DC Hit and Run Lawyer
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. Both offenses are criminal traffic offenses prosecuted in DC Superior Court.
For leaving after colliding where personal injury occurs, conviction carries 12 points with the DC DMV and, as a result, loss of driving privileges in the District of Columbia for 6 months. Where someone is convicted for leaving after colliding where only property damage occurs, the DMV will assess 8 points for a conviction. The DMV will often assess these points without a hearing if they receive notification from the Court that the person has been convicted. Accordingly, its important to understand the potential consequences imposed by DC DMV when charged with a hit and run in DC. DC DMV is not an institution known for its generosity of spirit so avoiding points on your driver’s license can be very important.
Hit and Run Charges
Penalties for a conviction of either crime could also include jail time, fines, and loss of license. 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 if the Court notifies the DMV of the conviction.
As with any misdemeanor case in the District of Columbia, the first court appearance is an arraignment. At the arraignment, the prosecutor will provide discovery and the judge will impose release conditions. If the defendant already has a criminal defense attorney, then that attorney will plead guilty on the defendant’s behalf and assert the defendant’s constitutional rights.
After the arraignment, the parties will appear for a status hearing where the defendant will usually either enter into a deal with the government or set the case for trial. Neither leaving after colliding personal injury or property damage are jury demandable offenses in DC. That means a judge will decide the question of guilt or innocence in a bench trial.
Changes to the DC Hit and Run Laws
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. It is an actual defense to leaving after colliding if the defendant can show he was reasonably afraid for his or her safety and that leaving the scene was necessary to protect themselves.
MPD Hit and Run Unit Letter
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.
If you or someone you know receives a letter from the MPD Hit and Run Unit demanding you report to the police station and incriminate yourself, you absolutely should contact a DC hit and run attorney. That phone call could make the difference between being arrested and charged and having the investigation closed or suspended without arrest. For additional information, check out our blog posting on DC hit and run FAQ’s.