In most states, criminal authorities consider car wrecks to be civil matters between insurance companies. Peace officers rarely file criminal charges in these situations, even if the collision is fatal.
But most states do not have a law like Section 609.2113 of the Minnesota Statutes. The Criminal Vehicular Operation law is a felony. These penalties apply if the defendant causes substantial bodily harm while driving in a particular way.
This statute is quite complex, and there are lots of moving parts. So, if you face CVO charges in Wright County, only a highly experienced Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer should represent you in court. Otherwise, you may be looking at extended prison time for something that was essentially a mistake.
CVO’s Basic Elements
To receive a Criminal Vehicular Operation charge in Buffalo, Minnesota, a person must cause an injury (not death) while driving “in a grossly negligent manner.” In general, negligence means someone acts without care for other people’s safety.
Usually, gross negligence applies to driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. But that’s not always the case. Here are two other situations that fall under gross negligence:
- After causing an accident (due to negligence or not), the driver flees the scene.
- A driver who has received a ticket for vehicle defects doesn’t fix the problem and, knowing the risk, drives anyway, ultimately causing an accident.
Much like the DUI law, the CVO law contains no mental state. It is a crime to drive under the influence of a substance. It does not matter if the defendant unintentionally, or even unknowingly, drove in this condition. The different kinds of CVO may involve a mental state, as outlined below. But in general, Wright County prosecutors must simply prove the basic elements.
The only time mental state does matter is if someone used a substance they did not know and had no reason to believe was intoxicating.
Criminal Vehicular Operation is always a felony. But the exact range of punishment depends on the amount of harm the defendant caused, as follows:
- Great Bodily Harm: GBH CVO is a five-year felony. Typically, great bodily harm means that the car crash victim received injury treatment at a hospital and stayed at least one night. Additionally, there must be no evidence of intent to harm the alleged victim. Different statutes cover vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter. A GBH CVO is an automatic felony.
- Serious Bodily Harm: SBH CVO, which is a three-year felony, is usually a treated-and-released offense. SBH, which may be the most common type of Criminal Vehicular Operation, usually includes things like broken bones. This crime is a felony.
- Bodily Harm: If the vehicle collision victim received some treatment at the scene, such as a bandage or perhaps some field stitches, the maximum punishment is one year in prison. This is the only CVO charge that’s a misdemeanor.
The different levels often create proof problems. Assume Frank hits Jesse in an intersection and Jesse goes to a nearby emergency room. After waiting for about an hour, he leaves without receiving treatment. If prosecutors file GBH or even SBH charges, a Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer may be able to get the case thrown out due to lack of evidence. There may be no medical bills to support the charges.
CVO vs. Vehicular Homicide in Minnesota
Vehicular homicide is a charge related to CVO in Minnesota. Courts use this charge instead of CVO if the accident results in death rather than just injury.
Vehicular homicide is an extremely serious crime in Buffalo and a felony. A conviction could result in $20,000 in fines, up to 10 years in prison, or both. Further, vehicular homicide offenders risk forfeiting their driver’s licenses, vehicles, and gun rights.
It’s important to note that vehicular homicide cases can become even more serious if the accident results in the death of a pregnant person. Fatally injuring an unborn child is an additional felony charge in Minnesota.
Even if a court convicts you of injuring an unborn child, it’s a felony. You’ll risk paying up to $20,000 in fines and/or spending up to five years in prison. The prison sentence increases to up to 10 years in the case of vehicular homicide.
Minnesota Criminal Vehicular Operation Penalties
Has a Minnesota court recently charged you with CVO? You need to hire a Buffalo, MN criminal defense lawyer ASAP. If you choose instead to represent yourself, you risk the following penalties of a CVO conviction.
Jail / Prison Time
All CVO convictions come with the potential of jail time. But exactly how long do you go to jail for vehicular assault? Here are the facts:
Even though CVOs that cause bodily harm (BH) are only a misdemeanors, you could still spend a maximum of one year in jail. The sentence only increases as the injuries to the other party get more severe.
As we’ve mentioned, a Substantial Bodily Harm (SBH) CVO conviction is a felony. As such, a conviction means prison, not jail time. SBH CVO felons must serve up to three years in prison.
Great Bodily Harm (GBH) CVOs are also felony convictions that bring on lengthy prison sentences of up to five years in prison.
Fines in MN
Jail and/or prison time aren’t the only penalties CVO offenders have to worry about. BH CVOs come with fines of up to $3,000. Offenders must pay these fines on top of court and attorney fees and bail.
SBH and GBH CVOs have even higher fines. Both SBH and GBH CVO convictions come with a fine of up to $10,000.
Background Checks in MN
Did you know that felonies must remain on your criminal record in Minnesota for at least five years? You can’t even begin the expungement process until this period is up.
The same thing is true of misdemeanors, though you only have to wait two years before you can hire a Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer to expunge it.
If you apply for a job before the waiting period is up, potential employers will see your conviction. Felony convictions, in particular, may hamper your ability to find work and look like someone an employer wants to hire.
Additionally, felonies found during background checks can also affect your ability to get a loan. The lender may worry that felons may commit future crimes, face jail time, or get slapped with hefty fines, all of which can prevent the borrower from making good on his or her loan.
In Minnesota, a felony conviction can affect other aspects of your life, too. For example, a court could revoke your gun and/or voting rights if you have a CVO felony.
Felonies also affect the ability to find housing. Many landlords won’t accept applications from convicted felons, leaving these offenders with limited housing options.
You don’t want to face the consequences of a CVO conviction in Minnesota. That’s why you need a CVO criminal defense attorney to fight for your rights.
If you already have a CVO conviction on your record, a CVO lawyer can also help you navigate the expungement process in Buffalo, MN.
How Buffalo, MN Criminal Lawyers Approach the Major Kinds of CVO
Negligent operation while under the influence of a substance may be the most common type of CVO charge. These key terms deserve some close attention.
Negligence is a civil law term that denotes a lack of care or, more likely, a violation of a safety statute, like speeding or making an illegal lane change. But negligence alone is not enough. The defendant must also cause a crash while negligent. And, that crash must cause at least bodily harm.
Since negligence is a civil term, civil car crash defenses, such as contributory negligence, may be available. In criminal court, a Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer need not “prove” the defense. Creating a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt is enough.
The illicit substance could be alcohol and/or a controlled substance. 609.2113 states that the defendant is guilty if s/he was “under the influence” of a substance. That’s a lower standard than intoxicated. Essentially, if the defendant had one drink or one pill, the defendant was probably under the influence of the substance.
This subdivision has some variations. It is a felony to negligently cause a serious crash if the defendant’s BAC alcohol level was at least .08 within two hours of the collision. This provision gives law enforcement some added leeway. And, it is also a felony to negligently cause a serious crash while under the influence of any Schedule I or Schedule II drug. If the defendant had a valid prescription, the defendant may be not guilty as a matter of law.
Section 609.2113 also applies to gross negligence serious crashes. The statute does not define gross negligence, but generally, this term is synonymous with reckless driving. If the defendant committed two or more traffic violations and caused a crash (e.g. speeding while traveling on the wrong side of the road), the defendant was probably grossly negligent.
Leaving the scene of a serious crash is probably the third major type of CVO. This subdivision is not like some other hit-and-run laws. This prohibition only applies if the defendant caused the crash and left the scene. Additionally, “cause” is a civil law term which may be subject to contributory negligence and some other car crash defenses.
Reach Out to a Dedicated Criminal Defense Lawyer in Wright County, MN
Criminal Vehicular Operation (CVO) occurs in Minnesota when a grossly negligent driver gets into a wreck and injures the other party. There are three types of CVO charges, two of which are felonies. Regardless of which CVO charge you receive, a conviction may result in jail or prison time, fines, and more.
Criminal Vehicular Operation is a serious felony which may be difficult to prove in court. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN criminal lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Wright County and nearby jurisdictions.
Originally published on October 24, 2019 and updated October 12, 2021.