How Long After a Hit and Run Accident Can You Be Charged?

Updated January 19, 2024
11 min read
How Long After a Hit and Run Accident Can You Be Charged?

Introduction

A hit and run accident is any collision in which the driver flees the scene without soliciting assistance or disclosing insurance information. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety claims that the causes of hit and run accidents have not been thoroughly investigated.

The person can be charged with criminal, civil, and administrative penalties if they are discovered and charged before the statute of limitations — the period of time the state has to charge a defendant with a crime — expires. However, another question you may ask is: How long after a hit and run can I be charged? This article aims to explain how long it takes to file charges following a hit and run and what types of charges and punishments one may face.

What Are the Types of Hit and Run Accidents?

The type of hit and run accidents will determine how the case is charged. This also determines how long after a hit and run accident case can be filed and what types of penalties can be assessed against the offender. Here are the most common types of hit and run accidents:

  • Pedestrian hit and run: This accident occurs when the driver strikes a pedestrian and fails to stop at the scene of the accident. They neglect to provide their information and offer help if the pedestrian is hurt.

  • Bicyclist hit and run: Similar to a pedestrian hit and run, this type involves a driver hitting a person on a bicycle and then fleeing the scene without identifying themselves or offering help to the injured cyclist.

  • Vehicle-on-vehicle hit and run: This happens when a driver collides with another car on the road and then flees the scene without stopping to exchange information or aid the other driver if they are injured.

  • Parking lot hit and run: Occurring quite frequently, this type of hit and run accident happens when a driver hits a parked car and leaves the scene without leaving their contact information for the owner of the struck car.

  • Single-vehicle hit and run: In this type of accident, the driver hits a stationary object like a post, tree, or fence and leaves the scene without reporting the accident to the property owner or the authorities. This is considered a hit and run even if there are no physical injuries, as it involves property damage.

  • Animal hit and run: Although less common, striking an animal with a vehicle and not stopping to report the incident can also be considered a hit and run in certain jurisdictions, especially if it involves large animals like dogs or livestock. 

In most US states, a hit and run accident may be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The type of charge depends on the damage and the degree of injury. For instance, in most states, a hit and run accident that results in bodily injury or death will always be a felony. A hit and run accident resulting in property damage will usually be a misdemeanor. In some states, like California, being intoxicated can increase the level of the charge.

For a case to be classified as a hit and run, the driver must leave the accident scene without providing contact information. In most states, the driver must provide their name, address, driver's license, vehicle registration, and insurance information. This information must be given to the other driver and to any law enforcement personnel who arrive on the scene. When there is no one at the accident scene to report to, such as an unattended vehicle accident, personal information still has to be left in writing in a conspicuous place. In these cases, usually contact information and a brief explanation of the crime are all that is required.

Some states also require that the driver offer "reasonable assistance" to anyone injured until medical professionals arrive. "Reasonable assistance" simply means ensuring that help is on the way and that no further harm comes to the injured person.

How Long After Hit and Run Will Police Contact You?

The statute of limitations (SOL) is the maximum period of time after the date of a hit and run accident that a prosecutor can file charges. The statute of limitations begins to run on the date of the accident. Nearly all crimes except homicide have a statute of limitations to ensure fairness and due process for defendants and victims.

So, for how long after a hit and run accident can you be charged? For hit and run accidents, the maximum period to file charges depends on the nature of the accident and the charges being brought. In most jurisdictions, a misdemeanor hit and run accident has an SOL of one year. A federal hit and run has an SOL of three years. If serious bodily harm or death has resulted from the crash, the statute of limitations may increase to eight years. 

The actual statute of limitations varies in each state. For example, under Assembly Bill 184, the statute of limitations for any hit and run crime — felony or misdemeanor –– is six years in California.

If you have caused a hit and run car accident, the police can contact you and file charges at any point during the statutory period. Similarly, if you have been injured or your property has been damaged from a hit and run accident, you must file charges within this time. If no charges are filed or claims made during the statutory period, you lose your right to bring charges after that.

How Long Does a Hit and Run Investigation Take?

Investigating any car accident depends on how easy it is to gather information about the driver and the vehicle. In a hit and run accident investigation, since the driver and vehicle fled the scene, this information must be gathered from witnesses and other sources. The police need the make, model, and license number of the car, as well as a description of the driver or passengers. The more information the victim or witnesses can provide, the faster the investigation can proceed.

The duration of a hit-and-run investigation can vary greatly and depends on several factors, including the severity of the accident, the quality of evidence available at the scene, the availability of witnesses, and the workload of the investigating law enforcement agency.

In straightforward cases with clear evidence like surveillance videos or eyewitnesses, investigations may take several weeks to a few months. In more complex cases where information is scarce, investigations can take a significantly longer time, potentially stretching to several months or more. It's important to note these timelines are averages, and each case is unique, so investigations could potentially be resolved quicker or, in some challenging circumstances, may take longer.

What Is the Penalty for Hit and Run Car Accidents?

A car accident hit and run driver may face several types of penalties. Criminal penalties are imposed by the state and are punishment for the crime of fleeing the scene. Civil penalties are filed by the other driver or other victims and are monetary penalties for the damage caused by the hit and run accident. Administrative penalties are levied by the Department of Motor Vehicles or other agencies to prevent the driver from committing the same offense again.

Criminal charges for a hit and run

Criminal charges for a hit and run car accident depend on the severity of the harm done by the driver. The actual penalties depend on the state. Misdemeanors generally carry fines below $1000 and jail sentences of less than one year. Felonies will carry fines above $1000 and more than a year in prison.

Yet, additional elements impact on a hit-and-criminal run's accusations. For instance, in California, a hit and run accident resulting in minor injuries is a felony punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and a year in jail. Where there is serious bodily harm, the punishment is increased to four years in state jail and a minimum fine of $10,000.

Civil charges for a hit and run

The victim of a hit and run accident may sue the driver if they are found. The victim is allowed to recover economic and non-economic damages no matter what the outcome of the criminal trial or even if no criminal charges are filed. The victim may sue the driver for medical bills, lost wages or other income, property damage, and pain and suffering, depending on the state laws.

In some jurisdictions, a car accident hit and run may increase the amount of damages available to the victim. These are known as punitive damages. In some states, the vehicle accident victim is limited to what they can recover, but that limit does not apply to a hit-and-run accident. Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant has behaved in a criminal or unusually reckless manner, such as a hit and run.

Administrative penalties for a hit and run

Administrative penalties are used in almost every state following a hit and run accident. These usually involve suspension or revocation of the driver's license for a while. Usually, the state Department of Motor Vehicles handles the license suspension, although it may be a different agency in some states. The suspension may range from six months to three years, depending on the nature of the offense. Lifetime suspensions are possible for repeat offenders and hit and run car accidents resulting in deaths.

Conclusion

In the United States, hit and run accidents are serious crimes. The courts can charge you with the offense for up to one to three years after the accident, depending on whether it is classified as a misdemeanor or felony hit and run accident. However, these statutes of limitation can be increased for more serious accidents and vary from state to state.

In preparing your defense for such charges, a character reference letter for court can be extremely useful. This letter, written by someone who knows you well, depicts your character and conduct, and can prove influential in persuading the judge of your responsibility and regret over the incident.

If you face allegations related to a hit and run accident, you should seek guidance from a skilled criminal defense lawyer. Penalties for such infractions often include severe consequences like monetary penalties and potential incarceration. Additionally, administrative and civil repercussions may further impact the defendant's outcome. Engaging the services of a legal professional can significantly improve your chances of achieving the most favorable outcome.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko
Lawrina

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the product or UX content for Lawrina, feel free to contact Yevheniia directly at y.savchenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.