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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 27126
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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I might have committed hit and run. I didn't realize that I

Customer Question

I might have committed hit and run. I didn't realize that I had hit another car, it felt like a bump on the road, so I kept driving. I saw the damage to my left fender only when I got home. I am a very law abiding citizen and never been in a situation like this before. What do I do?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 2 years ago.
My name is ***** ***** I am an experienced criminal lawyer.
It may help your conscience to go to the police and confess, but it will also get you arrested, charged and probably convicted for a hit and run. That will give you a criminal record which will cause difficulties for the rest of your life.
You have a Constitutional right that allows you not to incriminate yourself. What you don't say can never be used against you in criminal proceedings. What you do say can, and it can hurt.
Get on with your life and see if the police will find you. Maybe they never will. If they do, get a lawyer and resolve the case. Don't make any statements to the police about what you did or didn't do that night unless you have your lawyer with you.
If your conscience is bothering you, make a donation to some worthy cause, but don't turn yourself in and confess. You'll get a much better disposition if you let the system find you and remain silent as to the incident by not talking about it with anyone other than your lawyer.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
After what happened, I drove straight home and as I was waiting for my garage door to open, some guy in a beige car called "hello". I turned around and I saw him taking a picture of my license plate. I had no idea what was going on and I drove into my garage.
What about my insurance? Do I report it to them?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
From what I've been reading online, it's a pretty serious offense with serious punishment. I am very nervous.
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 2 years ago.
It's possible that you were seen and that this person is going to report the accident to the police. Still, however, you cannot undo the fact that you left the scene, and this doesn't change my answer: if the police contact you, you should not discuss this incident until you've talked to a local lawyer.
As for your insurance, if you want to report this you can say what you said above, that you were driving and felt something as if you hit a bump in the road, but when you got home you noticed some damage to your fender. You're not sure how it got there (since that appears to be the truth).
Unless there's serious injury or heavy property damage, this is a misdemeanor case, which is not all that serious. What US state are you in?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
can the police arrest me?
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 2 years ago.
In California, if the hit and run causes property damage, that would be a misdemeanor charge. If you caused injury or death, it can be a felony.
The misdemeanor charge has a maximum possible penalty of 6 months in jail and a fine of $1,000, and the odds of your doing any jail for this charge are zero unless you take it all the way to trial and lose.
For you to be convicted of a felony hit or run, there would have to be injuries or the death of the other party and you'd have to be aware that such injuries were likely to occur. The DA has the discretion to prosecute the felony as a misdemeanor.
You have a defense to the charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony, which is that you felt no more than a bump in the road and never even realized you'd been in an accident.
I'm not trying to minimize this. Nobody wants a criminal record. But no criminal lawyer will tell you to go and confess to a hit and run at this point. It cannot help you by undoing the fact that you failed to stop, but it will hurt.
Yes, they can arrest you if they have probable cause to believe that you committed a hit and run, which means that the second you would go over to confess to what you did, you would be charged.
They may have evidence which will allow them to arrest you anyway, but you don't have to hand them proof of guilt on a platter.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
What kind of evidence might allow the police to arrest me? And what do I do, if, G-d forbids, they do?
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 2 years ago.
In order to make an arrest the police need probable cause. Probable cause is just a reasonable belief that you may have committed a crime. It has to be more than just a hunch, but the police don't need a lot of evidence to get them charged.
If the man who took your photo was driving the other car and turns that over to the police and says you hit him and he followed you home, that would probably be good enough to charge you. To convict you, the state needs proof beyond a reasonable doubt which is why you need to talk to nobody but your lawyer about this if you are charged.
What do you do if you are charged? You plead not guilty and retain a lawyer. You will have two choices, broadly speaking: to fight the case or to have your lawyer negotiate a favorable deal for you. That will be between you and your lawyer when he speaks to you about the case.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
What do I do if police arrest me? It feels like a nightmare. I am 59 years old, live alone a disabled person with very little means and now this.
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 2 years ago.
If this is your first contact with the criminal justice system, you would likely not get taken into physical custody but would get a summons or a citation. If you are taken into custody, you'd be brought before a judge quickly and would almost certainly be released on your own recognizance.
Nothing has happened as yet, which is a good sign. You may want to get the name of a local criminal lawyer and have a consultation. You don't have to actually retain him yet because there's nothing for him to do. Still, he'll be able to take a lot of the pressure you're feeling off of you because it's one important thing you won't have to worry about. If you are arrested there will be someone already up to speed on the situation who can step right in and take charge of the situation so that all of your rights are protected.