged property and give them their personal contact information, the vehicle registration number, and the driver’s license information.
In regards to this statute, an accident is considered to be any physical contact between your vehicle and any other vehicle, a pedestrian, or any object/property at the scene of the incident which leads to undesirable and unplanned results that could have been avoided. Also, the alleged driver has to be the proximate cause of the unfortunate incident. Finally, this law applies regardless of the amount of damage caused to property, or where the accident occurred, even if on a highway, public road or even on private property.
As noted earlier, passengers aged 16 years and over who are in a vehicle which is alleged to have been involved in a hit and run accident, are bound by law to report the incident to any law enforcement agency in case the driver fails to comply as required by the Virginia code. This applies to both cases of attended or unattended property. The passenger should make a written report to the law enforcement, within 24 hours of the accident as it is stipulated under Virginia Code 46.2-895 and Virginia Code 46.2-897.
What does a Prosecutor have to Prove for a Conviction in a Hit and Run Charge in Virginia?
If you as a driver in the Commonwealth of Virginia left the scene of an accident in which you were involved in without fulfilling the requisite legal obligations, it might be assumed that you escaped avoiding being charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, you did not possess a valid driver’s license as it is required by law or your car was not insured. However, these assumptions may not be enough or even necessarily convict you for a hit and run offense.
A Virginia prosecuting attorney is bound by law to prove the following facts beyond any doubt in order to obtain a conviction in criminal proceedings. They will have to show the court that you were a driver or a passenger in the alleged vehicle which drove off from the accident scene, that you had or should have had the perception that an accident which resulted in damage to property or injuries to other road users had happened, and that you as a driver did not make a stop as close to the scene as possible to report your personal details as required or to render help to the victims. In Addition, as a passenger of over 16 years or more, you never bothered to report the incident within 24 hours as it is obligated by law.
The commonwealth attorney is also bound by law to affirm to the court that you did not make any attempt to contact the victims of the unfortunate incident nor did you leave a noticeable note at the scene indicating your contact information.
What are the Penalties for a Hit and Run Conviction?
In Virginia, the punishment for a hit and run conviction is determined by;
- Whether the defendant was a passenger or driver in the alleged vehicle,
- Whether the property or vehicle damaged in the incident was attended to or not,
- Whether the victims of the accident sustained any injuries or fatalities,
- The total cost of the damage caused.
In case you were the driver in a hit and run accident which resulted in death or injury of the victims or led to the damage of attended property whose cost exceeds a thousand dollars ($1000), you could face a Class 5 felony charge. A conviction under this class of felonies could lead to a jail term of 1-10 years and a two thousand five hundred dollars ($2500) fine maximum.
A defendant who was a passenger in a hit and run accident where fatalities or injuries were reported, or which led to the destruction of an attended property that exceeds a thousand dollars ($1000) in repairs could face a class 6 felony charge. A Class 6 felony is seen as the least of felonies and is considered a wobbler. This means that the defendant might face a felony charge or a misdemeanor charge depending on the facts of their case. A sentence under this class could mean a fine of two thousand five hundred dollars ($2500) or less and a prison term of between 1-5 years.
If the defendant was a driver in a hit and run accident which resulted in less than a thousand dollars ($1000) in damage to attended property, or led to more than two fifty dollars ($250) in damage to unattended property, they could be charged under a class 1 misdemeanor. Sentencing under this class could mean a 12 months jail term and fines not exceeding $2500. The defendant gets charged under a class 4 misdemeanor if the damaged property was not attended, and the valued costs of the damages did not exceed two fifty dollars ($250). The Fine for a class 4 misdemeanor conviction is a sum not exceeding $250.
A passenger in the alleged vehicle could face a class 1 misdemeanor charge if the accident resulted to any damage to attended property or motor vehicles, and a class 4 misdemeanor charge in the case of damaged, unattended property whose cost is not over $250. The passenger may get a $2500 fine or a 1-year jail term under a class 1 misdemeanor sentencing, or a $250 fine if they are sentenced under the class 4 misdemeanor charges.
In the commonwealth, if you are convicted of a hit and run crime as a passenger or driver in a vehicle where damage to property with or without a handler exceeds $500, you could get your driver’s license suspended for six months. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) could also suspend your driver’s license if you are charged as guilty of a hit and run offense where you are the driver in an accident which results in injuries or fatalities. This suspension will last for up to a year.
In an unfortunate case where you are convicted guilty more than 3 times for the violation of the Virginia code which prohibits the act of hit and runs involving an attended or unattended property, with you being a passenger or a driver, you could have your driver’s license revoked for a period of 5 years maximum.
What Should You Expect in a Virginia Hit and Run Charge?
A hit and run case is first reported to state officers typically by a witness at the scene of the accident, or the victims of the incident. Virginia’s law enforcement officers proceed to obtain an arrest warrant for your arrest and subsequent arraignment in court where a judge informs you of your charges and privileges.
A defense lawyer from Virginia Criminal Attorney Law Firm and the attorney representing the commonwealth may be able to agree on a deal for reduced charges if you agree to no contest or plead guilty to the charges. This is usually true in a case you are facing felony hit and run charges.
After a cause hearing and bench trial, the judge will rule on your charges after considering the facts of your case. In some instances, the defendant may prefer to face a jury trial going by the facts of their case. This is however not advisable, given the unpredictability of jury trials and increased chances for harsh verdicts.
A felony hit and run crime in Virginia starts at the district court but could also be heard in a circuit court. This happens if the district court judge finds you culpable for this crime and they forward your case to the jury to determine whether you should be prosecuted in a circuit court. If they indict you, your charges are filed in a circuit court.
What are the Available Defenses for a Hit and Run Charge in Virginia?
A Virginia Criminal Attorney Law Firm defense lawyer could be able to poke holes to any circumstantial or factual evidence that may be presented by a commonwealth prosecuting attorney in a bid to obtain a favorable outcome for their client’s charges for leaving the site of an accident.
We present below possible defenses that could be argued by our attorney on your behalf.
A defense lawyer could articulate to the court that you were neither the driver of the alleged vehicle nor a passenger in it. This works well if you have evidence to present with an alibi. It could also benefit your argument to show the court that someone else was operating your car when the accident occurred.
Secondly, our attorney could help you explain to the court that you sustained significant injuries in the accident which rendered it impossible for you to follow the law as it is required of you. It may help you if you bothered to report the incident immediately the moment you were able to. Sometimes you could argue that the injuries you sustained diminished your ability to perceive things significantly.
Thirdly, you and your attorney could contend that the police did not follow the right procedure while executing their arrest if a warrant had been issued. You may be able to convince the judge to have the case dismissed on these grounds.
Finally, It is advisable that you engage one of our lawyers early enough to refer you to a program in either service to community or defensive driving classes which you may enter into before your court proceedings, informed by the circumstances surrounding your accident, attending these classes will show to the court that you are willing to become a responsible driver without intervention from the justice system.
How can I Appeal a Hit and Run Conviction
If unsatisfied with a verdict, you may decide to appeal a lower court’s decision in a higher court. Given that you could expose yourself to potential harsher punishments, you should first seek careful consult of our attorneys.
The process to appeal is determined by the type of charges you were facing, that is, misdemeanor or felonious charges. Misdemeanor charges allow a second trial in the circuit court which is also an automatic privilege. This also grants you the chance to petition to have a jury trial instead of the bench trial if your attorney proposes it.
Felony charges for leaving the scene of an accident are however appealed to the Court of Appeals in Virginia, which may decide to assess the evidence presented against you and change your sentence. Even though appealing to this court is a difficult and time-consuming process, it may bear fruit if your attorney advises you to do so.
A revision of your verdict, however, is only possible if the judge in the lower court; illegally issued a verdict by applying improper laws, abused their legal discretion and ability to judge, or they came up with a verdict based on wrong and misleading representation of facts.
Finding a Virginia Hit and Run Defense Attorney Near Me
We would like to advise our readers and clients that the best move to make when you are faced with these charges, would be to consult a well informed and experienced attorney. The Virginia Criminal Attorney Firm has the experience and expertise to evaluate your hit and run case and tell you the possible outcomes of your case. Doing this early enough allows you and your lawyer to come up with many possible defense strategies thus increasing your chances for a favorable outcome.
Contact our Fairfax Criminal Lawyer by calling 703-718-5533 to schedule a free consultation. We serve the areas of Fairfax and all of Northern Virginia. There is no time to waste so give us a call now!