Vehicular assault is the criminal version of a car accident. Most often it is 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.
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.
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.
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).
Frequently Asked Questions
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 an 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…”.
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.
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 reas (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.
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:
1. If the person causes serious physical injury to another.
2. If the person uses a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.
3. 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.