Criminal Penalties for a Hit and Run

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A hit and run accident occurs when you hit another person, someone else’s property, or another vehicle and you flee the scene of the accident. Hit and runs carry potentially serious legal penalties.

Obligations in a Car Accident

The penalties for a hit and run accident can vary by state. In every jurisdiction, the law mandates that you stop your vehicle if you are involved in an accident. The law also requires that you:

  • Exchange insurance information with the driver of the other vehicle
  • Determine the physical status of the passengers in the other vehicle and obtain medical help if necessary
  • Contact the police to inform them of the accident and comply with all requests of law enforcement including remaining at the scene if necessary
  • Produce a drivers license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration upon the request of the other drive and/or upon the request of law enforcement officials
  • Submit to a breathalyzer or other test of intoxication or impairment if law enforcement officials have reason to suspect impaired driving

Different states may also phrase the rules differently or have slightly different requirements, but in general the purpose behind requiring you to stop at accidents you cause is to ensure that the other driver is safe and to ensure that the police have an opportunity to determine the extent of damage and the cause of the accident.

What Happens if You Hit and Run

If you do not stop at the scene of the accident, your behavior is considered a “hit and run.” This encompasses all accidents in which you hit someone or something and you leave the scene before speaking to the owner and/or law enforcement.

The specific criminal penalties for a hit and run vary depending on the state and the nature of the accident.  The penalties are generally less stringent if the hit and run involved only property than if the hit and run involved another person or vehicle. The penalties for a hit and run can also depend on whether the offense is a first offense, and whether other individuals involved in the accident were severely injured.

In Delaware, for example, a hit and run in which you injured someone is classified as a misdemeanor and is punishable by between one to two years in jail as well as a fine. The punishment for a hit and run in which you killed someone, however, is a class E felony and you will have to serve a minimum of one year, and the sentence cannot be a suspended sentence for the first six months.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are involved in a hit and run accident, you should consult with an experienced criminal lawyer in your state. He can help you determine the potential penalties you face and can help you make a decision about turning yourself over to law enforcement and/or negotiating a plea agreement in regards to the hit and run charges.