You have a legal duty to stay at an accident scene, even if you didn’t cause the accident. The most significant reason you have to stay is to make sure everyone is alright and to render aid to any injured person if you can. Despite this legal duty, sometimes people flee from an accident scene.
If you are under suspicion or arrested for leaving the scene of an accident in Fairfax, VA, you will need a tough and experienced hit & run defense lawyer. Only a skilled professional can help reduce the negative impact these charges can inflict on your life. Fairfax hit-and-run attorney Michael Pignone has been helping good people like you since 1995. With 25 years and over 10,000 cases under his belt, Attorney Pignone has the experience and track record you can trust to help you through this difficult time.
Why Do People Run from Accident Scenes?
It’s hard to understand why intelligent, kind-hearted, and decent people run from the scene of a crash. There could be any number of reasons. However, researchers found that fear is the primary reason people run from the scene of an accident.
Usually, the person who runs away from an accident tries to hide other illegal behavior. In other words, they’re afraid of the consequences they could face if they stay and identify themselves. People will fear the possible legal repercussions of:
- Driving under the influence;
- Operating without a license;
- Driving without insurance; or
- Operating a stolen motor vehicle.
Individuals who have arrest warrants in their name might also run from the scene of an accident for fear of getting arrested.
Psychology plays a role in leaving the scene as well. A car crash is an unexpected and emotional event. Your body’s fight-or-flight response activates when the crash produces an inevitable adrenaline rush. Some folks may become emotional. Their emotional reaction makes them do things they wouldn’t normally do. For example, motorists involved in a pedestrian accident have been known to argue with the pedestrian they hit. This overwhelming emotional response has caused people to do unthinkable things like drive home with a body stuck on their windshield.
The moral judgment and development of the driver make a difference in whether they stay or go. A motorist will take off if they are only worried about what could happen to them, even though the law—and possibly their conscience—tells them to stay.
Hit & Run Defense Attorney Explains Virginia Law
Virginia’s hit-and-run laws are very straightforward. You must remain at an accident scene to render aid and identify yourself. You must stop immediately or as soon as you can when it’s safe to do so without obstructing traffic. Identifying yourself means giving your true name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number to a law enforcement officer investigating the crash. You need to provide it to the others involved in the collision or to the owner of any property damaged in the crash.
But that’s not all. The law says you must bring any injured person to a hospital, doctor, or surgeon if they request medical help or it is obvious they need it. Calling an ambulance suffices to discharge that duty.
Penalties for Hit-and-Run
Refusing to remain at the scene of a crash involving property damage but no injuries is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia is one year in jail maximum, with a fine of no more than $2,500. You will face a misdemeanor only if the property damage is less than $1,000.
In all other circumstances, leaving the scene is a Class 5 felony. That means you face at least one year to as many as 10 years in prison if someone dies, suffers an injury, or damages property over $1,000. You should be aware that these penalties are in addition to any other charges you might face for the accident (i.e., reckless driving, DUI, etc.).
Keep in mind that you have to remain at the crash scene even if you bear no responsibility for causing the crash. A simple example helps to illustrate this point. Suppose you are driving down a dark road late at night, and suddenly an object appears out of nowhere, and you strike it. Assuming there’s no alcohol involved, a motorist in this situation is not liable for causing the crash. However, you still have a legal duty to investigate what happened. You cannot just assume that you hit a deer or other animal and drive away. Why? Because you may have hit a person who is now in need of your help.
Additional Consequences for a Hit-and-Run Accident
A felony conviction comes with additional legal trouble besides carrying the threat of going to prison. A felony conviction means that you cannot vote or possess a firearm. Applying for a job becomes more complicated with a felony conviction on your record. Similarly, you must disclose felony convictions on any application for higher education. Your professional licensing board may also require you to report a felony conviction—and as a result, the board may revoke your license.
Individuals who are not citizens of the U.S. could run into immigration problems after a felony conviction. A felony conviction could make you ineligible for admission to the U.S., face denial of your naturalization rights, or leave you in danger of deportation.
How Can Fairfax Hit-and-Run Attorney Michael Pignone Help You?
Police investigators dedicate substantial resources to locating a person who fled from the scene of an accident, especially if someone dies or sustained significant injuries. They may scour the area of the accident for witnesses and surveillance video. In this situation, police often lack evidence of the person driving the car and fleeing the scene.
The prosecutors have the burden to prove every element of the offense against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Identifying the driver who left the scene is a critical element of the charge. If they only have evidence that your car left the scene of an accident without identifying who was in the driver’s seat, you could have your case dismissed, or a jury might find you not guilty at trial.
Hit & run defense attorney Michael Pignone understands how to exploit weaknesses in police investigations to help his clients achieve a favorable outcome for their case. For over 25 years, Michael Pignone has delivered results. Just ask any one of the 5,000 clients he has served. Michael has received prestigious honors such as being designated as a SuperLawyer and making the Top 100 trial lawyers list because of his effective advocacy, among others. Contact the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone today to schedule a free consultation.