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Colorado Vehicular Assault - Vehicular Homicide

Colorado Vehicular Assault – Vehicular Homicide

Colorado Vehicular Assault – Vehicular Homicide  – When DUI’s Go Very Wrong…

Understanding the Crime of Vehicular Assault, Vehicular Homicide, Criminally Negligent Homicide, Manslaughter and Second Degree Murder

By Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – H. Michael Steinberg

 Colorado Vehicular Assault – Vehicular Homicide – Drunk driving accidents resulting in serious or fatal injuries to innocent people tend to attract a great deal of media attention and public outcry in the counties where they happened.

Because of that, individuals facing vehicular homicide or assault charges have little chance of finding a sympathetic ear, or leniency, in the criminal justice system without the advice and assistance of an experienced defense lawyer.

 Colorado Vehicular Assault – Vehicular Homicide

Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers who regularly handle DUI cases know that accidents are a common consequence of driving while intoxicated. An accident involving an injury dramatically increases the exposure of that a criminal defendant in Colorado faces.

If you run a stop sign or traffic signal and injure someone in a car accident, it is likely that you will only face charges of running a stop sign. However, if you have been drinking, or you might face charges of vehicular assault if the person is injured, or if the person you hit dies, you could be charged with vehicular homicide or vehicular homicide charges.

Most people don’t realize that you do not have to be legally impaired to be charged with felony vehicular assault or vehicular homicide. If you have been drinking or driving under the influence of drugs, regardless of the level of intoxication, you can face serious felony charges. A felony conviction could result in a mandatory prison sentence, loss of civil rights, loss of gun ownership privileges, additional license suspension, and may even prevent you from pursuing future employment opportunities.

In Colorado you do not even have to be the at-fault driver to face felony vehicular assault or vehicular homicide charges. If you were impaired, the state can claim that your consumption of alcohol was the proximate cause of the car accident. Any prior alcohol or reckless driving convictions can result in penalty enhancements that can translate into additional jail time or prison time.

Charges of vehicular homicide may or may not be part of a charge of drunk driving. Unfortunately, fatalities can occur in connection with driving offenses. The State of Colorado is free to charge second-degree murder in connection with these cases. Alternatively, they can charge manslaughter or negligent homicide as a “dangerous nature offense,” precluding probation as a sentence option. All of these offenses carry lengthy prison sentences. Indeed, conviction for second-degree murder, even from an auto accident, carries the most serious consequences possible under Colorado Law, next to first-degree murder.

Prosecutors are free in deciding what offense to charge in any given case. Therefore, wide disparities occur in connection with the outcome of these cases. One defendant may receive a sentence of 10 or 20 years in prison while another receives probation for similar conduct.

Keep in mind the possible sentences using this Colorado Sentencing Chart:

Class

Presumptive Minimum
(but sometimes Probation or Community Corrections are also possible)

Presumptive / Maximum

1

Life in Prison

Death Sentence

2

8 years prison

24 years prison

3

4 years prison

12 years prison
(* 16 years prison)

4

2 years prison

6 years prison
(* 8 years prison)

5

1 year prison

3 years prison
(* 4 years prison)

6

1 year prison

18 months prison
(* 2 years prison)

* = If “extraordinary risk crime”.

** = In any case where a Court finds “exceptional aggravation” or “exceptional” mitigation, the range can be high as twice the presumptive maximum or as low as one half of the presumptive minimum. Also, so-called “violent crimes” and other factors may trigger “mandatory minimums” or other sentences outside the ranges.

*** = All prison sentences are followed by different periods of parole.

All Crimes are broken into what are known as “elements.” The elements of each crime must be proven beyond a reasonable double.

What follows are each crime broken down into it’s elements followed by the actual Colorado Law on the crime discussed.

Colorado Vehicular Assault - Vehicular Homicide

 

VEHICULAR HOMICIDE – The Elements

The elements of the crime of vehicular homicide are:

1. that the defendant,

2. in the State of Colorado, at or about the date and place charged,

3. operated or drove a motor vehicle

4. [in a reckless manner,]

-or-

[while under the influence of [alcohol] [one or more drugs] [a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs],]

5. and such conduct was the proximate cause

6. of the death of another.

The Actual Colorado Law on Vehicular Homicide

18-3-106. Vehicular homicide.

(1) (a) If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle in a reckless manner, and such conduct is the proximate cause of the death of another, such person commits vehicular homicide.

(b) (I) If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, and such conduct is the proximate cause of the death of another, such person commits vehicular homicide. This is a strict liability crime.

(II) For the purposes of this subsection (1), one or more drugs shall mean all substances defined as a drug in section 12-22-303 (13), C.R.S., and all controlled substances defined in section 12-22-303 (7), C.R.S., and glue-sniffing, aerosol inhalation, or the inhalation of any other toxic vapor or vapors as defined in section 18-18-412.

(III) The fact that any person charged with a violation of this subsection (1) is or has been entitled to use one or more drugs under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this subsection (1).

(IV) “Driving under the influence” means driving a vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs, which alcohol alone, or one or more drugs alone, or alcohol combined with one or more drugs affect such person to a degree that such person is substantially incapable, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, of exercising clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.

(c) Vehicular homicide, in violation of paragraph (a) of this subsection (1), is a class 4 felony. Vehicular homicide, in violation of paragraph (b) of this subsection (1), is a class 3 felony.

VEHICULAR ASSAULT The Elements

The elements of the crime of vehicular assault are:

1. That the defendant,

2. in the State of Colorado, at or about the date and place charged,

3. operated or drove a motor vehicle,

4. in a reckless manner, and

-or-

while under the influence of alcohol ] [one or more drugs], or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs,

 and

5. this conduct was the proximate cause of serious bodily injury to another person.

Jury’s are instructed at a trial on this charge – that vehicular assault is a strict-liability offense. As such, the instruction on strict liability should be given. That means that the person’s state of mind is not relevant to his/her guilt or innocence. They are held “strictly responsible” for the damages they cause when they drink and drive and injuries occur.

Juries are also instructed that certain INFERENCES ARE TO BE DRAWN FROM EVIDENCE OF BLOOD ALCOHOL LEVEL as follows:

In any prosecution in which the defendant is charged with vehicular assault, the amount of alcohol in the defendant’s blood at the time of the commission of the alleged offense, or within a reasonable time thereafter, as shown by chemical analysis of the defendant’s blood or breath, gives rise to the following:

(a) If there was at such time 0.05 or less grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters of blood, or if there was at such time 0.05 or less grams of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath, it shall be presumed that the defendant was not under the influence of alcohol.

(b) If there was at such time in excess of 0.05 but less than 0.08 grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters of blood, or if there was at such time in excess of 0.05 but less than 0.08 grams of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath, such fact may be considered with other competent evidence in determining whether or not the defendant was under the influence of alcohol.

(c) If there was at such time 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters of blood, or if there was at such time 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath, it may be inferred that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol.

The Jury is instructed that they may consider this evidence, together with all the other evidence in this case, in determining whether or not the defendant was under the influence of alcohol.

The Actual Colorado Law on Vehicular Assault

18-3-205. Vehicular assault.

(1) (a) If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle in a reckless manner, and this conduct is the proximate cause of serious bodily injury to another, such person commits vehicular assault.

(b) (I) If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, and this conduct is the proximate cause of a serious bodily injury to another, such person commits vehicular assault. This is a strict liability crime.

(II) For the purposes of this subsection (1), one or more drugs shall mean all substances defined as a drug in section 12-22-303 (13), C.R.S., and all controlled substances defined in section 12-22-303 (7), C.R.S., and glue-sniffing, aerosol inhalation, or the inhalation of any other toxic vapor or vapors as defined in section 18-18-412.

(III) The fact that any person charged with a violation of this subsection (1) is or has been entitled to use one or more drugs under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this subsection (1).

(IV) “Driving under the influence” means driving a vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs, which alcohol alone, or one or more drugs alone, or alcohol combined with one or more drugs affect such person to a degree that such person is substantially incapable, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, of exercising clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.

(c) Vehicular assault, in violation of paragraph (a) of this subsection (1), is a class 5 felony. Vehicular assault, in violation of paragraph (b) of this subsection (1), is a class 4 felony.

CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE – The Elements

The elements of the crime of criminally negligent homicide are:

1. That the defendant,

2. in the State of Colorado, at or about the date and place charged,

3. caused the death of another person,

4. by criminal negligence,

There is an important distinction between criminally negligent homicide and reckless manslaughter. See Reckless Manslaughter below.

Any person who causes the death of another person by conduct amounting to criminal negligence commits criminally negligent homicide which is a class 5 felony.

In Colorado, a driver involved in an accident can be charged with negligent homicide if, with criminal negligence, the driver causes the death of another person. “Criminal negligence” means that the driver fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk, where a reasonable person clearly would have. Therefore, drug or alcohol-related accidents will often lead to a charge of negligent homicide against the allegedly impaired driver. Negligent homicide is a serious charge classified as a class 5 felony.

MANSLAUGHTER (RECKLESS) The Elements

The elements of the crime of manslaughter are:

1. That the defendant,

2. in the State of Colorado, at or about the date and place charged,

3. recklessly,

4. caused the death of another person.

The Actual Colorado Law on Manslaughter

18-3-104. Manslaughter

(1) A person commits the crime of manslaughter if:

(a) Such person recklessly causes the death of another person; or

Manslaughter is a class 4 felony.

In Colorado a driver involved in an accident can be charged with manslaughter if they recklessly cause the death of another person. “Recklessly” means that the driver knew that his conduct created a substantial and unjustifiable risk, but engaged in the conduct anyway. Importantly, if a person who creates a risk is unaware of the risk solely because they are intoxicated, then they have acted “recklessly” under Colorado law. Therefore, drug or alcohol-related accidents can lead to a charge of manslaughter against the allegedly impaired driver. Manslaughter is a very serious charge classified as a class 4 felony.

MURDER IN THE SECOND DEGREE – The Elements

The elements of the crime of murder in the second degree are:

1. that the defendant,

2. in the State of Colorado, at or about the date and place charged,

3. knowingly,

4. caused the death of another person.

The Actual Colorado Law on Second Degree Murder

18-3-103. Murder in the second degree.

(1) A person commits the crime of murder in the second degree if the person knowingly causes the death of a person.

(2) Diminished responsibility due to self-induced intoxication is not a defense to murder in the second degree.

(3) (a) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection (3), murder in the second degree is a class 2 felony.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection (3), murder in the second degree is a class 3 felony where the act causing the death was performed upon a sudden heat of passion, caused by a serious and highly provoking act of the intended victim, affecting the defendant sufficiently to excite an irresistible passion in a reasonable person; but, if between the provocation and the killing there is an interval sufficient for the voice of reason and humanity to be heard, the killing is a class 2 felony.

(4) A defendant convicted pursuant to subsection (1) of this section shall be sentenced by the court in accordance with the provisions of section 18-1.3-406.

In Colorado, a driver involved in an accident can be charged with second degree murder if they intentionally or knowingly cause the death of another person. Additionally, a driver can be charged with second degree murder if, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, they recklessly engage in conduct which creates a grave risk of death, and thereby cause the death of another person.

“Recklessly” means that the driver knew that his conduct created a substantial and unjustifiable risk, but engaged in the conduct anyway. Second degree murder is an extremely serious crime, and carries the most serious legal repercussions of any crime short of first degree murder. Second degree murder is a class 2 felony, and a conviction can result in a sentence of up to 24 years in prison for a first offense.

Due to the severe prison sentences associated with a conviction for any of these crimes, the best advice if faced with a charge of vehicular homicide is to contact an experienced attorney who knows the system and has a track record of success. Mr. Steinberg has over 25 years of experience in both prosecution and defense of individuals charged with alleged vehicular crimes in the state of Colorado.

The firm can handle all of the aspects of the case, including pre-trial investigation, witness interviews, legal research, defense identification, grand jury and motion practice, plea negotiations, and, if necessary, full litigation at trial and on appeal. We will strongly advocate the case at all times. If you chose to retain our law firm, we will provide the highest level of criminal defense representation available.

Conclusion

If you have been charged with any Colorado vehicular crime, you must treat the allegations very seriously, as they usually carry the potential for a lengthy prison sentence. It is critical to retain an attorney that has a solid understanding of the dynamics involved in the investigation, prosecution, and defense of vehicle crimes. Many cases eventually turn on the ability of the defense to break down the State’s evidence with respect to legal issues involving accident reconstruction, causation and chemical testing of blood and breath samples for alcohol and drug concentrations.

Please call our law firm if you have questions about ..

Colorado Vehicular Assault – Vehicular Homicide

H. Michael Steinberg has been a Colorado criminal law specialist attorney for 30 years (as of 2012). For the first 13 years of his career, he was an Arapahoe – Douglas County District Attorney Senior prosecutor. In 1999 he formed his own law firm for the defense of Colorado criminal cases.

In addition to handling tens of thousands of cases in the criminal trial courts of Colorado, he has written hundreds of articles regarding the practice of Colorado criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on the Fox News Channel, CNN and Various National and Local Newspapers and Radio Stations. Please call him at your convenience at 720-220-2277.

In the Denver metropolitan area and throughout Colorado, attorney H. Michael Steinberg provides quality legal representation to those charged in Colorado adult and juvenile criminal matters.

H. Michael’s Primary Territory:

The Colorado Steinberg Criminal Defense Law Firm

serves clients charged with criminal offenses in the Denver Metro Region and throughout Colorado, including Adams County, Arapahoe County, Boulder County, Broomfield County, Denver County, Douglas County, Jefferson County, Larimer County, El Paso County, Pueblo County, Weld County and Grand County; and communities such as ; Centennial, Denver, Boulder, Aurora, Lakewood, Littleton, Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn, Brighton, Greenwood Village, DTC, Denver Tech Center, Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock, Lone Tree, Englewood, Golden, Grand Junction and all across the Front Range.

If you have questions about Colorado Vehicular Assault – Vehicular Homicide in the Denver metropolitan area and throughout Colorado, attorney H. Michael Steinberg will be pleased to answer those questions and will provide quality legal representation to those charged in Colorado with adult and juvenile criminal matters as regards .Colorado Vehicular Assault – Vehicular Homicide.

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___________________________
H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
Colorado Criminal Law For Over 30 Years.
The Edward Building
8400 East Prentice Avenue - Suite 420
Greenwood Village, Colorado 80111
Primary Web Site:  http://www.HMichaelSteinberg.com
Colorado Criminal Law Blog:  www.Colorado-Criminal-Lawyer-Online.com
Main:  303.627.7777
Cell:  720.220.2277
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