Hit and Run Charges in Colorado: What’s at Stake
Hit and Run, or leaving the scene of the accident, is a serious conviction with a mandatory revocation of your driver’s license and the possibility of jail or prison. A fender bender with a parked car is serious enough (up to 3 months jail), but the penalties are dramatically higher if there were injuries involved, and if the driver was driving under the influence or a habitual traffic offender. Preventing hit and run is a high profile priority in Colorado due to recent incidents in Denver and Arapahoe County (Aurora), so be prepared for an aggressive prosecution if you are charged. Contact an experienced criminal lawyer who can defend you just as aggressively: don’t let this criminal charge define the rest of your life.
Colorado Penalties for Hit and Run
–unattended vehicle/no injuries: up to 3 months jail + fine + 12 points, loss of license
–non-serious injury: up to 1 year in jail + fine + 12 points, loss of license
–serious injury: presumptive 2 to 6 years in prison + fine + 12 points, loss of license
–death: presumptive 4 to 12 years in prison + fine + 12 points, loss of license
Probation is a possibility in some cases, and parole is mandatory after a prison sentence. Restitution is likely if the district attorney can prove you caused the property damage or injuries. In-home detention, fines and community service often accompany lesser convictions in these cases.
How to Defend Hit and Run Charges
Defense of hit and run charges is not like defense of other traffic and criminal charges. First, if there is serious injury or death involved, a hit and run may attract some media attention. The prosecutor may look to make an example out of you, due to either the wishes of the victim, or a desire to appear “tough on crime”. The problem is, hit and runs are tragedies, and sentencing a hit and run driver to years in prison won’t undo the pain and suffering of a hit and run victim. If the DA has a strong case, your lawyer will focus on putting your actions and character in context, to get a better plea bargain and sentence. If the DA’s case has any weaknesses, your criminal lawyer will investigate and develop them. A skilled trial lawyer will use those weaknesses to either win an acquittal at trial, or to negotiate a more favorable plea bargain beforehand.
Second, hit and run charges can be uniquely difficult for the district attorney to prove. Hit and run cases are often based on imperfect eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence. Without police contact near the scene of the accident and guilty admissions from the suspect, these cases are often headed for trial. A talented trial lawyer is a must for anyone charged with hit and run.
Third, minor hit and runs are more common than most people think. Leaving the scene of a parking lot fender bender is a serious charge, but it is not always the moral failure that prosecutors make it out to be. The fact is, people respond differently to stress and panic. A person driving a large truck might not even be aware of slow-speed impact with a small vehicle. And some people initially panic, but then return to the scene or stop up the block, and are prosecuted as if they did not have that change of heart. In all cases, a criminal lawyer’s job is to look for weaknesses in the DA’s case, but also to get the DA to put these cases in perspective.
In addition, be prepared to work with your defense lawyer on issues of restitution, including how to handle inquiries from civil attorneys and your insurance company.
Matthew Hand is a compassionate Denver criminal lawyer with extensive trial experience.