In Minnesota, the term “criminal vehicular operation” applies to auto accidents in which the party at fault causes some level of bodily harm to someone else, and was additionally operating the vehicle in a negligent way or was impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Generally speaking, auto accidents do not result in criminal charges, even if injury is caused to the parties involved. Criminal vehicular operation is one of the few exceptions to this rule of thumb. The state brings criminal charges as the accident and the subsequent harm are viewed as being entirely due to the irresponsibility of the party that caused the collision.
It is important to note that this charge is below the tier of attempted murder. Criminal vehicular operation charges address cases where the accused was potentially criminally irresponsible, but did not have any demonstrable intent to harm or kill someone else. State statute 609.2113 addresses criminal vehicular operation circumstances; assault or attempted murder with a vehicle are issues covered by different statutes and carry harsher penalties.
THE TIERS OF CRIMINAL VEHICULAR OPERATION
The state separates cases of criminal vehicular operation into three tiers. The circumstances under which you can be charged are virtually identical for each tier. The difference between the tiers is primarily in how much physical damage was caused to the injured party.
State statute 609.02 provides a basic definition for what level of harm constitutes each tier of charges. The most basic level, “bodily harm,” consists of any physical injury, pain, illness or impairment. “Substantial bodily harm” is applied when there is a fracture, a temporary serious disfigurement, or a temporary loss of function of an organ or member. “Great bodily harm” is applied when there is permanent disfigurement, extended or permanent loss of function of a body part, or an injury that results in a high chance of death.
Charges escalate with each tier. A charge of bodily harm brings a maximum penalty of one year of incarceration plus a fine of up to $3,000. Substantial bodily harm ups these potential maximums to three years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, and great bodily harm can additionally result in five years of imprisonment.
WHEN CAN YOU BE CHARGED WITH CRIMINAL VEHICULAR OPERATION?
The presence of any amount of a Schedule I or II controlled substance in your system can be grounds for a charge of criminal vehicular operation. These include opiate drugs, hallucinogens, peyote, amphetamines, synthetic cannabis and cocaine. Though marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) are still considered Schedule I drugs at both the state and federal level, they are excluded from this charge due to the state’s medical cannabis program.
An alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more is required to be considered impaired for the purposes of this charge. This limit can be lowered if other drugs are involved, however.
You can be charged with criminal vehicular operation without being impaired if it can be demonstrated that you operated the vehicle in a grossly negligent manner. Gross negligence applies in cases where someone is cognizant of a responsibility but makes a conscious choice to ignore it. One example might be looking at one’s phone for an extended period of time while accelerating, as drivers are expected to know that they should keep their eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel while moving.
A driver who is not under the influence can also be charged for leaving the scene of an accident, or for continuing to drive after a law enforcement officer issued a citation or warning that the vehicle is not fit to be on the road.
Criminal vehicular operations charges in Minnesota carry serious potential consequences, including multiple years in jail and fines of thousands of dollars. If you are facing such a charge, contact us for experienced and fully qualified legal representation.