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Vehicular Aggravated Assault Arizona [2020]


The Definitive Guide (2020)

Vehicular assault Arizona’s criminal version of a car accident. The crime is specifically called Vehicular Aggravated Assault (sometimes just Aggravated Assault).

If you have been indicted or arrested for Vehicular Aggravated Assault then there some things you need to know.


What is a Vehicular Assault?

Vehicular assault is typically charged when there is a car accident, a person is severely injured,  and the cause of the accident was impairment by alcohol or drugs. Less often, it is charged in cases where there is no impairment, but extremely reckless driving is alleged.

Vehicular Aggravated Assault

What makes a civil car accident, where the remedy is solely money, into a criminal case is what the law refers to as mens rea.  Literally translated from Latin the term means a “guilty mind.” However, in a courtroom the term is used more broadly.  A person’s means rea is the mental state behind the person’s actions.

Vehicular Assault

What makes a civil car accident, where the remedy is solely money, into a criminal case is what the law refers to as mens rea.  Literally translated from Latin the term means a “guilty mind.” However, in a courtroom the term is used more broadly.  A person’s means rea is the mental state behind the person’s actions.

Causing Injury

If you strike another person in the face causing them injury – is that a crime?  The law answers that question by determining what was your mental state at the moment you caused their injury.  An unintentional blow to another’s face, that was unavoidable, is simply an accident.  On the other end of the spectrum, a punch that was intended to connect with a person’s nose is a criminal assault.

Aggravated Assault v. Vehicular Assault

Arizona does not have a specific law for vehicular assault.  The crime requires violating a combination of several statutes.  A starting point is our state’s felony assault law (called Aggravated Assault).


What Does Aggravated Vehicular Assault Mean?

The primary statute used to charge Vehicular Assault in Arizona is Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) 13-1204.  The statute lists several actions that result in a felony assault.  

It provides: “A person commits aggravated assault if the person commits assault as prescribed by section 13-1203 under any of the following circumstances…”.

Define Aggravated Vehicular Assault

A.R.S. 13-1203, referenced in the statute, is Arizona’s misdemeanor assault law. Accordingly, a felony assault – first requires a misdemeanor assault – as a predicate to a felony assault. 

Put another way, Arizona requires a misdemeanor assault as a foundation for a felony assault.


Aggravated Vehicular Assault Negligent or Reckless

Misdemeanor assault, as defined A.R.S. 13-1203, states a person commits assault by:

1. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person; or

2. Intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury; or

3. Knowingly touching another person with the intent to injure, insult or provoke such person.

As you can see, the law provides several possible mens rea (mental states) that can violate the statute.  It is not just intentional conduct that is criminalized.  Essentially, the Arizona legislature has made a car accident an assault, if your actions are either recklessly or knowingly cause another person’s injury.

A.R.S. 28-13-1204

Thus, once it is determined a person’s actions have violated one of these three scenarios, then a vehicular assault analysis turns back to A.R.S. 13-1204.  

This statute asks the question – did the assault occur under one of the specified “circumstances”?  Then the statute provides eleven “circumstances.”  In vehicular assault cases the three (3) most likely to apply are:

Serious Physical Injury

If the person causes serious physical injury to another.

The term “serious physical injury” is defined by statute.  The provides that it 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. See A.R.S. § 13-105(39)

  • PROSTHESIS – A prosthesis is not a “body organ or part” within the meaning of the aggravated assault statute. State v. Martinez, 220 Ariz. 56, 202 P.3d 521 (App. 2008).
  • PROTRACTED IMPAIRMENT – To constitute “protracted impairment” of a limb to support a finding of serious physical injury the impairment must be more protracted than either a temporary but substantial impairment of the use of a limb or the healing time of a normal fracture. State v. George, 206 Ariz. 436, 79 P.3d 1050 (App. 2003), review denied.
  • HEALTH DEFINED – While “health” in the phrase “serious impairment of health”, § 13-105, might be defined to include mental or emotional health, when read in conjunction with provision of § 13-105 stating that physical injury means the impairment of physical condition, it was clear that legislature intended to limit aggravated assault statute, this section, to impairments of physical health. See State v. Garcia, 138 Ariz. 211, 673 P.2d 955 (App. 1983).
  • BROKEN NOSE – broken nose is “fracture of any body part” within the meaning of Arizona’s aggravated assault statute. See State v. Tiscareno, 190 Ariz. 542, 950 P.2d 1163 (App. 1997).
  • VISIBLE LACERATIONS – A visible three-inch laceration on victim’s hand was found to be “disfiguring,” within the meaning of Arizona aggravated assault statute, regardless of whether laceration was temporary and would heal. See State v. Pena (2014).
Deadly Weapon or Dangerous Instrument.

If the person uses a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

Temporary But Substantial Disfigurement

If the person commits the assault by any means of force that causes temporary but substantial disfigurement, temporary but substantial loss or impairment of any body organ or part or a fracture of any body part.  

Defenses | Vehicular Aggravated Assault | Arizona

Superseding Causes in Aggravated Assaults

Keep in mind that crime of aggravated assault requires that you cause the injury resulting injuries. In law, there is a concept of a superseding cause. XXXX

Failure To Wear a Seat Belt

An automobile accident victim’s failure to wear seat-belt was not “intervening, superseding cause” of the serious injuries that he sustained, and did not preclude prosecution of the other driver for aggravated assault for recklessly causing “serious injury” to the victim.

Also, the other motorist should reasonably have foreseen that some of the potential victims of his drunken driving would not be wearing seat belts. See State v. Freeland,  176 Ariz. 544, 863 P.2d 263 (App. 1993), review denied.

Lesser Included Offenses

Where Endangerment, unlike aggravated assault, requires that victim actually be placed in a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury, endangerment is not a lesser included offense of aggravated assault, and thus the defendant was not entitled to an instruction on this offense in aggravated assault prosecution. See State v. Rineer,  131 Ariz. 147, 639 P.2d 337 (App. 1981).

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