Hit and Run in Washington – A Criminal Lawyer’s Perspective

Hit and Run laws in Washington are hard even for lawyers to understand.  Lately, I have had the opportunity to defend many hit and run cases, both in the Spokane area and elsewhere.  The laws are complex, and there is a lot of confusion about the laws on this subject so I figured it might make a good blog post.

Different Levels of Hit and Run

Like many crimes in Washington State, Hit and Run has different levels. But unlike most other crimes (assault, for example) the levels of hit and run are not broken up into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degree.  Rather, Hit and Run is broken into the four different levels:

Hit and Run – Unattended

Hit and Run – Unattended is the lowest level of Hit and Run, and is a misdemeanor under Washington law.Image of Hit and Run  The crime occurs when a driver collides with an “unattended” parked car or other property of value on the side of the road, and then leaves without notify the owner or leaving a note.

Hit and Run – Attended

Hit and Run -Attended is committed when a driver strikes another vehicle that is occupied, and flees the scene.  This offense is a gross misdemeanor. The law imposes a duty on the driver to stop and provide his or her name and address, and his or her insurance information.

Hit and Run – Injury

Hit and Run – Injury applies when a driver strikes another vehicle and injures an occupant of that vehicle and flees the scene.  This offense is a class C felony. The law imposes a duty on the driver to render assistance to the injured party, including making arrangements for transportation to the hospital.  This last requirement doesn’t apply in circumstances when the driver himself is unable to do so due to his or her own injuries.

Hit and Run – Fatality

Hit and Run – Injury applies when a driver strikes another vehicle, injures an occupant of that vehicle, and flees the scene.  This offense is a class C felony. A Hit and Run involving any occupied vehicle will result in a 1 year license suspension.

Occasionally, a driver or defendant will explain to the police that he or she was not aware that they collided into another vehicle.  This does not arise too often, and is obviously more plausible when the damage to the vehicles is minimal and in circumstances, perhaps, where the driver is elderly or distracted.  Usually Hit and Run charges are proven by eyewitness testimony, or by a forensic analysis of paint scrapes.  Under Locard’s theory of “transfer and exchange” a close examination of each vehicle would leave trace evidence on the other in the form of paint scrapes or metal scrapings.  The height of the markings on each vehicle would also be considered.  In practice, busy police departments don’t always closely examine the damage done.  Photographs are usually taken, and it is common for paint chips to be collected but not immediately tested.

A conviction for Hit and Run on a person’s criminal record sometimes creates confusion.  When employers are doing a background check, they don’t often know what to make of a Hit and Run charge, and they are apt to assume that the conviction involves the most serious type.  Background checks often yield inaccurate results, and even FBI or Washington State criminal records are spotty or incomplete.  It is not uncommon for a criminal record to refer to a “Hit and Run” conviction without spelling out the level, type, or nature of the offense.  Criminal defense lawyers typically file public records requests for the police reports that underlie the offense for more information.

Hit and Run charges can stand on their own, or they can be coupled with other offenses such as DUI, Negligent Driving, Reckless Driving, or even Vehicular Homicide.  When a person flees the scene of an accident, it is sometimes just a panic reaction, but sometimes a person makes a more deliberate decision to leave because they have no insurance, are intoxicated, or have pre-existing warrants for their arrest.


For more information on Hit and Run, and the penalties, visit our website.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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