Colorado’s traffic system is designed to be safe, but there are always risks. A few seconds of bad judgment can lead to a life-altering accident, even if you’re not badly hurt. If another person is seriously injured, you could find yourself defending against vehicular assault charges.
In this article, we will examine what constitutes vehicular assault in Colorado, the penalties involved, and your possible legal options, which your lawyer will use to try to get your charges dismissed or reduced in a plea deal.
In This Guide:
- What is Vehicular Assault in Colorado?
- What Counts as Serious Bodily Injury?
- What is Considered Proximate Cause?
- How Colorado Defines Reckless Driving
- How Colorado Defines Driving Under the Influece
- Testing for Drugs and Alcohol
- Defending Against a Vehicular Assault Charge
- A Strong Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Make or Break Your Case
Facing Vehicular Assault Charges? Lawyer Up.
Vehicular assault is a felony in Colorado. You don’t just pay a fine and shake off a felony. You could spend time behind bars in addition to getting hit by massive fines. Let a member of our Criminal Defense Team go over the specifics of your case and discuss your legal options. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment.
What is Vehicular Assault in Colorado?
Automobile accidents happen all the time in Colorado, and one driver is usually deemed to be more at fault. So what elevates driver fault to vehicular assault? The statute is pretty simple:
If someone sustains serious bodily injury while you’re driving/operating a vehicle in a reckless manner or while using alcohol and/or drugs and your conduct is the proximate cause of their injuries, you have committed vehicular assault under Colorado law. Colorado Revised Statute 18-3-205
Vehicular Assault is a Felony in Colorado
There are two ways to commit vehicular assault in Colorado.
One: Driving recklessly and causing serious bodily injury to another person. This is a class 5 felony, and consequences can include:
- a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years (with 2 years of mandatory parole), and/or
- a fine ranging from a minimum of $1000 to a maximum of $100,000
Two: Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and causing serious bodily injury to another person. This is a class 4 felony with punishments that can include:
- a prison sentence of 2 to 6 years (with 3 years of mandatory parole), and/or
- a fine ranging from a minimum of $2000 to a maximum of $500,000
A Felony is Forever
We emphasize that a felony crime stays on your record permanently, unless you’re a juvenile and later file to have a non-violent offense expunged. A DUI offense cannot be expunged or sealed.
Before we move on, let’s examine a couple of key terms in the statute’s definition of vehicular assault, as they become important in specific vehicular assault cases.
What Counts as Serious Bodily Injury?
Under C.R.S 18-1-901, serious bodily injury refers to any injury that, either immediately after the accident or sometime later, involves:
- a substantial risk of death
- a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement
- a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the senses or bodily functions
- broken or fractured bones
- second- or third-degree burns
A variety of post-accident injuries, like concussion or whiplash, are not mentioned. They are common injuries but generally are not considered permanent or life-threatening.
What is Considered Proximate Cause?
If you have been charged with vehicular assault, it means someone’s serious bodily injury is a natural and probable consequence of your conduct behind the wheel.
This includes any seriously injured person who was inside the vehicle you were driving. Because vehicular assault is a strict liability crime in Colorado, the law does not care whether you intended to hurt someone.
Proximate cause only asks whether your reckless or intoxicated driving caused serious injury to another person. Period.
An intervening injury is any additional harm inflicted on a victim that did not result from the original incident of vehicular assault. Consider the following example:
Jacob is driving his girlfriend Alyssa home from a New Year’s Eve party. They are fighting and both have been drinking. Jacob is driving aggressively because he’s angry at Alyssa. He makes a sharp turn at an intersection and violently swerves into the path of another vehicle. Jacob’s injuries are minor, but the collision has left Alyssa with facial injuries, a broken shoulder, and three broken ribs. Jacob will be charged with vehicular assault for causing those injuries.
Early the next morning, Alyssa wakes in her hospital bed. She needs to use the restroom. She rings for a nurse, but after several minutes of waiting, she tries to go to the toilet by herself. She falls off her bed and breaks her jaw. This is an intervening event injury. While Jacob is not responsible for the broken jaw, he is the reason she’s hospitalized.
The intervening event injury conforms to these four standards:
- It resulted from an event completely independent of the accident.
- The event was unforeseeable.
- Jacob did not participate in Alyssa falling off her bed.
- If not for falling off her bed, Alyssa’s jaw wouldn’t have broken.
How Colorado Defines Reckless Driving
Many automobile accidents are the result of carelessness, adverse road and traffic conditions, or both. A driver can still be at fault for causing an accident through carelessness, but that would not rise to the level of vehicular assault, even if another person was seriously injured.
A reckless driver, however, drives in a way that indicates either a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. C.R.S § 42-4-1401
To be found reckless, a driver’s actions require a higher degree of fault than mere negligence. For instance, aggressive driving could be considered reckless driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as when an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property.
Aggressive drivers often:
- aggressively switch lanes while close to another vehicle
- honk or make rude gestures
- drive 15 mph or more over the speed limit
- run red lights or stop signs
- cut in front of another vehicle
- speed to prevent another vehicle from passing
- tailgate to prevent another vehicle from merging
- aggressively merge into traffic in front of another vehicle
How Colorado Defines Driving Under the Influence
A person is considered under the influence if they drive after using drugs or alcohol and, because of that, are incapable of exercising clear judgment, due care in operating the vehicle, or sufficient physical control. C.R.S § 42-4-1301
Driving while impaired by a controlled substance plays a role in many cases of vehicular assault and vehicular homicide.
Anytime an automobile accident results in serious injury to one or more people, it will be important for law enforcement and the courts to determine if the at-fault driver was driving under the influence. There are several ways to determine this:
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
If the defendant’s blood alcohol content is measured at more than .08 grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters of blood, they will be charged with driving under the influence in addition to vehicular assault.
If the BAC comes back as greater than .05 but less than .08 grams, a defendant can still be charged with vehicular assault by DUI, if other evidence demonstrates impairment.
A BAC measurement of .04 grams or lower cannot support a theory of driving under the influence. C.R.S § 18-3-205
THC Blood Content
If the defendant’s blood contained five or more nanograms per milliliter of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a jury can presume they were driving under the influence. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Other potential evidence of driving under the influence can include:
- the defendant’s statements
- the defendant’s driving
- witness accounts of the accident
- reconstruction of the defendant’s activities before getting behind the wheel
- the presence of alcohol, drugs, and/or drug paraphernalia in the defendant’s car
What About Legal Drugs?
The statute is clear. Any drug means any controlled substance, and C.R.S 18-18-102 lists a lot of them, including the active ingredients of many pharmaceutical medications. This is why prescription bottles come with warning labels.
Any controlled substance that causes a person to drive in an unsafe way can be used to support a DUI finding in a vehicular assault case. Colorado law doesn’t care whether the drug is legal or medically necessary. Even common over-the-counter medicines can support a DUI finding, and these include:
- cold medicines
- common pain medications
- allergy medications
- inhaled vapors
- medical marijuana
Testing for Drugs and Alcohol
Is a DUI Test Voluntary or Mandatory?
Anyone who operates a motor vehicle on Colorado’s roadways gives “express consent” to a chemical BAC test if they are arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. But before being tested, the arrested person can choose between a breath or blood test.
Chemical Tests are Not Mandatory, But…
If the arresting officer suspects drugs were involved in the accident, he or she can require the driver to submit to a blood, urine, or saliva test instead of, or even in addition to, a breath test.
A driver can refuse to be chemically tested for drugs or alcohol, but that will lead to a swift and automatic one-year suspension of their driver’s license. That’s a harsh penalty on its own but would still be preferable to going to prison.
Furthermore, a defendant’s refusal to submit to a chemical test can be counted as evidence of guilt if the vehicular assault case goes before a jury.
Taking Blood By Force
If an arresting officer has a strong suspicion of DUI, the driver’s blood can be taken against their will. The results of an involuntary blood test can be used against the defendant in court.
Defending Against a Vehicular Assault Charge
No matter the circumstances of your accident, you are entitled to a vigorous defense against vehicular assault allegations. Never admit guilt before talking to a lawyer.
Your culpability should be determined only by due process of criminal law. You should always defend yourself against a felony charge.
With that in mind, here are some common defenses against vehicular assault charges:
- You Weren’t Driving: You cannot be guilty of vehicular assault if you weren’t the one driving the car. The prosecution has the burden of proof to show that you were in control of the vehicle when the accident occurred.
- Witness Statements Don’t Add Up: Inconsistent statements and testimony cast doubt over all kinds of evidence being used against you.
- Your Driving Wasn’t Reckless: The burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that your handling of the vehicle was reckless enough to cause the accident. It takes more than bad driving to trigger a recklessness charge.
- The Accident Wasn’t Your Fault: If you can provide counter-evidence to argue that you did not cause the accident leading to the victim’s injuries, it will help your case.
- You Were Not Under the Influence: There are strict procedures for obtaining a reliable BAC or THC measurement after an automobile accident, but they’re not always followed. It might help your case if you can show that your DUI test was not administered legally or in accordance with Colorado regulations.
- You Were Never Advised of Your Rights: If you were not advised of your Constitutional rights before submitting to any BAC or THC tests by police, or while being arrested, then none of the evidence collected against you can be admitted in court.
- Your Rights Were Abused: You have rights. Law enforcement must uphold those rights even while arresting you. If they violate your Constitutional rights through intimidation, coercion, refusing to give you access to an attorney, or illegal searches, that can be used to derail their case.
- Police or Prosecutorial Misconduct: If any type of law enforcement or district attorney misconduct played a role in your case, and you can reasonably show it, their entire argument against you could fall apart.
- The Alleged Victim Was Not Seriously Injured: Remember, there are common injuries associated with automobile accidents that do not quite meet the legal definition of serious bodily injury.
A Strong Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Make or Break Your Case
An automobile accident is a traumatic experience, especially when it causes serious bodily injury to others. Getting hit with a vehicular assault charge right after can make it worse, even if your injuries weren’t serious.
Talk to a criminal defense attorney. Even if you believe one or more of the above defenses could work in your favor, you’ll need the help of a criminal defense lawyer to set your defense into motion.
There also could be defenses available to your particular situation that are not listed above. An attentive attorney could spot them and use them to secure a more favorable outcome — whether it’s having your charges completely dismissed, or negotiating reduced charges or a plea deal.
Other actions only a lawyer can take include:
- reconstructing the accident using qualified experts and professional accident scene measurements and analysis
- subpoena any and all nearby traffic or security cameras to obtain footage of the accident, disproving the prosecution’s claims
- research the true motives of the alleged victim to determine if they are exaggerating their injuries to get a larger insurance payout
Get a Criminal Defense Attorney Working for You
There’s a lot of good information in this guide, but it is only a general blueprint. If you’ve been involved in a crash that caused serious injuries to another person, then you need a vehicular assault defense attorney to push back against the prosecution. Vehicular assault is a felony crime, and a conviction could mean serious jail time, thousands of dollars in fines, and a permanent criminal record. Don’t just roll over. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment.