FAQ: DC Hit & Run

If you have ever driven a car in the District of Columbia, you know that bumper-to-bumper traffic can be expected at almost any time.  Due to the constant hustle and bustle of traffic, fender benders are a common occurrence.  While common, a fender bender can be stressful and many people panic in those types of situations.  As a result, some people might leave an accident before exchanging information or notifying the police.  Unfortunately, leaving after an accident can result in a Leaving After Colliding (“LAC”) conviction, which is DC’s version of a “hit and run.”

While the facts of every case are different, the following are frequently asked questions essential to understand if under investigation or charged with leaving after colliding:

I got a letter from the Metropolitan Police Department Hit and Run Unit, what do I do? 

If you were involved in an accident, or MPD suspects you of being involved, chances are you received a letter mandating that you go to the police station.  Immediately contact a lawyer.

You have a constitutional right not to incriminate yourself.  MPD sends these daunting letters, threatening to get a warrant to scare you into confessing.  What MPD won’t tell you is that they probably don’t have enough evidence to get a warrant which is why they need you to give them more details.  Do not give up your constitutional right against self-incrimination by talking to the police.  You will be much better situated if you refuse to speak with the police and hire an attorney who can protect your constitutional rights.

What are my chances of being convicted? 

In the District, there are two types of LAC crimes.  The first involves property damage only.  The second involves property damage and injury to another person.  In general, the government must prove in either case that you left the scene of an accident without making your identity known.

The outcome of your case is largely dependent on numerous factors such as whether there was only property damage, whether there was a person involved in the collision, and whether there are eye witnesses.  In LAC cases, the government relies heavily on the testimony of eye witnesses.  Sometimes the government’s reliance on eye witnesses can be advantageous for you because eye witness accounts are unreliable and at times witnesses might not even show up to court.  Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed outcome in any case but every piece of evidence the government has against you can be challenged.

Will I go to jail? 

In the District, jail time and payment of statutory fines are uncommon for LAC convictions.  Technically, both jail time and fines are possible though.  The punishments for an LAC conviction depend on the type of LAC.

For an LAC involving only property damage, first offenders could face up to 30 days in jail and/or pay a fine up to $250.  Repeat offenders face up to 90 days incarceration and/or up to $500 in fines.  For an LAC involving property damage and personal injury, first offenders could face up to 180 days in jail and/or pay a fine up to $1,000.  Repeat offenders face up to 1 year incarceration and/or up to $2,500 in fines.  The most common sentence for an LAC conviction is 6 months to 1 year unsupervised probation.  If convicted, the court will also order you to pay a contribution of $50 to $250 to the Victims of Violent Crimes Fund.

While it is unlikely that you will spend time in jail or pay a statutory fine for LAC, a conviction counts as 12 points on your license, which means that the DC DMV could revoke your driving privileges for up to 6 months. 

Should I plea or go to trial? 

In DC LAC cases, the government will usually offer the following plea deal: if you plead guilty to the LAC, they will recommend that the judge impose 1 year unsupervised probation.  But if you read the answer to Question #3, you already know that judges impose 1 year unsupervised probation in most LAC cases anyway.  So the government isn’t really offering you a deal now.

You may be better off rejecting the government’s “deal” and trying your luck at trial where you could avoid the draconian consequences of a conviction.  Trial is also ideal because witnesses in LAC cases tend to be unreliable and may not show up to court, which often lead case dismissals.

Lastly, a good DC LAC lawyer could try to convince the government to give you a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (“DSA”).  What this means is that you would plead guilty to the LAC and the government would recommend that sentencing be pushed back for a certain amount of time (usually 9 months).  During that time, the government might impose restrictions on your driving privileges, order you to complete community service, or take a traffic safety program.  After the recommended time period, you’ll return to court for sentencing, at which time your lawyer will move to withdraw your guilty plea and the government will dismiss the case.

What happens if I get convicted? 

Any person convicted of a crime has the right to appeal.  Whether or not you should appeal depends on what you are looking to get out the situation.  Because of the tedious and time-consuming judicial process, it is likely that you will have already completed your sentence before your appeal is decided.  While you probably won’t avoid your sentence, you can achieve a moral victory by winning an appeal because your conviction would be overturned and erased from your record.  A moral victory is a victory nonetheless, and you have a lot to gain from winning an appeal.

While an appeal may not be fruitful, you may be able to get your arrest and conviction record sealed.  If you are not convicted of an LAC, you can get your arrest record sealed after 2 years so long as you do not get arrested or convicted of another crime during that time.  If you are convicted of an LAC, you can get your arrest and conviction record sealed after 8 years so long as you do not get arrested or convicted of another crime during that time.

Should I hire a lawyer?

When faced with a possible LAC conviction, you may have more questions than the ones mentioned above and you may need more detailed answers.  It is imperative that you hire an experienced LAC lawyer who will answer any and all of the questions you might have.  At Scrofano Law PC, we have helped numerous clients with all of their LAC questions.  While we can’t guarantee the outcome of your case, we can offer you predictability and reassurance every step of the way.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a DC LAC, call Scrofano Law PC immediately for a full consultation.