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

A hit and run is where a driver is involved in a collision accident and leaves the scene without offering help or contact information. Many people panic when driving their vehicle into a property or a person and leave in the hope they’ll avoid the legal consequences. However, if the individual is found and charged within a set period – known as the statute of limitations for hit and run offenses – then they can be sentenced with criminal, civil, and administrative penalties.

In this article, we look at how long you can be charged after a hit and run accident. We also cover the different types of hit and run car accident charges and the associated penalties.

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What Are the Types of Hit and Run Accidents?

Before we look at how hit and run crimes are charged, we need to understand the different types of accidents that can occur. This will determine how the prosecutor files the case. In turn, this has an impact on after how long hit and run accidents can be reported and the types of penalties handed out. It is important to note that there are no specifics on what the car strikes for the event to be considered as a hit and run. It may be a collision between two moving vehicles, a pedestrian, a cyclist, a parked car, or stationary property. Any type of hit that causes damage can be classed as a hit and run.

In most US states, the prosecutor can charge a hit and run as either a felony offense or a misdemeanor. This is always determined by case specifics and the type of damage caused. Any collision that causes solely property damage is usually classified as a misdemeanor. Examples could be a person driving into a stationary parked vehicle or a building. On the other hand, injury-related accidents involving another person that result in bodily injury or death will all be classified as felony hit and runs. In some cases, severe property damage may also be classified as a felony offense.

For any case to be classified as a hit and run, the individual involved has to leave the scene of an accident without stopping to provide contact details and assistance, if another person is involved. In most states, the information the driver is required to leave includes the driver’s license and vehicle registration numbers, contact information, and details of their insurance company. 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.

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 an incident that a prosecutor can file charges. This is in place not only for hit and run crimes but for the majority of criminal offenses. The idea behind this time limit is to ensure fairness in the legal proceedings for both the victim and the defendant.

In terms of hit and run offenses, the maximum period to file charges all depends on the type of charges being handed out. In most jurisdictions, those classed as a misdemeanor have an SOL of one year. However, for federal hit and run cases, the SOL is increased to three years. If serious bodily harm or death has resulted from the crash, the maximum time period may be increased to up to eight years. With this being said, how long hit and run accidents can be reported does vary from state to state. For example, under Assembly Bill 184, the statute of limitations for any hit and run crime – be that a misdemeanor or felony hit – is six years in California. The SOL period starts from the day of the accident.

For anyone that has been involved in a hit and run, the police can contact you and file charges at any point within this period. Similarly, if you have been injured or your property has been damaged from a hit and run accident, be sure to press charges within this time limit. If no charges are filed within the statute of limitations, the people involved lose the right to file them in the future.

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How Long Does a Hit and Run Investigation Take?

The length of a hit and run investigation depends on how easy it is to gather information about the driver and the vehicle involved that fled the scene. Important information that is needed includes the license registration number, make and model of the car, and a description of the driver and other people involved. This may be reported by the victim, or a witness nearby may have information. Traffic cameras or private CCTV can also help gather the details needed for conviction.

When this can all be gathered quickly, the investigation usually progresses fast. However, in some cases, it can take months or longer to work out these specifics. There is also always the chance that the driver will never be caught. Besides, law enforcement are inundated with hit and run cases which can further prolong the length of the proceedings.

What is the Penalty for Hit and Run Car Accidents?

When handed out hit and run car accident charges, the convicted individual will face several forms of punishment. These are in the form of criminal penalties, civil charges, and administrative penalties. Of course, the defendant will only be sentenced if there is substantial physical evidence to prove the crime. However, given that there is enough evidence beyond reasonable doubt, the below penalties should be expected.

What are the Criminal Charges for a Hit and Run?

The criminal charges and penalties are typically severe. The penalties will be determined by the severity of the damage caused. In general, misdemeanor hit and run accidents do carry lower sentences than felony hits, but the specific penalties vary from state to state. Most will hand out fines to the accused of between $5,000 and $20,000 USD. For felony hit and runs, it is common for punishments of up to 15 years in prison to be handed out. However, misdemeanors can also result in imprisonment, often by up to 1 year of jail time.

For example, in California misdemeanor hit and runs that breach Vehicle Code 20002 can land the defendant with fines of up to $1,000 and six months in county jail. On the other hand, felony hits under California Vehicle Code 20001 involving non-serious injuries could see the defendant receive up to one year in county jail and fines of up to $10,000. Those resulting in serious bodily injury or death see this increase up to 4 years in state prison and fines of up to $10,000.

What are the Civil Charges for a Hit and Run?

In addition to these criminal charges, it is possible for the courts to also issue civil penalties. If a civil lawsuit is filed, the defendant will be liable to pay for the damages they have sustained as a result of the car accident. This includes property damage and medical bills, alongside the loss of wages if the victim has had to take time off work.

Of course, the courts will often sue a person for civil charges even if they don’t flee the scene. However, if charged for a hit and run on top of the civil charges then the monetary compensation is increased as additional punishment. In most states, the cost of damages will be tripled automatically. For example, a civil lawsuit that results in $5,000 worth of damages will automatically increase to $15,000 which is not claimable through your insurance company.

What are the Administrative Penalties for a Hit and Run?

Almost every state in the US will impose administrative penalties for a defendant involved in a hit and run car accident. These are related to the defendant’s driver’s license and are handed out via the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles in addition to the civil and criminal penalties. In most states, the driver’s license will be suspended for a set period, usually at least six months. However, this is again governed by state law and may see a standard suspension of three years. Where death or serious bodily injury has been caused, lifetime revocation of the license is possible.

Final Thoughts

In the United States, hit and run car 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. However, these statutes of limitations can be increased for more serious accidents and does vary from state to state.

If charged with a hit and run, it is essential to get legal advice from a skilled criminal defense lawyer. The penalties for these offenses are often severe, resulting in fines and imprisonment. There are also administrative and civil penalties, worsening the punishment for the plaintiff. An attorney can help to navigate the case and receive the best outcome possible.

Article by Mariia Synytska

Mariia Synytska is Content Lead at Lawrina, a legal portal that projects innovation in law. Mariia manages the content on the website, takes interviews with lawyers and law experts, and looks for the interesting topics for Lawrina's audience. If you would like to be a blogger for Lawrina, you can contact Mariia for all the details via email

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