Vehicular assault is a serious crime in Ohio. Although not as serious as aggravated vehicular assault, it carries severe penalties. Vehicular assault differs from aggravated vehicular assault in that vehicular assault does not involve being under the influence of drugs or alcohol; rather, it involves reckless driving.
Ohio's vehicular assault statue is essentially broken down into three parts: R.C. 2903.08 (A)(2)(a), R.C. 2903.08 (A)(2)(b), and R.C. 2903.08 (A)(3). The first subsection, (A)(2)(a), involves a reckless operation offense in a construction zone. The second subsection, (A)(2)(b), involves reckless driving and the third subsection, (A)(3), involves speeding in a construction zone. The most common charge occurs under the (A)(2)(b) code section which involves reckless driving.
Driving Recklessly: Subsection (A)(2)(b)
The second part of the vehicular assault statute, subsection (A)(2)(b), deals with driving recklessly. The statute reads:
No person, while operating or participating in the operation of a motor vehicle, motor snowmobile, locomotive, watercraft, or aircraft, shall cause serious physical harm to another person or another's unborn...[r]ecklessly.
Under this subsection, the government must show beyond a reasonable doubt the individual was operating his or her vehicle recklessly. Recklessness is a legal term of art, which the Ohio Revised Code defines. R.C. 2901.22 states a person acts recklessly when:
with heedless indifference to the consequences, the person disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the person's conduct is likely to cause a certain result or is likely to be of a certain nature. A person is reckless with respect to circumstances when, with heedless indifference to the consequences, the person disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such circumstances are likely to exist.
In simple terms, this means the person purposely turned a blind eye to consequences he or she knew were likely to come about from his or her actions. As you could imagine, the prosecution may claim that recklessness occurs in situations that involve speeding, changing lanes aggressively, not using a turn signal, cutting people off, following too closely, or not paying attention to surroundings. While it is possible to argue that each one of these factors constitutes recklessness, it is certainly not a foregone conclusion. It is the role of the jury to determine whether a defendant's conduct were reckless. Typically jurors will look at all of the facts in the case and make a determination based on the circumstances of the case, not simply a single traffic violation. Most of us have broken the law by speeding or not using a turn signal to change lanes and most of the time we did not do it recklessly. A criminal defense lawyer can help you analyze the facts of your case and highlight facts omitted in the traffic crash report that help your case.
The last thing the state must show is that the reckless driving caused serious physical harm. Under Ohio law, the definition of "serious physical harm" is surprisingly broad. It includes:
- Any mental illness or condition of such gravity as would normally require hospitalization or prolonged psychiatric treatment;
- Any physical harm that carries a substantial risk of death;
- Any physical harm that involves some permanent incapacity, whether partial or total, or that involves some temporary, substantial incapacity;
- Any physical harm that involves some permanent disfigurement or that involves some temporary, serious disfigurement;
- Any physical harm that involves acute pain of such duration as to result in substantial suffering or that involves any degree of prolonged or intractable pain.
If the state cannot prove serious physical harm occurred as a result of the individual's reckless driving, the individual cannot be convicted of vehicular assault.
Penalties Under Subsection (A)(2):
Reckless Operation by Driving Recklessly
Under subsection (A)(2) of the statute, vehicular assault is a fourth-degree felony. The offense is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine, none of which is mandatory. There is no mandatory prison time unless the individual has been convicted of or pled guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular homicide, or vehicular manslaughter in the past; or if the individual was driving while his or her driver's license was suspended. If any of these factors apply, the individual must serve at least six months in prison. Vehicular assault also carries a minimum one-year driver's license suspension, but the judge could increase the suspension up to five years.
The (A)(2) charge is enhanced to a third-degree felony if, at the time of the offense, either: the individual's driver's license was suspended; the individual has previously been convicted of or pled guilty to aggravated vehicular assault or vehicular assault; or if the individual violated Ohio's hit-and-run statute when he was driving his vehicle at the time he committed vehicular assault.
Attorneys With a Record of Success in Reckless Driving Cases
If you or someone you know has been charged with vehicular assault, it is important to hire a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who has had success handling these cases. The potential plea bargain and outcome at trial will greatly be influenced by the attorney you choose to hire.