It happens when you least expect it and rarely does a person actually mean to hurt anyone when they’re charged with vehicular assault. Unfortunately, however, vehicular assault is a severe crime with real consequences. Prosecutors take these types of charges very seriously and typically charge them as “dangerous” offenses. This means that your car is considered a dangerous instrument under the law, just like a knife or a gun. This also means that you face mandatory prison even if you have no prior criminal record.
Due to the serious nature of these charges, it is necessary to understand the law that surrounds the crime or vehicular assault. It also helps to discuss the details of your case with an attorney with experience handling these types of cases.
2. Serious Physical Injury. You can also be convicted for vehicular assault if the prosecution proves that:
SIDE NOTE: A DUI with accident but no injury would not constitute vehicular assault because while the conduct was reckless and a dangerous instrument was used (car), there was no physical injury. The person, however, would be charged with DUI and likely face harsher punishments due to the accident.
The law surrounding vehicular assault can be some of the more complicated law to understand. This is because in order to be convicted and sentenced under Arizona’s vehicular assault statute, a series of legal determinations need to be made by the prosecution, the judge and often a jury. The terminology and law surrounding these findings are outlined below.
This way of committing vehicular assault under this theory is pretty straightforward. It is when use a car to hurt someone with the intent to hurt them or knowing that you will them.
The law defines recklessly to mean that you are aware of and consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that conduct will result in physical injury. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregarding it is a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do in the situation.
This means that you are aware of but choose to ignore a dangerous risk that your actions will cause physical injury to another person. And a reasonable person in your shoes would not have ignored such a dangerous risk. Vehicular assault involves the same type of reckless behavior that can result in vehicular manslaughter charges when someone dies, rather than gets injured, in the car accident. For example, driving under the influence (DUI), criminal speeding, aggressive driving, drag racing, or texting while driving.
For vehicular assault, this means that, using your car, you intended to scare another person with the fear of immediate physical injury.
SIDE NOTE: There has to be evidence of the victim’s apprehension of fear or that the victim knew of the danger. So, in the example above, if the pedestrian has headphones on and for whatever reason never notices the car speeding toward him and stopping just short of hitting him. Under these circumstances, the driver has not committed an assault. The pedestrian was unaware of the driver’s actions and was not afraid of the driver hitting him.
Physical injury means the impairment of a physical condition. Depending on the prosecutor, you could be charged with vehicular assault even when the injury is minor, such as a cut or a bruise. However, prosecutors tend to charge vehicular assault when the injuries are more significant.
Serious physical injury includes physical injury that creates a reasonable risk of death, or that causes serious and permanent disfigurement, serious impairment of health, or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb.
A dangerous instrument is anything that is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury under the circumstances in which it is used. A car is considered a dangerous instrument when used under circumstances that are readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.
When there is serious physical injury it is up to the prosecutor to charge the vehicular assault under the law requiring serious physical injury or the law requiring use of a dangerous instrument. You will definitely see the crime charged both ways.
Often, the prosecutor will choose to charge the crime under the law requiring the use of a dangerous instrument. This is because sometimes whether an injury is serious under the law is not as clear cut and needs a lot of expert testimony from the victim’s doctor. Unfortunately, it can often get worse:
In Arizona, vehicular assault penalties are serious as the crime is charged as a Class 3 Dangerous Felony. When determining the vehicular assault penalties, the sentencing judge first starts by considering the presumptive term of 7.5 years in prison.
SIDE NOTE: Arizona charges vehicular assault as a dangerous felony. An offense is a dangerous offense if it involved the use of a dangerous instrument. As described above, a car is a dangerous instrument when it is used in way that it is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury. If the prosecution proves that your car was a dangerous instrument, then you face mandatory prison as a sentence. This means that even if you have never before committed a crime, you cannot be placed on probation and must be sentenced to prison.
If you have no prior criminal record and the prosecution does not charge the crime as a Dangerous Offense (or is unable to prove that the offense was Dangerous), then you could be sentenced to:
In addition to the penalties imposed by the court, if convicted of vehicular assault, you can also expect:
Various defenses can apply to your case. What defenses to raise depends on the facts of your specific case and how you were charged. Common defenses to Vehicular Assault include:
Any DUI with injury or DUI with great bodily injury could be charged as Vehicular Assault. You can expect that a DUI with great bodily injury is going to be charged as Vehicular Assault. A DUI with great bodily injury will be charged as Aggravated Assault based on either causing serious physical injury or using a car as a dangerous instrument.
On the other hand, whether a DUI with injury is charged as Vehicular Assault depends on the nature of the injury, who the prosecutor is, and what county the prosecutor is in. A DUI with injury will be charged as Aggravated Assault based on using a car as a dangerous instrument.
Vehicular assault is a serious charge that involves a lot of technical issues. The attorneys at Feldman & Royle have extensive experience defending clients charged with all manner of vehicular crimes and have successfully defending many vehicle assault cases both in plea negations and at trial. We can help you navigate the complex issues involved in these types of charges and develop the best defense strategy for your case. Call now for a free consultation.
Vehicular assault is a crime charged when a person, using a car, intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes someone else to get injured. It is also when a person uses a car to intentionally scare someone with the threat of harm. Vehicular Assault is most commonly charged based on an allegation that a person was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and caused an accident that hurt someone else.
After trial, the penalty for vehicular assault is typically prison—from 5 to 15 years in prison. Even if a person has no criminal record, prison is usually mandatory because prosecutors charge Vehicular Assault as a dangerous offense. This means that they allege that a person’s car was used as a dangerous instrument, which legally takes probation off the table.
Vehicular assault is a Class 3 Felony. And it is normally charged as a Class 3 Dangerous Felony. This means that the prosecutor alleges the car to be a dangerous instrument and makes prison the only possible sentence.
Yes, aggravated vehicular assault is a felony. What makes the misdemeanor assault become a felony is that the assault is aggravated (or made worse) by the fact that either: