Vehicular Assault is one of the most serious criminal traffic offenses in Washington. It is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000.00 fine. The crime of vehicular assault is charged when a person substantially injures another by way of either reckless driving or driving under the influence (DUI). In many instances, the charge starts out as a DUI or Reckless Driving and then is amended to the felony when the severity of the injury is known.
If you have been involved in an accident where another party, either one of your passengers or someone from another vehicle or a pedestrian, suffers any kind of injury, call a Washington DUI lawyer immediately. There is a very strong possibility that you could be charged with a felony and subject to a very high bail at your arraignment. You will need to act quickly.
DUI VEHICULAR ASSAULT
Vehicular Assault can be charged in one of two ways. The most serious of the two is vehicular assault by way of a DUI. This means that a person, through use of his vehicle, causes substantial bodily harm to another person and at the time of driving was also in violation of the Washington DUI statute. For a person with no criminal or prior DUI related history, the presumptive sentencing range is between three (3) and nine (9) months in jail upon conviction. If a person does have any prior felony or DUI history, it is likely that a conviction would mean a prison sentence of over one year.
RECKLESS DRIVING VEHICULAR ASSAULT
Slightly less serious is crime of vehicular assault by way of reckless driving. While the causation and injury elements are the same as with the DUI related charge, impairment while driving is not an element. Instead it must be proven that the driver was operating his vehicle with “disregard for the safety of others” at the time the injury causing collision occurred. The presumptive sentencing range upon a conviction of this charge is one (1) to three (3) for one with no criminal history. Again, the sanctions increase the greater the criminal history.
SUBSTANTIAL BODILY HARM
The Revised Code of Washington defines “substantial bodily harm” as that which either causes a temporary but substantial disfigurement, a temporary but substantial impairment of any body part or organ or a fracture of any body part. The definition is very broad and fairly vague. Because of that, most injuries that routinely are suffered in a motor vehicle accident are likely covered. Broken bones, cuts requiring stitches and thus scarring, and temporary unconsciousness can all be relatively minor “injuries” that will elevate a simple car accident to the crime of vehicular assault if drugs, alcohol or recklessness are involved.
EXCEPTIONAL SENTENCE BASED UPON DEGREE OF INJURY
In cases where the harm suffered by the injured person “substantially exceeds” that which is necessary to satisfy the offense, the court is not bound by the presumptive ranges discussed above. This means that upon sentencing, if the injury is substantially greater than that contemplated by the vehicular assault statute, the court can go above the standard range, anywhere up to the maximum of ten (10) years. Prosecutors will be vigilant in assessing the degree of injury. If they believe it surpasses that which the statute requires (which is quite minimal) they will seek a sentencing enhancement.
PROSECUTORIAL DELAY IN KING COUNTY, WASHINGTON
Considering the seriousness level of this kind of allegation, it is surprising that it can take as long as it does after the date incident for vehicular assault to be charged in King County, Washington. Nevertheless, it is not unusual for the charging of this offense to be delayed by anywhere from six (6) to twelve (12) months in King County. Even longer in some cases. Nevertheless it is of paramount importance to act quickly when alcohol or drugs were involved in an injury causing automobile accident. Once the charge is filed, the State will be requesting a high bail amount, usually upwards of $100,000 for the defendant to remain free while the case is pending. Despite the filing delay, the state will still attempt to convince the court that the defendant represents a danger to the community and/or a flight risk. Anyone facing vehicular assault charges will want to be proactive and “get out in front” of these accusations before they are made.
BEING PROACTIVE IN THE FACE OF VEHICULAR ASSAULT CHARGES
In jurisdictions, such as King County, where there can be a substantial delay in filing charges, there can exist the tendency in the defendant to sit back and do nothing until the charge is eventually filed. Do not make this mistake. In addition to considering the nature of the charge and the defendant’s criminal history, both the court and the prosecutor will be very interested in knowing what was accomplished during the period between the date of incident and the first court date. What the defendant does during this time period may affect not only what if any bail is requested by the state or ordered by the court, it may have a direct bearing on the outcome of the case. There is no standard “recipe” of what the prospective defendant should do while awaiting charges to be filed and each case is different. To discuss and build a pre-charging defense strategy you need to consult with a vehicular assault attorney.
So if you were a driver that was in an injury causing accident and either had alcohol or other drugs in your system or were potentially acting recklessly, do not delay in contacting a vehicular assault lawyer with knowledge of both the applicable laws as well as procedure in the jurisdiction where the incident occurred. Being informed and acting quickly can make a substantial difference in the outcome of your case.