Automobile accidents can be traumatizing, stressful and expensive. In Arizona, when an accident is caused and either the party responsible or not responsible has left the scene of where the accident happened, that is called “fleeing the scene of an accident”, or more popularly known as a “hit and run” or ARS 28-662.
Even if the vehicle that was struck was unoccupied, the person that hit the vehicle is responsible for attempting to locate the owner. If unable to find the owner, a note with the driver’s contact information must be left in a visible location. If this is not done, serious penalties can happen.
Of the 50 states, Arizona ranked number 5 in a study conducted by AAA that ranks the states on their hit and run fatalities of 2018. Below we outline the different types of hit and run accidents and their potential penalties. They range due to the severity of the accident and those involved. In any case, it is always recommended for those that left the scene to seek legal advice from a hit and run attorney to investigate the incident and look for the best possible outcome.
Is a Hit and Run Charge – A Misdemeanor or a Felony?
Fleeing the scene of an accident is not only immoral, but it is a criminal act that is punishable by law. The questions that remain are, “How ‘criminal’ is it?” and “What are the penalties for it?” Hit and run cases are not as final and easily to determine as one would think. They can by deemed a misdemeanor or a felony in the State of Arizona. Injuries, fatalities, prior criminal record, knowledge of the incident and severity of the incident are some of the determining factors on the seriousness of the charges.
When the Driver Causes the Accident and Flees – Severe Physical Injury and/or Death
If a vehicle is in an accident that has caused severe physical injury and/or death (vehicular manslaughter), and the driver at fault fled the scene of the accident, this defendant could be charged with anything from a Class 2 felony and revocation of his or her license for up to five years to imprisonment. Depending on the severity of the accident, the defendant faces incarceration penalties, from probation and/or one year of jail time, to a possible prison sentence of three to 12.5 years. This, however, is someone with no prior criminal history.
A person with a criminal history, however, has more severe charges and penalties in the State of Arizona. If the defendant has at least one allegeable prior conviction, and the hit and run incident entails severe physical injury and/or death, the penalties for prior convictions are as follows:
When the Driver Does Not Cause the Accident and Flees – Severe Physical Injury and/or Death
If the driver does not cause the accident and flees the scene, the penalties differ some. If the defendant has no criminal record, his or her can be charged with a Class 3 felony. Punishment can include revocation of his or her driver’s license for up to 5 years and probation with zero days in day up to one full year in jail. If it is a prison-only matter, then the defendant can serve 2 years to 8.75 years in prison.
Once again, a person with a criminal history will have more severe charges and penalties in the State of Arizona. If the defendant has at least one allegeable prior conviction, and the hit and run incident does not contain severe physical injury and/or death, the penalties for prior convictions are as follows:
What if there were Less Serious Injuries and No Fatalities in the Accident?
Hit and Run accidents that did not any serious injuries or fatalities can be charged as Class 5 felonies. His or her license is revoked for three years, ranging in penalties from probation to one year in jail. If incarceration is a possibility in this case, the defendant may be sentenced for 6 months to 3.25 years in prison. A fine of up to $500 may be charged, with an 84% surcharge.
What if there was Only Vehicular Damage?
If only the other vehicle was damaged and there are no injuries and no fatalities, the defendant is charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor that is punishable with up to 6 months in jail and a possible 1-year suspension of his or her driver’s license.
With any criminal case, how the matter is handled is very important. In fact, not every felony hit and run case gets a conviction. Here are some examples of surprising outcomes on hit and run felonies:
Mr. A’s car struck and killed someone in Tempe, Arizona. The police search neighboring apartment complexes and found Mr. A’s vehicle covered with a car cover. The officer lifted the cover to search to for damage to the vehicle. They did find damage, and then ran the license plate to find Mr. A’s address. They linked Mr. A to the accident where he was arrested and charged with Manslaughter and Felony Hit and Run. Because of how the police searched and obtained their information, the case was dismissed. Rather than obtaining a search warrant to search the vehicle, the police took it upon themselves to just lift up the car cover and search the vehicle. This does not go to say as to whether or not the accident happened. This goes to show poor conduct in how the case was handled, which resulted in dismissal of the case.
Mr. H allegedly backed out of a parking space and hit another car. A witness claimed that Mr. H got out to look at the damage, then got back in his car and drove away. When authorities reached out to Mr. H, he did not even realize he hit another vehicle. In court, it was proven that Mr. H was looking in the wrong place for damage and the State of Arizona could not prove differently. Mr. H was found not guilty, and clear of all charges.
The latter case is actually rather interesting. There are instances where a driver is completely unaware that he or she hit someone or something because the damage is so small. In a minor misdemeanor case like this, this defense is very believable, and most likely will end easily. Felony cases using this defense (i.e. – a driver hitting a person and not stopping because he or she thought it was an animal or object in the street), however, will be much more difficult to prove.
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