Breaking it down
Being charged with hit-and-run or leaving the scene of an accident in Virginia is no mere traffic ticket. The state treats the offense as a felony in some cases that can leave you with a permanent criminal record affecting your ability to get a job or rent an apartment.
- Anyone driver involved in an accident, regardless of fault, is required to immediately stop, provide information to other drivers, injured people, or property owners, and to make a report to police, unless the only damage is to his or her own vehicle.
- Passengers 16 and older also are required to ensure that a report is made.
- It doesn’t matter whether the accident was on public or private property.
- It doesn’t matter how little the dollar amount of property damage was
- Failing to stop or make a report can result in up to 10 years of jail time and a $2,500 fine
Getting into a car accident — whether it’s a head-on crash with injuries or even just accidentally swiping a neighbor’s parked car on a dark street — can be a very stressful event. People don’t always think clearly when a crash happens, especially if there are injuries or serious property damage involved. Reporting the accident may not be the first thing that pops to mind, but if you’re in Virginia and you leave the scene without making a report, you may end up facing serious criminal charges.
Virginia requires any driver involved in an accident involving injury to people or the property of others to make a timely report, regardless of whether the accident happened on a public street or highway or on private property, and regardless of the dollar amount of damage. Any driver or passenger age 16 or older must make a report or ensure a report is made. Under some circumstances, failing to make a report can result in a felony criminal record, years in prison, and thousands of dollars in fines. The exception is when it’s a single-car accident and the only damage is to the driver’s own vehicle.
Cases involving hit-and-run or leaving the scene of an accident charges in Virginia can be complex. A lot of factors are considered when determining the severity of the charge and the penalties upon conviction. Consulting an experienced criminal defense lawyer may be critical to challenging the often-circumstantial evidence presented in hit-and-run cases, and to avoiding lengthy jail time, hefty fines, or loss of driving privileges.
Duty to Stop
When you’re involved in a crash in which someone is injured or killed, or attended property other than your own vehicle is damaged, Virginia Code §46.2-894 says:
- You have a legal obligation to immediately stop
- As close to the accident scene as you can without obstructing other traffic
- And provide your name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number to the police, the person struck, the driver or a passenger from the other car, or to the custodian of the damaged property
- Offer help to anyone injured, within reason, including taking them to a doctor or a hospital if medical treatment appears to be necessary and the person wants treatment
This applies to all drivers involved in the accident, regardless of who may be at fault.
The law makes an exception when you yourself are too injured to immediately comply. In that circumstance, you’re required to make a report to the police as soon as is reasonably possible. You’re also required to locate the person struck (if not a driver), the driver or a passenger from the other vehicle, or to the custodian of the damaged property and provide your information.
For purposes of the statute, an accident has to have involved physical contact between the driver’s vehicle and another vehicle, person, or object, or the driver has to have been the proximate cause of an accident, according to Robinson v. Com., 274 Va. 45, 645 S.E.2d 470 (2007).
The duty to stop at the scene or to report an accident exists regardless of whether the accident happened on public streets or highways or on private property (Virginia Code §46.2-899). Reports must be made regardless of the dollar amount of property damage (Virginia Code §46.2-898).
When you hit an unattended vehicle or other unattended property, Virginia Code §46.2-896 says you have to make a reasonable effort to find the owner and provide the same information as if the owner was there: name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number.
If you can’t find the owner or custodian of the damaged property, the statute instructs you to leave a note or other sufficient information, including your identification and contact information, in a conspicuous place at the accident scene.
If you can’t find the owner, you’re also required to make a written report to the police within 24 hours that includes the date, time, and place of the crash, as well as a description of the property damage.
Again, you’re given some leeway if you’re injured at the time of the accident and that prevents you from immediately making a report. In that case, you’re supposed to report the accident and try to locate the owner of the damaged property as soon as is reasonably possible.
Passengers Have a Duty Too
Even if you’re just a passenger in a car involved in an accident, you also have a duty to make a report if you’re age 16 or older. That duty exists in addition to the driver’s duty (Virginia Code §46.2-898).
This is the case whether it’s an accident in which someone is injured or attended property is damaged and the driver fails to stop as required (Virginia Code §46.2-895), or if the driver damaged unattended property and failed to make a reasonable effort to find the owner or to leave a note (Virginia Code §46.2-897).
In either of those circumstances, the passenger has a duty to ensure the accident is reported to the police within 24 hours.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, failing to stop at the scene of an accident or to report it — either by the driver or a passenger 16 or older — in Virginia can result in jail time, fines, and suspension of driving privileges. If someone was injured or killed in the crash, or if the damage is in excess of $1,000, the offense is a felony.
For a driver, penalties include:
- Up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500 when someone is injured or killed in the crash
- Up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 maximum fine when the crash involved damage in excess of $1,000 to attended property and no one was injured or killed
- Up to one year in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine when damage to attended property was $1,000 or less and no one was injured or killed
- Up to one year in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine when damage to unattended property exceeded $250
- No jail time, a maximum fine of $250, and three demerit points on your license when damage to unattended property was $250 or less
- Revocation of your driver’s license for one year when you’re convicted of a hit-and-run in which someone was injured or killed or five years when you’ve been convicted four times for hit-and-run of an attended vehicle
- Driver’s license suspension up to six months when property damage is more than $500
- Penalties for passengers include:
- One to five years in prison and a maximum $2,500 fine if someone was injured or killed
- Up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine when the crash involved damage in excess of $250 to either attended or unattended property, and no one was injured or killed
- No jail time and a maximum $250 fine when damage to unattended property was $250 or less
- Revocation of your driver’s license for five years when you’ve been convicted four times related to hit-and-run involving injury, death, or damage to an attended vehicle, whether as a driver or passenger
- Driver’s license suspension up to six months when property damage is more than $500
In a Virginia hit-and-run case, a prosecutor has to prove that you were driving or in the car, that you actually knew about the accident, and that you failed to provide your information or report the crash.
In the case of a death or injury, the prosecutor has to prove that you had actual knowledge that someone was hurt or killed.
In an accident involving unattended property, the prosecutor must prove that you failed to make a reasonable effort to find the property owner or to leave a conspicuous note, and failed to make a written report to the police.
Evidence presented in a hit-and-run case may be primarily circumstantial, and an experienced traffic defense attorney can evaluate the evidence and testimony and raise questions about the credibility of the prosecutor’s case, such as challenging the identity of the driver if that’s in question.
An attorney experienced with hit-and-run cases in Virginia also can challenge property damage estimates to affect sentencing and fines.
Facing hit and run charges in Virginia?
If you’ve been charged with hit-and-run or leaving the scene of an accident in Virginia, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our Roanoke office, call us at (540) 343-9349.