One of the wonderful things about living in the Bay area is that it’s a walking city. Especially on days when the weather is warm, it’s easy to make the decision to walk to your destination if it’s close enough. However, this quality that makes the greater S.F. area so amazing can also mean danger. It seems as if there is a new item in the paper every week concerning a hit-and-run involving a vehicle and a pedestrian, usually with serious injuries to the pedestrian. Just recently, a 25-year-old woman was legally walking through a crosswalk at Bailey and Canal when she was struck by an unidentified car; medical personnel called to the site of the incident pronounced her dead at the scene. It seems that she did not survive long enough to give local law enforcement or other agents a description of the car that hit and killed her.
The truth is that it is likely because there are so many ‘vehicle versus pedestrian’ incidents in the region that California law is so strict concerning accidents involving a hit-and-run. In California, a hit-and-run offense could be treated either as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the specific circumstances of a case. This is what is commonly referred to as a ‘wobbler’ and it is up to local prosecutors to determine exactly how they will charge someone.
Usually, however, if the hit-and-run involves the damage of property, it will be considered a misdemeanor offense. However, if a person is involved and they are either seriously injured or killed, then this charge can rise to the level of a felony (California Vehicle Code 20001 and 20002). Under the law, drivers are required to stop and wait for the police when they have been involved in any type of accident. It doesn’t matter who was at fault or how the accident happened, the rule still applies. If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge, they may face up to 6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. However, if the conviction is for a felony hit-and-run, penalties vary, depending on the seriousness of the injuries. For example, a felony hit-and-run penalty could be anywhere between 24 and 48 months in state prison. There could also, as will be likely in the case above, be charges of gross vehicular manslaughter, which can add 5 years to this already lengthy sentence.