A driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs charge is a serious matter. Most states impose significant fines, mandatory jail time, and suspend drivers' licenses for up to six months. The penalties may be more serious if you cause an accident. This is one reason why some drivers panic after a crash and drive away. Causing an accident can be expensive, but causing an accident while buzzed can mean a permanent criminal record.
If you get into an accident and leave the scene without reporting it to the police or leaving a note, you could face separate offenses for:
You could also be facing separate charges if you were committing other driving violations, like driving without insurance, driving on a suspended license, or violating an ignition interlock device (IID) restriction. Any additional offenses may result in multiple criminal charges, aggravated DUI, or increased penalties.
It is a criminal offense to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The effects of alcohol impair judgment, reduce reaction time, and decrease coordination. These effects get worse as you consume more alcohol. In most states, a driver is considered impaired with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.
The penalties for a DUI conviction depend on the individual situation and state laws. States have different criminal consequences for drunk driving, but even a first-offense DUI or DWI could result in:
In some states, there are additional penalties if you cause a car accident. This includes a non-injury accident with a stationary object or unattended vehicle, as well as accidents involving other drivers and passengers. Causing an accident that injures or kills other people will be a serious felony charge, with a conviction meaning harsh penalties.
Anyone involved in an accident must stop at the scene and exchange information with the other driver. If anyone else was involved in the accident, state law may require you to render reasonable assistance to any injured people and call 911 for medical attention.
Even if no one was injured, drivers have a duty to stop if there was property damage to a vehicle, structure, or traffic signal. Drivers in a traffic accident also must report the accident and notify their insurance provider. Failure to stop at the scene of an accident, even for sober drivers, can lead to hit-and-run charges.
For most non-injury hit-and-run convictions, leaving the scene of an accident is a misdemeanor. The potential penalties for a misdemeanor may include a fine and jail time for up to one year. A hit-and-run involving serious bodily injury or death could be charged as a felony, with penalties including more than a year in prison time. A fatal accident could be charged as involuntary manslaughter.
In addition to the criminal charges, hit-and-run drivers are generally liable for any property damage and may be liable in a personal injury lawsuit for medical bills or loss of income if the accident caused an injury.
Just because you were accused of a hit-and-run DUI does not mean you will be convicted of a crime. Drivers facing hit-and-run DUI charges have the right to a legal defense. If you are accused of causing a hit-and-run accident, talk to a criminal defense attorney with experience handling drunk driving charges. Common legal defenses might include:
The common defenses described above may not be available for every hit-and-run DUI case. Each defense is based on the unique facts of the case. The facts may give rise to a defense not listed above or one or more of the defenses described above. It is important to carefully document all of the facts about your case and to share them with your criminal defense attorney.
Your lawyer may also be able to negotiate a plea deal to avoid the most serious charges. With so much at stake, it is important to aggressively defend yourself against drunk driving hit-and-run charges.