In too many cases we see in Tucson, matters involving accidents and alcohol or drugs are charged, not just as DUI but as felony “endangerment,” “criminal damage,” “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon,” or worse. Where people are injured, sometimes severely, and in almost all cases where there is extensive property damage, the Pima County Attorney’s Office issues these matters as felonies. Our client, many times a working professional with no prior criminal record, is surprised at the felony charges. Sometimes the case is initially cited as a misdemeanor and dismissed; and only months later,much to our client’s surprise and chagrin a “summons” arrives in the mail noting indictment and mandatory appearance in Pima County Superior Court to answer felony charges. These cases, almost always DUI-related, are known collectively as “vehicular offenses.”
Learn more about Aggravated DUI and DUI Felonies
In Arizona prosecutors tend to charge criminal damage surprisingly often in accident cases, especially single car accidents, where alcohol or drugs are involved. They do so in part because it creates a felony where one would otherwise not exist.
A little known legal fact: In Arizona, for criminal damage to be a felony the damage need only be $1,000 or more (if a person “recklessly damages the property of another—and someone driving drunk and causes an accident is arguably reckless). Considering that these days a single Palo Verde tree or saguaro cactus prettying up a droll median, or a used Hyundai bumper, or even a rear taillight assembly, may cost more than a thousand dollars to replace, the threshold is pretty low. Prosecutors and police are keenly aware of this. So if you’re wondering why you’ve been summonsed into court on a felony for a single car accident you may want to look to the claimed property damage.
Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
When we think of “Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon,” we think of guns and gangbangers, of bar fights with knives, of drive-by’s. But in Arizona, a “deadly weapon” can be almost anything, including an automobile. And prosecutors are keenly aware of this.
In Arizona a person commits “assault” inter alia by “recklessly” injuring someone. See ARS §13-1203(A)(1). You don’t have to do it intentionally. And in Arizona, a felony assault occurs where you recklessly cause “serious physical injury” to another. See ARS §13-1204(A)(1). So in two car accident cases, or pedestrian cases, involving alcohol, and many types of injuries, prosecutors will charge what started as a DUI as “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.”
Part of the reason they do so, is because if our client is convicted , of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, as charged, prison will likely be mandatory (just as it would be for someone shooting a gun) even if our client has never been in trouble before. This sort of charging practice in accident cases not only raises the stakes and costs of litigation, but often results, as prosecutors well-know, and sometimes intend, in a premature guilty plea to a probation-eligible offense which avoids the possibility of mandatory prison.
Michael has particular experience in handling these serious felony vehicular offense matters.