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We’d like to tell you about a recent client we represented who was charged with felony criminal vehicular operation. First off, a little background on Minnesota’s Criminal Vehicular Operation (CVO) laws.

Minnesota’s Criminal Vehicular Operation Laws

Criminal Vehicular Operation is found in Minnesota Statute 609.2113. The offense can be charged as either a gross misdemeanor or a felony. The severity of a CVO charge is largely determined by the seriousness of the victim’s injuries. The driver’s driving conduct and/or any use of alcohol or controlled substances also factors into the severity of a charge of Criminal Vehicular Operation.  

As a general starting point, there must be evidence that a person operated a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner OR in a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance OR while the person’s blood alcohol content was .08 or more in order to be charged with CVO. 

Additional factors, like leaving the scene of an accident or if the person knew their vehicle was defective but failed to take steps to fix it, can also trigger a charge of Criminal Vehicular Operation

A person will face a charge of gross misdemeanor CVO if the victim suffered “bodily harm.” Bodily harm means physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition. Common examples include your typical bumps and bruises or maybe a concussion with no loss of consciousness. Gross Misdemeanor Criminal Vehicular Operation carries up to one year in jail and/or a $3,00 fine.

There are two different felony offenses of Criminal Vehicular Operation. The first results when the victim suffered “substantial bodily harm.” Substantial bodily harm means bodily injures which result in temporary disfigurement, cause temporary loss or impairment of a bodily function, or result in a fracture. A CVO charge under this felony level carries up to three years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

The other felony-level offense of Criminal Vehicular Operation results when the victim suffered “great bodily harm.” Great bodily harm means bodily injuries which nearly result in death, cause serious permanent disfigurement, or cause serious and protracted loss of impairment of a bodily function. 

A CVO charge under this felony-level carries up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Our client was charged under the lower-level felony offense for causing substantial bodily harm.

Our Client

Our client was a sixty-six-year-old female. This was her first criminal offense of any kind.  She was married to her husband for 43 years, until his passing three weeks before the incident.  She worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service for 38 years and lived in the same home for 34 years. Not exactly your typical “criminal.” 

On the night of the incident, our client had just finished the celebration of life for her late husband. She went out for a couple of drinks. She struck a pedestrian crossing the street as she was driving home.  The pedestrian was out walking with his daughter. They heard our client’s truck coming but were unable to avoid being struck. The victim suffered multiple fractured ribs, a fractured elbow, a lung contusion, and numerous scrapes and cuts.

Our client was placed under arrest at the scene. Police obtained a search warrant for her blood. A blood draw was conducted and tested. Test results indicated her blood alcohol content was .19 at the time of driving, well over the legal limit. In addition to the felony CVO charge, the police also seized the client’s brand new Chevy Silverado pickup truck and were attempting to take the vehicle away from the client.

Our client was extremely distraught, not only over the loss of her late husband, but over her decisions that evening and the injuries suffered by the victim. The client took steps to obtain a chemical health evaluation and also began seeing a grief counselor.  

The Case

The State sought a conviction for the felony CVO charge. Our client was willing to accept responsibility for her actions, but we felt a felony would have a serious lasting impact, could result in significant jail time and fines, and would also result in the loss of the client’s truck. Throughout our negotiations, the state refused to reduce the severity of the offense to a gross misdemeanor. 

The client followed our advice and agreed to enter what is known as a straight plea to the court. A straight plea occurs when a criminal defendant stands before the judge and pleads guilty to a charged offense with no sentencing agreement or any real plea agreement of any kind with the state. The defendant allows the judge to make final sentencing decisions.  

Prior to returning to court for sentencing, we filed a defense motion known as a motion for a durational departure. This motion asks the judge to reduce the severity of the charged offense.  In this case, we were asking the judge to reduce the felony level criminal vehicular operation charge to a gross misdemeanor. 

A judge has authority and discretion to reduce the severity of a criminal offense, but the burden is on the defense lawyer to convince the judge that certain factors exist in a client’s case to justify the departure.  The state usually always argues against a departure motion and did so in this case. Despite the state’s objections, the judge agreed that proper departure factors existed and sentenced our client to a gross misdemeanor instead of the felony she was facing.

We also successfully argued and kept our client out of jail. Perhaps the biggest result of the successful departure argument was that it allowed the client to get her truck back from the state. The state could not longer legally keep the truck without the felony conviction.

Free Criminal Defense Lawyer Consultations

Entering a straight plea to any criminal charge is risky.  This is just one reason to make sure your criminal defense lawyer is experienced in your case, has familiarity with the judge, and is aware of the sentencing arguments that will minimize the lasting effect of a criminal conviction.

We offer free consultations for all criminal defense cases.  We’re licensed in both state and federal courts in Minnesota and North Dakota. Give us a call to schedule your free case review.

Author Photo John T. Arechigo, Esq.

Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.

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