If you are in a car accident in Arizona, no matter how serious, you are required to:
- Immediately stop at the scene of the accident, as close to the scene as possible, or immediately return to the scene;
- Exchange driver’s license, contact information, and vehicle registration number and identification information with the other party; and
- Provide reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured. This could include calling an ambulance if medical treatment is necessary.
If you don’t stop, exchange information, and assist other people, you could be charged with a hit and run. The legal penalty for a hit and run in Arizona can range from class 3 misdemeanor to a class 2 felony. Here are some common hit and run scenarios our firm has seen over the years, ranging from least to most severe:
- I ran into my neighbor’s mailbox or fence
ARS 28-665 governs accidents where there is only damage to fixtures or other property legally on or adjacent to a highway.
Drivers are required to take reasonable steps to find the owner of the property. They must notify the property owner of the accident, and provide their contact information. Failure to do so could result in a class 3 misdemeanor.
- I backed into an empty car parked on the street
ARS 28-664 governs collisions with unattended vehicles.
A driver must stop and either locate the owner of that vehicle and provide their contact information. Alternatively, they must leave a note with their information in a conspicuous place. A driver must also leave the car owner’s information, if the driver is driving someone else’s car. Failure to either contact the owner or leave a note can also result in a class 3 misdemeanor.
- I hit a car with other people in it but no one was hurt
ARS 28-662 governs car accidents where both vehicles were occupied, but nobody was injured. This is your classic fender bender accident.
Both drivers involved should pull over to avoid obstructing traffic, stop their cars, and exchange information. If you don’t do this, you could be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor.
- I left a serious accident without providing my contact information or helping the other guy
Under ARS 28-663, a driver who leaves the scene of an accident where someone was injured or died without proving their contact information can be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor. If you don’t provide reasonable assistance to an injured person, you can face the increased penalty of a class 6 felony.
For example, someone may get into an accident, call 911 for medical help for the other driver, and then leave without providing contact information. This could be a class 3 misdemeanor. Alternatively, someone could get into an accident, injure someone, leave a note with their contact details, and leave without making the call. This could be a class 6 felony.
- I was in an accident where someone got really hurt or died
According to ARS 28-661, and ARS 28-663, if you are involved in an accident that results in physical injury, you must:
- Stop and remain at the scene
- Provide reasonable assistance to people with physical injury. This includes calling law enforcement and an ambulance if requested or if someone needs medical help.
Leaving the scene of this type of hit and run will result in a felony charge. If the accident results in serious injury or death and you cause the accident and leave the scene, you face a class 2 felony. If you only leave the scene, you will receive a class 3 felony.
If the accident results in an injury that isn’t serious and you leave the scene, you face a class 5 felony.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a ‘serious physical injury’ or a ‘physical injury’?
ARS 13-105 defines a ‘physical injury’ as “the impairment of physical condition.” This could be a bruise, stubbed toe, or scratch.
A ‘serious physical injury’ is a physical injury:
- That creates a reasonable risk of death, or
- That causes
- serious and permanent disfigurement,
- serious impairment of health or loss or
- protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb
What are the different penalties between the classes of misdemeanors and felonies? Will I face any jail time?
The penalty for a hit and run in Arizona can range from a class 3 misdemeanor to a class 2 felony. Any of these charges can result in jail time.
Potential misdemeanor penalties
A class 3 misdemeanor can incur:
- a fine of up to $500,
- up to 30 days imprisonment, and/or
- up to 1 year probation.
A class 2 misdemeanor can incur:
- a fine of up to $750,
- up to 4 months imprisonment, and/or
- up to 2 years probation.
A class 1 misdemeanor can incur:
- a fine of up to $2,500,
- up to 6 months imprisonment, and/or
- up to 3 years probation.
You can face higher penalties for subsequent charges if you are convicted of the same misdemeanor more than once in 2 years.
Potential felony penalties
ARS 13-702 provides a range of possible jail time for first time offenders for each class of felony conviction.
First time offenders generally receive the presumptive sentence, unless there are mitigating or aggravating factors, such as:
- the age of the victim or defendant,
- whether the defendant was under duress, and
- whether the defendant remained at the scene of the accident and rendered aid to the victim,
A class 6 felony is the least serious felony conviction in Arizona. It can range from 4 months to 2 years imprisonment. A prosecutor can also reduce a class 6 felony charge to a class 1 misdemeanor charge.
A class 5 felony can range from 6 months to 2.5 years imprisonment.
A class 3 felony can range from 2 years to 8 years and 9 months imprisonment.
A class 2 felony can range from 3 years to 12.5 years imprisonment.
If you are charged with two or more felonies related to the same incident, your jail sentences will run consecutively. Additionally, anyone convicted for the first time of a felony can be fined up to $150,000. If you have a felony record, your jail sentence can increase significantly.
Will I lose my license?
You could lose your driver’s license for a year or more, even with a misdemeanor charge.
ARS 28-661 provides that a driver’s license will be revoked for five years if an accident results in serious injury. If the accident results in death, the license will b revoked for 10 years. These revocation periods do not include time spent incarcerated.
In addition, you may lose professional licenses or civil rights such as the right to vote or bear arms. Being charged with a felony can also affect your ability to obtain car insurance or get or keep a job.
My 16-year-old was involved in a hit and run accident, leaving the scene of the incident. What should I do?
Teenagers are often given protections in criminal sentencing for incidents occurring before they turn 18. However, even minors can be tried as an adult depending on the severity of the accident or injuries to the victim.
Before your kids start to drive, educate them and yourself about what to do if they are in an accident. Help them to understand that mistakes they make, even at a young age, can follow them around for a long time.
If your teenager is involved in a hit and run accident, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss options for protecting your child’s future.
What happens if the driver was drunk or under the influence of drugs?
If alcohol or drug use contributed to the accident, you can be charged with a DUI and face additional penalties. You will also need to complete drug or alcohol screening and treatment.
If you know someone with a substance abuse addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Their National Helpline is open 24/7, 365 days a year at 1-800-662-HELP.
Remember: if you have been drinking or using drugs, don’t get behind the wheel. According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, every 33 minutes, someone dies in an alcohol-related crash.
What are some common defenses to being charged with a hit and run?
An experienced criminal defense attorney can raise a number of legal defenses in a hit and run case.
A common defense is mistake of fact. For example, it’s common for people to hit a sign, fence, or even a pedestrian and not realize it. People also hit other cars and don’t realize the damage.
Another common defense is concern for your own safety. If an accident happens at night or in a bad part of town, reasonable drivers may leave the scene. It’s not unheard of for less-than-honest individuals to set up an accident. This can separate a driver from their vehicle and lead to a robbery or worse.
A good criminal defense attorney will also consider the state’s case before and during trial. Did the prosecutor prove each part of their case beyond a reasonable doubt? Did the state preserve and present evidence according to the relevant court rules? Did the police uphold your constitutional rights? The burden in a criminal trial is on the prosecutor, not you. If the state does not meet their burden, you can be off the hook.
Depending on the severity of the hit and run accident, you may decide that trial isn’t for you. Talk to your attorney about their thoughts on the possibility of settling with the prosecuting attorney for a lesser charge. This could result in reduced or no jail time.
If you were involved in a hit and run vehicle accident, fill out our Contact Us page to schedule your free consultation. Please note that this article does not contain legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Our law office is ready to help your questions about your specific needs.