A person who drives while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and leaves the scene of an accident will likely be charged with two crimes: DUI (also called "driving while intoxicated" or "DWI") and hit-and-run. This article provides an overview of the potential penalties associated with leaving the scene of a DUI-related accident.
Hit-and-run is a serious offense even when alcohol or drugs aren't involved. State law varies, but generally, the punishment for a hit-and-run conviction depends on whether the accident resulted in property damage, injury, or death.
In most states, a hit-and-run accident resulting in only property damage is a misdemeanor. On the other hand, hit-and-run collisions that result in injury or death to another person typically lead to felony charges. Whereas a misdemeanor hit-and-run typically carries a maximum of a year in jail and fines of maybe a few thousand dollars or less, a felony hit-and-run conviction can result in severe penalties, including prison time and significant fines.
Driving under the influence can involve severe consequences regardless of whether or not there was an accident. A DUI is typically a misdemeanor but can be a felony if the defendant has a certain number of prior DUI convictions or there were other aggravating factors such as serious injuries or a death. (Get more specific information about DUI-related killings.)
For a first DUI where no one was injured or killed, the driver might be looking at a few days in jail at most, a few thousand dollars in fines, and a six-month license suspension. But a person who's been convicted of DUI twice in the past or severely injures another person while drunk driving could be facing something more like five years imprisonment, fines of up to $100,000, and a lifetime driver's license revocation. Prior convictions and aggravating factors also tend to increase the likelihood that the driver will have to install an ignition interlock device (IID).
If a car accident results in property damage, injury, or death to a person, the driver has certain duties. These duties include remaining at the scene, providing information, and assisting anyone that's injured. Generally, with hit-and-run offenses, the driver flees the scene of an accident—without providing any information—to avoid the consequences associated with being at-fault for the collision. Hit-and-run drivers sometimes don't have insurance or don't want their insurance rates to be increased.
With DUI hit-and-run offenses some of the same factors might be at play. However, drivers who are under the influence might also choose to leave the scene of an accident to avoid being breath tested and/or arrested for DUI. There may also be situations where the driver is so impaired he or she just didn't notice the accident. A driver who leaves the scene of an accident in such circumstances—and gets caught—will likely be charged with DUI and hit-and-run, and if convicted, will typically face penalties for both offenses.
Generally, when a person is convicted of a crime, the judge has some discretion in deciding what—within a range specified by law—the person's sentence should be. For example, a second DUI normally carries up to a year in jail, but judges rarely impose the full year. When sentencing a defendant for DUI, judges typically consider a variety of factors, including whether the offense involved an accident, injuries, or other aggravating factors. The fact that a DUI involved a hit-and-run accident (and vice versa) isn't going to improve the defendant's chances of receiving a lenient sentence. The most likely scenario is that the judge will enhance the penalties for both offenses.
Depending on the circumstances, a person who drives while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and leaves the scene of an accident may also be charged with other crimes, such as reckless driving and vehicular homicide.