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Can a car accident escalate to criminal charges?

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2024 | Criminal defense |

If you find yourself in a car accident in Virginia, depending on the circumstances, you may worry about both the potential criminal charges alongside civil liability. The likelihood of facing criminal charges hinges on the facts of what happened and why, including injuries, fatalities, whether you left the accident scene, whether you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, etc. In this post, we will explore scenarios that could lead to criminal charges.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident

A common criminal charge triggered after a car accident is leaving the scene without fulfilling legal obligations. Virginia law (Virginia Code, Section 46.2-894) mandates stopping at the scene of any accident involving injury, death or property damage. Failing to report required information to the police, injured parties and property owners may result in a hit and run charge.

Penalties vary from no jail time to up to 10 years, plus a fine. And, civil liability for damages accompanies hit and run charges.

Driving Under the Influence

Criminal charges may stem from a car accident if you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Specifically, Virginia law (Virginia Code, Section 18.2-266) prohibits operating a vehicle under three states: (1) with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher; (2) under the influence of alcohol or any impairing drug; or (3) with a specific drug concentration in the blood.

DUI penalties vary based on BAC levels, prior convictions and accident outcomes. They range from jail time that can be up to 20 years, fines and license suspense or revocation. Civil liability for accident-related damages also applies.

Other factors leading to criminal charges

Beyond hit and run and DUI, other factors could trigger criminal charges after a Virginia car accident. For example, if the Warrenton Police Department officer believes that you were driving recklessly, Reckless Driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. If the officer finds that you were driving aggressively, you could face an Aggressive Driving charge, a Class 2 misdemeanor with penalties of up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Protecting yourself after a car accident

In the aftermath of a car accident in Virginia, safeguarding yourself from criminal charges and civil liability involves specific steps. Stop at the accident scene, check for injuries and call 911 if needed. Exchange information with other parties involved.  Provide reasonable assistance to injured parties. Report the accident promptly to the police and your insurance company. Avoid admitting fault or apologizing for the accident. Refrain from discussing the accident with the other party’s insurance without legal consultation.