The Court in a criminal case has the power to order restitution in any case where the defendant’s actions cause harm or loss to a third-party, but can restitution be ordered just because a person flees the scene of an accident, say in a DUI context? The California Courts say no according to Torrance Criminal Defense Attorney Matthew Ruff.
Appellate Courts in CA have consistently ruled that a Conviction of a hit-and-run or misdemeanor DUI offense does not establish responsibility for the accident in which defendant was involved. Indeed, in a hit-and-run case the crime is the running, not the hitting. However, even though the crime did not cause the loss, the court may order restitution as a condition of probation, at least when “there is no question as to defen-dant’s responsibility for the loss.” Restitution is appropriate in these cases because it is reasonably related to the crime of which defendant was convicted and to the goal of probation to deter future criminality. However, the defendant would be entitled to a hearing to first determine whether repayment for any out-of-pocket expenses is reasonable and related to the criminal culpability of the accused. Bottom line, although a person can be charged and convicted of hit and run, he or she may not have been the cause of the accident. In many cases, a person arrested for hit and run may have fled the scene because they were intoxicated and afraid they would be arrested for DUI if they waited for the police to arrive. Also, in many cases the driver may not have been licensed and that may have motivated him to run.
In cases where there is no plea bargain in place, restitution in a hit-and-run case or misdemeanor DUI case should probably be ordered only when it is obvious or undisputed that defendant caused the accident. As a general rule, most criminal case dispositions in Torrance Court will have a stipulation that restitution be ordered as a term of probation.