The actual name of the hit and run crime in DC is leaving after colliding (or “LAC”). There are two types of LAC crimes in DC. First, LAC-property damage is where someone leaves the scene of a collision that resulted in only damage to property. The second is LAC-personal injury. That is the same crime plus the collision resulted in injury to another person. LAC-personal injury is a more serious crime that carries a maximum penalty of 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine. LAC-property damage carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or a $250.00 fine.
For both crimes, conviction carries 12 points with the DC DMV and, as a result, loss of driving privileges in the District of Columbia for 6 months. That means penalties could include jail time, fines, and loss of license for either of these crimes. In many cases, however, judges will typically impose a sentence of unsupervised probation. Judges typically impose this sentence in cases where the defendant has a limited or no criminal record, restitution has been or will be paid, and any injury is not of a serious nature. Because the DMV operates independently from the court system, license suspension is guaranteed upon conviction.
In 2012, when the City Council amended DC’s DUI law, they also stiffened the penalties for LAC-personal injury and broadened the scope of what is considered criminal activity. In the old law, individuals were required to stop and exchange information. In the new LAC law, individuals must stop, exchange information, and wait for the police to arrive. Most folks do not know about the onerous requirement that they actually wait for the police to arrive so the officer can make a report. Accordingly, many people unintentionally commit the crime of LAC in DC.
There are often innocent explanations for leaving after colliding incidents. Sometimes folks honestly don’t know that they hit a vehicle—particular in very minor collisions. Other times, the driver whose vehicle gets hit behaves in an extremely aggressive manner and they frankly scare the other driver who takes off out of fear of their safety. Sometimes folks just panic and take off, which, while not innocent, is certainly a human reaction to an emergency situation. When this happens, for whatever reason, the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) typically contacts the owner of the vehicle who left the scene.
The MPD letter usually uses official sounding language and threatens the recipient with a warrant if they do not appear at the police station and confess. What the police do not tell you is that every single person in this country has an absolute right against self-incrimination. No one has an obligation to walk into a police station without a lawyer and confess to a crime. They prey on folks’ lack of knowledge about their rights to make the investigation easier. Often times, MPD does not have enough evidence to get a warrant. When someone walks into the police station thinking it’s the right thing to do and confess, the police, now possessing a confession, will go out and get an arrest warrant anyway.
LAC crimes in DC can carry significant consequences. If you are contacted by MPD’s Hit and Run Investigation Unit with a letter demanding you appear at the police station, contact Scrofano Law PC for a full consultation and case evaluation. We have successfully defended individuals under investigation and those facing criminal charges in DC Superior Court.