Leaving After Colliding/Hit-and-Run in Washington, D.C.

While it is not a crime to be involved in a traffic accident, it is illegal to leave the scene of an accident without either reporting the incident or waiting for police to arrive.  This is known in many jurisdictions as “hit-and-run” or “leaving the scene of an accident.” 

In Washington, D.C., the offense is called “Leaving After Colliding.”  There are two different forms of the offense:  Leaving After Colliding/Personal Injury and Leaving After Colliding/Property Damage.  

For a criminal defense attorney with a successful track record handling this type of case, please contact D.C. hit-and-run lawyer Jamison Koehler at 202-549-2374 or jkoehler@koehlerlaw.net

Below is everything you need to know about hit-and-run in the District of Columbia, including answers to the following questions:

What is Leaving After Colliding/Personal Injury in D.C.?
What is Leaving After Colliding/Property Damage in D.C.?
What are the maximum penalties for Hit-and-Run in D.C.?
Will I need a D.C. Hit-and-Run lawyer?
What if I receive a letter from police directing me to come in for questioning?
What can I do to avoid criminal charges? 
What happens if I am formally charged?
What are my legal defenses?
Will I go to jail?
What happens to my driver’s license if I am convicted?

What is Leaving After Colliding/Personal Injury in D.C.?

In the case of an accident in which another person has been injured, the driver must immediately stop and make sure that emergency assistance is provided as necessary.  The person must also (1) remain on the scene until police arrive and (2) provide identifying information to both law enforcement personnel and to the injured person.

What is Leaving After Colliding/Property Damage in D.C.?

In cases in which the car accident results in property damage or in injury to a domestic animal, the person must immediately stop.  The person must also provide identifying information to the owner of the property or animal.  If the owner is not present, the person must provide identifying information and the location of the collision to law enforcement or to the 911 operator.  

What are the maximum penalties for Hit-and-Run/Leaving After Colliding in D.C.?

The penalty for a first-time violator of Leaving After Colliding/Personal Injury in D.C. is a maximum fine of $1,000 and incarceration for up to 180 days.  Second offenders are subject to a fine of $2,500 and up to 1 year in jail.  The maximum penalty for a first-time violator of Leaving After Colliding/Property Damage is a $250 fine and 30 days in jail.  D.C. Code § 50-2201.05c.

Will I need a lawyer for Hit-and-Run/Leaving After Colliding in D.C.??

You have the absolute right to represent yourself at criminal proceedings.  That said, this is highly inadvisable.  It would difficult to represent yourself should charges eventually be brought, and the court will actively discourage you from doing so. More importantly, working directly with the police officers who are conducting the investigation, an experienced hit-and-run lawyer can do much to head off the bringing of criminal charges in the first place.

How do I respond to a letter from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) asking me to come in for an interview?

People who are suspected of having violated this statute are typically notified by mail and asked to come into a police district building to answer questions.  The letter warns of dire consequences — including the issuance of an arrest warrant — if the person fails to comply.  Because these people are now potentially subject to criminal liability, it is important that they hire defense counsel to protect their interests.  

The first step upon receiving the letter is to obtain a copy of the accident report.  You can do this yourself with instructions here.  Or you can ask your lawyer to do this for you.  Although the narrative typically consists of only a paragraph or two, the report will provide you — and your lawyer — a good idea of how strong the government’s case against you might be.  For example, how detailed is the description of the person who was allegedly driving the car?

One of the major challenges facing police will be to identify the person who was behind the wheel of the car that left the scene.  For example, although they may know the identify of the person who owns the car, they may not know who was actually driving it on the day in question.  This is why it is important that the recipient of the letter not incriminate him- or herself.  

There are typically only one or two officers at each MPD district building who serve as the “hit-and-run” coordinators, and they often have other responsibilities as well.  This means that the investigations can stretch out over a number of months.  This can be stressful for the person who is being investigated.

How can I avoid criminal charges for Leaving After Colliding/Hit-and-Run in D.C.?

The first step for your lawyer will be to prevent criminal charges from being brought in the first place. This is one of the rare instances in criminal defense in which the lawyer is able to speak with police officers before an arrest. The goal is to prevent police from forwarding the paperwork to the Office of the Attorney General for possible prosecution. In fact, many investigations can be resolved without criminal charges.

What happens if I am formally charged with Leaving After Colliding/Hit-and-Run in D.C.?

In cases in which criminal prosecution cannot be avoided, a judge in D.C. will sign a warrant for your arrest.  In pre-pandemic days, a warrant squad would have been dispatched to bring you before the court. Fortunately, these practices have changed in light of Covid-19.  Instead of being led out of your office or home in handcuffs, it is more likely that you will receive a citation in the mail directing you to appear in court at a particular date and time for arraignment.  

As the first hearing in the launching of criminal charges, the purpose of the arraignment is for the defendant to hear the charges and to enter a plea.   The court will also advise the defendant of the right to counsel, and the government will turn over initial “discovery,” including paperwork related to the charges. 

An initial status hearing is typically scheduled three or four weeks from the arraignment.  The defendant’s lawyer and the assigned prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General will use this opportunity to discuss the case.  These negotiations will determine the defendant’s decision either to schedule a trial date or to enter into some type of non-trial disposition (that is, a guilty plea or entry into a diversion program for first-time offenders).  

Very few of these cases will be litigated.  This is particularly true during the Covid-19 pandemic.  That said, depending on the specific facts of the case, there are a number of ways to challenge the charges in cases that do result in trial. 

The government, for example, may have difficulty proving the identity of the driver who left the scene without providing identifying information.  Although the government can usually prove ownership of the vehicle, multiple people may have access to any given car.  The actual owner may not have been behind the wheel of the car at the time in question.  This is the mistaken identification defense.  

Even in cases in which the government is able to prove who was operating the car at the time in question, it may still struggle with proving “criminal intent”; that is, that the defendant actually knew he/she was in an accident.  See James Crawford v. District of Columbia, 192 A.3d 568 (D.C. 2018).  This is particularly true in cases in which the collision was minor.

It is also an affirmative defense to this charge that the person’s failure to stop or to remain on the scene was the result of a reasonable belief that his or her personal safety was at risk and that he or she called 911 or otherwise notified law enforcement as soon as it was safe to do so.  It is not a defense that the person was intoxicated, impaired or distracted in some way or that the person was not at fault for the collision.

Will I go to jail for Leaving After Colliding/Hit-and-Run in D.C.?

Very few people will go to jail after being convicted of Leaving After Colliding/Hit-and-Run in D.C.  It is, after all, a misdemeanor offense.  The most likely outcome is a period of probation, possibly unsupervised, and a small fine.  First-time offenders should be offered a diversion program in which they perform an agreed upon set of conditions (community service, for example) in exchange for the charges being dismissed without trial.  

What will happen to my driver’s license/operating privileges if I am convicted of Leaving After Colliding/Hit-and-Run in the District of Columbia?

Assuming the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is notified, conviction for this offense will result in 12 points and automatic revocation of your D.C. driving privileges for a period of at least six months.  

Last update: November 28, 2020

Do you need legal assistance with a Leaving After Colliding or Hit & Run Charge in Washington, D.C.? Contact Jamison Koehler today.

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