Vehicular assault is a severe criminal allegation for which a motivated and skilled Denver criminal defense attorney is necessary. A charge for vehicular assault inherently means that another individual was injured – and that injury involved alleged wrongdoing on the defendant’s part while behind the vehicle’s wheel. That alleged wrongdoing takes one of two forms: recklessness or alcohol impairment. Reviewing the statute’s language will help understand the nature of a charge for Vehicular Assault.
C.R.S. 18-3-205 is the statute that codifies Vehicular Assault. It states, in the relevant part:
(a) If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle in a reckless manner, and this conduct is the proximate cause of serious bodily injury to another, such person commits vehicular assault.
(b) (I) If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, and this conduct is the proximate cause of a serious bodily injury to another, such person commits vehicular assault. This is a strict liability crime.
(I.5) If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle while the person’s ability is impaired by alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, and such conduct is the proximate cause of the serious bodily injury of another, the person commits the crime of vehicular assault. …
(IV) “Driving under the influence” means driving a vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs, which alcohol alone, or one or more drugs alone, or alcohol combined with one or more drugs affect such person to a degree that such person is substantially incapable, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, of exercising clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.
(V) “Driving while ability impaired” means driving a motor vehicle or vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, that affects the person to the slightest degree so that the person is less able than the person ordinarily would have been, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a motor vehicle or vehicle.
(c) Vehicular assault, in violation of subsection (1)(b)(I.5) of this section, is a class 5 felony. Vehicular assault, in violation of subsection (1)(a) of this section, is a class 5 felony. Vehicular assault, in violation of subsection (1)(b)(I) of this section, is a class 4 felony.
The first means of arriving at a charge for Vehicular Assault in the statute involves the idea of recklessness. Under section (1)(a) of the statute, if a person drives recklessly and is the proximate cause of the serious bodily injuries suffered by another person, then that person is guilty of Vehicular Assault. Let’s break down what those requirements mean.
First is the idea of recklessness. Recklessness is a state of mind that must accompany certain offenses. When a person acts recklessly, they perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a given result will occur after a given action, and they disregard that risk and do the action anyway. For example, imagine a crowded park on the 4th of July with people barbecuing and watching fireworks. If someone at the park shot a gun straight into the air, that would be reckless behavior. To break that down, a person who shoots a gun perceives that the gun will fire, that a bullet will exit it and that the bullet will travel its trajectory before striking something. Pulling the trigger becomes an unjustifiable risk when you add that this person is in a crowded park. Pulling a trigger at a shooting range while aiming at a target has a shallow risk of causing injury; pulling a trigger while aiming a gun straight up in the air in a crowded park has a high risk of injury. Because that risk is substantial and unjustifiable, the person who ignored the risk of injury and still pulled the trigger is reckless. As it applies to Vehicular Assault, the idea is that a person’s driving behavior is so dangerous and unjustifiable that it rises to recklessness. A prime example would be if an individual were speeding at a ridiculous level over the speed limit and weaving through traffic. The combination of speed and weaving makes a person’s actions so risky that the actions are unjustifiable. Because we are all familiar with the risks of driving, particularly driving that fast and aggressively, it would not be compelling to say the driver did not know how dangerous their actions were. Since the driver then understood the risks of driving dangerously and chose to do so anyway, if their conduct caused serious bodily injury to another, it would constitute Vehicular Assault.
Next is the idea of proximate cause. Proximate cause is a term that only some people are familiar with, so it will be helpful to discuss it further. Proximate cause is a nebulous legal term, but in essence, it is the cause that explains a person’s injuries. There is a slight technical difference between proximate cause and actual cause. For example: imagine a person in their vehicle stopped at a red light, and for clarity, let’s call that vehicle, Vehicle 1. If another vehicle, Vehicle 2, rear-ends Vehicle 1 because the driver was not paying attention, then the driver of Vehicle 2 would be the actual and proximate cause of any injuries the driver of Vehicle 1 suffered. However, the actual and proximate causes can differ if a wrinkle exists. For example, if instead of Vehicle 2 failing to stop, imagine with me both Vehicle 1 and Vehicle 2 are stopped at a red light. Imagine now that the driver of a third vehicle, Vehicle 3, is not paying attention and rear-ends Vehicle 2 with enough force that Vehicle 2 hits Vehicle 1. In this instance, any injuries suffered by the driver of Vehicle 1 would have been caused by the driver of Vehicle 2; however, the injuries suffered by the driver of Vehicle 1 would have been proximately caused by the driver of Vehicle 3. Thus, for a person charged with Vehicular Assault, an examination into whether or not they were the proximate cause of another’s injuries is essential. At the Law Office of Jacob E. Martinez, we have successfully defended individuals charged with Vehicular Assault through this careful and critical evaluation of the existence of proximate cause.
Finally, serious bodily injury warrants some discussion. Serious bodily injury means an injury that involves the risk of loss of function of a part of the body, substantial risk of permanent injury or death, or permanent disfigurement. A scar of any sort may qualify under the loosest understanding of serious bodily injury. Under the most practical understanding, serious bodily injury typically involves broken bones, organ damage, or fairly serious head injury like a concussion. A doctor must opine that an injury meets the legal definition of serious bodily injury for Vehicular Assault to be properly charged.
The second means of arriving at a charge for Vehicular Assault, alcohol impairment, is reasonably apparent. When a person is charged with Vehicular Assault – DUI, the government alleges two separate actions combined into one offense.
First, the government alleges that a person drove after consuming alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, such that the consumption of drugs or alcohol rendered the person substantially incapable of operating a motor vehicle as a sober person would. Second, the government alleges that the person’s driving behavior, while impaired, was the proximate cause of the other person’s injuries. Thus, a person driving under the influence could be found guilty of DUI but could be found to have not been the proximate cause of a person’s injuries. This would fit the earlier example involving Vehicles 1, 2, and 3. Let’s turn back to the second scenario in which Vehicle 1 is stopped at a red light, and Vehicle 2 properly stops behind Vehicle 1. Let’s also add that drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both impair the driver of Vehicle 2. If Vehicle 3 crashes into the back of Vehicle 2, which then hits Vehicle 1, then the driver of Vehicle 2, although impaired, would not be the cause of the injuries to the driver of Vehicle 1. Thus, even in cases where an individual is impaired, it is still essential to have an experienced legal team to prepare for every possibility.
As noted in section (c) above, if a person is convicted of Vehicular Assault – Reckless, it is a class 5 felony. If a person is convicted of Vehicular Assault – DUI it is a class 4 felony. That difference stems from the reasonableness of a person’s actions. The legislature has clarified that if a person drives under the influence and hurts someone, that is a more serious offense than if a person makes incredibly poor decisions while on the road. The sentencing range varies as well based on a number of factors. However, the statute does contemplate time in the Department of Corrections should a judge find that sentence appropriate.
When charged with vehicular assault, numerous factors must be considered and evaluated. Having a strong legal team in your corner is advisable. Contact a Denver criminal defense attorney today to discuss your options.