Vehicular Assault in Washington State

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 What is Vehicular Assault?

In general, the crime of vehicular assault may be committed when an individual operates a motor vehicle in a manner that causes severe bodily injury or death to another individual. The rules, requirements, and penalties for vehicular assault cases can vary widely from state to state. Defendants in these cases may also be subject to civil lawsuits as well. 

In Washington state in particular, the current state law—known as the Revised Code of Washington (“RCW”)—lists vehicular assault as a Class B felony. This means that a defendant who is convicted of the crime can face up to ten years in prison and may need to pay a $20,000 fine to the state. Again, this will depend on the circumstances surrounding an individual case. 

According to the definition provided by Washington state law, a person may be guilty of RCW vehicular assault when one or more of the following scenarios occurs while driving:

  • The defendant drives in a manner that is considered reckless, which cases substantial bodily harm to another person;
  • The defendant causes substantial bodily harm to another person while driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other illegal substances; and/or
  • The defendant operates a motor vehicle with reckless disregard for the safety of others and causes substantial bodily harm to another person in doing so. 

The RCW also provides several definitions for “substantial bodily harm” as it applies to victims of a vehicular assault. Specifically, the RCW divides the harm into three distinct injuries:

  • First, substantial bodily harm may refer to an injury that is not permanent, but causes another to suffer serious disfigurement; 
  • Second, the harm may be classified as an injury that is not permanent, but results in a significant loss or disablement of a body part or organ; and/or
  • Third, the substantial bodily harm leads to an injury that causes a fracture or break to occur in a certain body part or bone.

Notice the distinction between the general definition of vehicular assault above and what is listed as the vehicular assault meaning under Washington state laws. 

In Washington state, death is not included as part of the crime in any of the above scenarios. Accordingly, it is important to note that vehicular assault and vehicular homicide are treated as two separate crimes in Washington. However, the crime of vehicular assault can become a vehicular homicide if the person who was injured dies. 

As is evident from the above discussion, being charged with vehicular assault is not a matter that should be taken lightly. Punishments for convicted defendants range from hefty fines to lifetime prison sentences. Therefore, if you are facing charges for vehicular assault, then it may be in your best interest to consult a local criminal defense lawyer for further legal advice immediately. 

What is the Punishment for Vehicular Assault?

The injuries that stem from vehicular assault incidents are often serious and may be life-changing for some victims. Thus, the punishments for the crime of vehicular assault in Washington state tend to be harsh and can be life-altering for the defendants in these cases as well. For instance, a common vehicular assault penalty that may be issued by a Washington state court is a monetary fine of up to $20,000. 

Some other types of punishments that a defendant who is convicted of vehicular assault can receive include a sentence of up to ten years in a state prison, restitution, parole, a stint on probation, and revocation or suspension of a driver license.

Given the serious nature of the crime and the types of penalties that a defendant can receive, a person who is facing charges for vehicular homicide in Washington state should contact a Washington assault lawyer immediately. Washington assault lawyers will already be familiar with criminal laws in the state, will know which defenses a defendant can raise in a case, and will be able to identify when a first-time offender should petition for a reduction in charges.

Is Vehicular Assault a Felony in Washington State?

As previously mentioned, vehicular assault is considered a Class B felony under the RCW. While there may be some cases where the charges can be reduced to a gross misdemeanor for reckless driving, this crime is generally categorized as a Class B felony. 

For instance, there are some crimes in Washington state that are not entirely a felony, but are too serious to be considered a misdemeanor. Reckless driving happens to be one of those crimes. Thus, in the less severe cases of reckless driving that result in committing a vehicular assault, a defendant may be able to get the charges reduced to a gross misdemeanor along with the corresponding sentences.

On the other hand, if the vehicular assault crime was so severe that it led to the death of a victim, then the defendant will be facing charges for vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide is a Class A felony in Washington state, which is a class that is reserved for the most serious of all criminal offenses. Accordingly, a defendant who commits a vehicular assault that results in death to another will be charged with vehicular homicide instead.

Vehicular homicide carries penalties of up to $50,000 in criminal fines and a prison sentence that could potentially be for life. Aside from the severity of the crime and the resulting consequences, there is one other important distinction between vehicular assault and vehicular homicide crimes in Washington state. 

According to the RCW, if a victim of a vehicular assault dies within three years as a result of their injuries, the driver responsible for the initial crime can be arrested, charged, tried, and punished for vehicular homicide. 

Are there any Defenses to Vehicular Assault?

There are a number of different legal defenses that may be available to a defendant in a vehicular assault case. Whether a particular defense is available or not will not only depend on the facts of a specific case, but also on the laws of a particular jurisdiction.

Some common examples of legal defenses that a defendant might be able to raise against vehicular assault charges in Washington state include the following:

  • The defendant was not the person operating the motor vehicle (e.g., either because they were a passenger or it was a case of mistaken identity);
  • The defendant was not intoxicated or on any other illegal substances while driving;
  • The defendant did not cause substantial bodily harm or death to another individual while operating a motor vehicle;
  • The defendant did not drive in a reckless manner or with disregard for the safety of others; 
  • The prosecutor does not have enough evidence or if they fail to prove every element of the crime; and/or
  • The investigation of the defendant was carried out in an illegal manner (e.g., the defendant was arrested after an unlawful seizure). 

In addition, a criminal defense attorney may also be able to argue other mitigating factors, such as the weather and/or road conditions at the time of the incident. Although these factors may not dismiss a case in its entirety, they can be used to reduce the charges or penalties that a defendant receives.

Do I Need to Hire a Washington State Attorney?

The criminal justice system consists of a complex set of legal procedures and requirements, which if not followed properly, can result in increased monetary penalties and prison sentences. Depending on the facts of a case, the system can sometimes be difficult to navigate and may become even more so once a person needs to interpret and apply various laws. 

Thus, if you or a loved one are facing charges for vehicular assault in Washington state, then it is strongly recommended that you contact a Washington Criminal Lawyers as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney who is qualified and practices in Washington state will already be familiar with the relevant laws in the area, can help you navigate the state criminal justice system, and can answer any questions or concerns you may have about your case.

Your lawyer can also help you to prepare a solid legal defense, can perform research to find out whether there are any legal defenses you can raise against your charges, and can inform you of your rights under the law as a criminal defendant. Additionally, your lawyer can explain the different scenarios you may be facing based on the outcome of your case and can try to get any penalties you receive either reduced or dropped.

Finally, your lawyer will also be able to provide representation in court, or alternatively, can negotiate with the prosecutor for a potentially more favorable plea deal.


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