Criminal Consequences of Auto Accidents

Auto accidents are civil offenses in the United States. Personal injury and damage to property caused in or by auto accidents are civil offenses. However, there are instances when the civil offenses may become criminal offenses. Some civil offenses have criminal consequences in the United States. Most of these cases are a result of an escalation of the primary civil offense.

•           One of the most common criminal consequences of auto accidents in the United States is a hit and run. Whenever an accident happens, both or more drivers engaged in the incident must pause, get out of their vehicles and address the injured. Minor injuries that do not require hospitalization may not be reported immediately but serious injuries will warrant the people involved to call for emergency help. It does not matter who is at fault, those who are able to help must do so and not simply drive away. The person at fault must definitely extend a helping hand. If the damage is limited to property, then a driver or car owner must share their contact details including name of insurer and other relevant information that would expedite the process of claiming damages. If someone is involved in an accident and then does not stop, either to provide help or to exchange relevant information, then it is a case of hit and run. This is a criminal offense, regardless of the severity of the injury. There can be significant penalties for hit and run cases. There could be prison sentence in serious cases where injury is severe or if a person dies.

•           The most common criminal consequences of auto accidents in the United States is driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated and driving while ability impaired. It is illegal to drive under influence, be it alcohol or drugs, in all fifty states of the country. It does not matter how severely a person is injured or the extent of damage to property caused by the accident. It is not a civil offence is the driver causing the accident or playing role was intoxicated or impaired in some way. The penalties would be less severe for first time offenders but repeat offenders would have to pay hefty pines, driving license may be suspended and there could be other penalties. Wrongful death caused by a driver while driving under influence would bring upon felony charges and there are varying jail terms depending on the various facts of the case.

•           The third scenario wherein a civil offence such as an auto accident can have criminal consequences is reckless driving. If any driver is over speeding, driving recklessly, not obeying traffic rules and laws of the road, interfering with fellow commuters and drivers in an invasive manner, causing damage to public property, posing a risk to personal property and causing injuries to people along the way, then there are serious criminal consequences of such auto accidents in the US. If there is any death caused during such reckless driving, then manslaughter charges can be framed against the accused.

California and Federal Arraignments

Every state has their own rules and procedure when it comes to arraignments. An arraignment, is the first court date in a criminal case. Traditionally, it is where you are read the charges against you, given the right to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, and can also be the hearing where bail (or the lack of bail) can be set. In other words, it can be a very important hearing.

But as stated above, different rules apply in different areas. For instance, in California, on a misdemeanor case, an attorney can appear in place of the client. This is pursuant to Penal Code 977, which states:

“(a) (1) In all cases in which the accused is charged with a misdemeanor only, he or she may appear by counsel only, except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3). “

Subsection 2 applies to domestic violence cases. In these cases, at least in California, the accused must personally appear.

Subsection 3 applies to DUI cases. However, in order for the defendant to personally appear in a misdemeanor DUI case, the court must order the defendant to appear in advance of the arraignment. This fact tells us two things: The court has the authority to require a personal appearance at the misdemeanor arraignment and, the court does not have the authority to order a defendant to personally appear at misdemeanor arraignment that does not involve a DUI case or domestic violence.

In Federal Court, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure state:

“(b) Waiving Appearance. A defendant need not be present for the arraignment if:

(1) the defendant has been charged by indictment or misdemeanor information;

(2) the defendant, in a written waiver signed by both the defendant and defense counsel, has waived appearance and has affirmed that the defendant received a copy of the indictment or information and that the plea is not guilty; and

(3) the court accepts the waiver.”

Therefore, in Federal Court, on a misdemeanor offense, the Court can allow a waiver of the defendants presence. Keep in mind though, that different Federal Courts can have different local rules, and they certainly have different unofficial policies.

This article was contributed by Sacramento DUI Lawyer Michael Rehm. Always remember to consult with an attorney before making any decisions on any legal matters in general.

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