Hit-and-Run Charges in Westminster: A Case of Mistaken Identity

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Our client attended a wedding party; however, later that night, she was accused of a hit-and-run with DUI involving her car, which subsequently struck another vehicle. The police said she was driving and then her friends extracted her from the car and drove her away, leaving her vehicle at the scene. This incident occurred in Westminster, thus placing the case within the jurisdiction of the Westminster courthouse and under the investigation of the Westminster Police Department. They seized the car and refused to release it without a statement from my client. Nevertheless, we insisted she not make a statement as a condition of reclaiming the vehicle. We even filed a motion for the return of property under Penal Code 1538.5 without waiting for the pretrial process . Ultimately, the car was released to us. The investigation was documented and forwarded to the District Attorney’s office, which either rejected it or remanded it for further investigation. The outcome could have been different if our client had made self-incriminating statements. In the end, the police were unable to positively identify our client as the driver of the vehicle at that time.

What legal measures can be taken if the police seize your car after a hit-and-run accusation in Westminster?

The seizure of your car by the police following a hit-and-run accusation is not definitive. Law enforcement may imply that your car will be forfeited unless you provide details about the incident. However, this is not necessarily the case. There are actions you can take to recover your car while also safeguarding your legal rights. Protections are in place that can enable you to retrieve your vehicle within 48 hours, and there are legal routes to reclaim your car through the court system if the police are uncooperative or unaware of the law. A judge can order the return of your property if necessary. It’s unjust to coerce a confession by withholding property, as this can lead to inaccurate statements or police embellishments.

How does the Westminster Police Department investigate hit-and-run cases?

The Westminster Police Department investigates hit-and-run cases similarly to other police departments. They typically retain the car and withhold its release until the owner makes a statement. Often, a staff member will inform the police that the owner can visit the station to retrieve their vehicle. However, once the owner arrives, the situation can change; an officer may detain them for questioning, which can lead to a coerced confession. Many cases deteriorate from this point as people mistakenly believe they can outsmart a trained officer, leading to incriminating statements and a potential charge under Vehicle Code 20001 for a misdemeanor hit-and-run.

What are the risks of making a statement to the police after being accused of a hit-and-run?

Making a statement to the police after being accused of a hit-and-run carries the risk of self-incrimination. By providing an explanation for leaving the scene, you effectively place yourself at the wheel. The police already have information about your car’s involvement; your statement could be the final piece they need to place you as the driver, thus securing the case against you.

Under what circumstances can a car be released without the client making a statement in a Westminster hit-and-run case?

With the correct approach, it is possible to have your car returned without giving a statement to the police. It is crucial to stand firm and refuse to make any statements, a process best handled with legal representation.

What happens when the District Attorney’s office rejects a hit-and-run case or sends it back for further investigation?

When the Orange County District Attorney’s Office rejects a hit-and-run case or requests further investigation, the file is returned to the arresting agency. They instruct the agency to gather more evidence to support prosecution. The officers may conduct additional interviews or further investigate, or they may leave the file as is. For misdemeanors, there is a one-year window from the date of the incident to file the case; for felonies, the timeline differs.

How can an attorney assist in preventing self-incriminating statements in hit-and-run incidents?

An attorney can prevent self-incriminating statements in hit-and-run cases by asserting the client’s right to remain silent and to legal counsel. The attorney can educate the police about the law and, if necessary, navigate local court procedures to recover the vehicle. There are laws that protect against overreach by the police in hit-and-run cases, which an attorney can cite to secure the return of the car. While this may take longer, as the car is held as evidence rather than for safekeeping, the cost falls on the police, potentially influencing their decision.

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