An interesting case from Bainbridge Island demonstrates that one does not have to injure someone outside of their vehicle to be charged with vehicular assault when they are also charged with a DUI.
On November 30, a young man and his girlfriend were found in a totaled car in a ditch. The car had left the roadway some 200 feet to the west and spun around the ditch, facing the opposite direction after it stopped moving. The back window was smashed, the windshield shattered, and parts of the car were strewn throughout the scene. The driver was bleeding from his mouth and head. His girlfriend also had a head wound.
The man's recollection of events differed. At first, he said he had not had a drink for two days. He then admitted to having a beer two hours earlier. Then, that amount increased to two. When he exited the ambulance at the scene, he almost fell, only to be saved by the officer on scene.
Because of the cold weather, the officer elected not to do field sobriety tests. The driver was arrested at the scene for a DUI. Later, after receiving a warrant, she conducted a blood draw on him and arrested him for vehicular assault. The article does not suggest that the girlfriend-passenger asked that her boyfriend be charged.
In Washington, a person is guilty of vehicular assault if they drive in a reckless manner that causes substantial bodily harm to another, or substantially harms the body of another while driving under the influence. It is a class B felony.
As you can see, vehicular assault does not require any intent on the part of the driver. It does not require that the injured person be struck by the vehicle. It merely requires that the driver injure someone substantially with their car while driving under the influence.
As a class B felony, vehicular assault can significantly curtail your rights. If convicted, a driver can receive maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
Driving under the influence and injuring someone in a car accident is certainly a crime no one wants to commit. If this case shows anything, it is that the police are at advantage during these cases. After the accident and the head wound, the driver certainly did not have his full faculties. Perhaps his lack of balance and memory were as much attributable to a concussion as whatever he had to drink that day.
Regardless, this case shows the importance of calling an attorney as soon as you can after being involved in a DUI event. Although an experienced attorney could not have prevented the blood draw after the officer received a warrant, one could ensure that their clients knows not to speak and to not incriminate themselves further.
Steve Karimi is such an experienced attorney. He is experienced prosecuting and defending DUI and vehicular assault cases across the greater Seattle metro area. If you have been accused of a DUI, do not hesitate to contact him.