Under vehicular assault law, the offense occurs when an individual’s operation of a motor vehicle causes bodily harm to another individual. The laws regarding vehicular assault vary by state. The punishment for the offense also depends on a number of factors, including how many individuals were injured and how severe the injuries were.
In addition to criminal charges, an individual who commits a vehicular assault may also find themselves in civil trouble. If they are found guilty of vehicular assault, they may also be subject to a civil lawsuit in which the victim or victims can recover damages for their injuries.
What are the Elements of a Vehicular Assault Crime?
In some states, the criminal code specifically contains the offense of vehicular assault. In other states, the offense is known by another title, such as:
- Aggravated assault by vehicle;
- Serious injury by vehicle; and/or
- Assault by auto.
Regardless of the title given to the offense, vehicular assault cases generally occur when a driver causes bodily injury to another individual while:
In some states, such as New York, the law requires that the vehicle causing the injury meet or exceed a certain weight.
How Severe Must the Bodily Injury Be?
In general, the injury caused must reach the level of serious bodily harm or serious bodily injury. What constitutes serious injury will vary by state. In general, serious bodily injury involves:
- An injury that requires hospitalization;
- An injury that involves a substantial risk of death;
- An injury that involves a substantial risk of permanent disfigurement;
- An injury that involves a substantial risk of loss or impairment of an organ; and/or
- Broken bones, fractures and/or burns.
If an individual dies as a result of the vehicular assault, the defendant may be charged with vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide. In some states, the definition of victim also includes any unborn children.
Is Vehicular Assault a Felony?
In some jurisdictions, vehicular assault is a misdemeanor. In other jurisdictions, vehicular assault is a felony. The categorization of the offense and the penalties will depend on where the offense occurred.
Generally, the penalty for a vehicular assault conviction includes jail time. The amount of jail time will vary greatly from case to case. Jail sentences may range from a few months to a few years. Factors affecting sentencing may include:
- The number of individuals injured;
- The severity of their injuries;
- The circumstances of the offense; and
- The driver’s prior criminal record.
The penalty will likely include a suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license once they are released from jail. Driver’s licenses are typically suspended for 1 to 3 years, but in some cases, they may be permanently revoked.
What Penalties Could I Face for Vehicular Assault?
If convicted of a misdemeanor, the vehicular assault penalty for most misdemeanors include jail time up to one year and fines up to $1,000. The specific punishment varies by state.
A felony vehicular assault sentence, in accordance with the punishment for most felonies, includes a prison term of one year or more and heftier fines. The exact punishment will vary by state. It is also important to note that within a jurisdiction, an offense may be categorized as a 1st degree felony, a 2nd degree felony, or a 3rd degree felony, depending on the severity of the crime.
In general, the more reckless the individual is in committing the offense, and/or the higher the level of intoxication, the more likely the offense is to be charged as a felony. It is also more likely to be charged as a serious felony, such as 1st degree. Other factors include the number of individuals injured and the severity of their injuries.
If an individual commits a vehicular assault while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, they may face multiple charges. These may include driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges in addition to vehicular assault charges.
In addition to criminal charges and jail time, an individual who commits vehicular assault may face civil penalties. Victims injured as a result of the vehicular assault may bring a claim in civil court for damages in order to compensate them for consequences of the accident, including:
- Pain and suffering; and/or
- Lost wages.
An individual who commits vehicular assault may also face temporary suspension of their driver’s license. They may be required to take driver education courses and/or pay a fine in order to have the suspension lifted.
Can My Driver’s License be Permanently Suspended due to a Vehicular Assault Conviction?
Yes, a defendant’s driver’s license may be suspended for their lifetime as a result of a vehicular assault conviction. Behavior involving vehicles that results in death or serious bodily injury to another may subject a driver to a lifetime suspension of their license. As the saying goes, driving is a privilege and not a right.
Are there any Defenses to the Crime of Vehicular Assault?
Yes, there may be defenses available to the crime of vehicular assault. Any criminal defendant is entitled to due process rights, which includes the presumption of innocence. Due process requires the prosecution, sometimes known as the state, to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction.
Even if the prosecution is able to prove each element of the offense, a defendant may still raise criminal defenses to the charges. Criminal defenses include reasons why a defendant may have engaged in criminal activity, such as:
- Duress; and/or
- A mistake of law and/or fact.
If a defendant successfully asserts a defense, it may result in the reduction of charges to lesser charges. In some cases, it may also result in a finding of not guilty at trial.
One specific defense to the charge of vehicular assault includes involuntary intoxication. Involuntary intoxication occurs when an individual is given an intoxicating substance, such as drugs and/or alcohol, without their knowledge or consent.
If a defendant was forced to consume the intoxicating substance, they may be able to present the defense of duress. Duress is defined as a crime being committed under threat of serious bodily injury or death.
A vehicular assault attorney will have knowledge of what defenses can be raised in a particular case. They will also know the most effective ways to present those defenses in court.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney for Help with Vehicular Assault Charges?
Yes, if you are facing vehicular assault charges, or their equivalent under your state’s law, it is imperative you seek the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer. You should look for an attorney with experience in your states DUI, DWI, and driver’s license suspension and revocation laws.
An attorney can review the facts of your case, determine what, if any, defenses are available to you, and gather evidence to present those defenses in court. An attorney can advise you of your rights and represent you during any court proceeding, if necessary.