Hit and run charges, alleging a driver fled the scene of a car accident, are serious. If a driver is convicted of a hit and run violation, the driver who fled may face harsh penalties that can have lifelong consequences.
If you or someone close to you was charged with a hit and run offense, it’s important to understand what’s potentially at stake. Sometimes, people make the mistake of assuming that if the accident was minor, there was no real harm in leaving the scene. Others may simply be afraid of facing the consequences of their actions.
However, leaving an accident without exchanging information with the other driver(s) can carry far more weighty consequences than those stemming from the accident itself.
What New Jersey Law Says
New Jersey Statutes Annotated 39:4-129 requires every driver involved in an accident to immediately stop at, or as close as possible to, the scene of the accident, to exchange names and addresses with the other driver(s).
In the case of a collision with a parked car, the driver needs to make a reasonable effort to locate the owner of the other vehicle. In the event a hit and run driver cannot locate the owner or operator of the other vehicle, the law requires them to contact the municipal or county police department to report the incident.
The law does not require serious damage or injuries in a hit and run case and you don’t even have to have hit another vehicle to be charged. If you cause damage to your own vehicle, to municipal property or even to a public sign — you may be the unwilling recipient of a hit and run charge.
Charges and Penalties for Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Whether or not anyone was injured, there can be serious consequences from a hit and run charge. Local prosecutors may be intent on trying to see the maximum possible penalties applied.
When the Only Damage Was Property Damage
If the hit and run incident resulted in damage to someone else’s vehicle, the driver who fled can face fines of up to $400 — even if there was nobody in the other vehicle when it was hit.
In addition, the driver in this scenario may have their driving privileges suspended for six months, may be sentenced to spend up to 30 days in jail and will receive two points against their driver’s license.
When Someone Was Killed or Injured
If there were personal injuries involved or if someone was killed in the incident, the driver charged with a hit and run violation in Essex County will face even tougher penalties.
Drivers convicted of a hit and run violation, under those circumstances, will receive eight points against their license, monetary fines of up to $5,000, the loss of their driving privileges for a full year and up to 180 days (six months) in jail. It also is likely, that a criminal offense in addition to a traffic offense will be filed. Depending on the severity of the injury substantial jail time can be imposed.
If this is not your first hit and run charge, a prosecutor may seek to multiply the charges, leaving you fighting an uphill battle personally and professionally for years after a conviction.
How a Lawyer can Help
Hiring an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible after the incident is an important step.
An attorney who understands the Essex County and NJ criminal justice and traffic court system can be invaluable in helping you fight the charges.
Your attorney will review police reports, analyze statements provided by witnesses to the incident and gather evidence that can be instrumental in your defense.
Asserting Possible Defenses
If you didn’t realize you were involved in a hit and run accident (for example, you were charged with damaging another car in a parking lot), your attorney may be able to help you demonstrate that to the court.
In other cases, where the prosecution alleges the incident caused personal injuries, your attorney may be able to prove otherwise, based on all of the evidence available. This can lower the maximum penalties.
Even if you were aware of the impact at the time, you may have had valid reasons for leaving the scene of the accident. In some cases, drivers may fear for their safety, or for that of their passengers, after a car accident.
Regardless of the circumstances, your attorney can play a key role in evaluating the situation and presenting the evidence in the most favorable light.
Choosing a Hit and Run Defense Attorney
When choosing an attorney to help fight a hit and run charge, look for an attorney and law firm with a track record of fighting charges similar to yours.
Keep in mind that while there are time sensitivities and deadlines associated with fighting a hit and run charge, Essex County and the State of NJ take these types of violations seriously. Therefore, it is important to take the time to learn about the attorney you are considering before agreeing to allow him or her to represent you.
Ask questions. If the attorney has handled cases similar to yours, what were the outcomes? How will he or she work to defend you? How will costs and fees be handled?
When you find an attorney with whom you feel confident and comfortable, you can have peace of mind knowing you have a valuable partner on your side, working hard to protect your rights.