Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-394, a person commits the offense of Serious Injury by Vehicle when he or she, while violating either O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 (the DUI statute) or O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390 (the Reckless Driving statute) causes serious injury to another person.
Serious Injury by Vehicle, unlike most DUI offenses, is a felony offense. It carries a minimum sentence of one year of imprisonment, with the maximum being a 15-year sentence. Most Georgia judges take Serious Injury by Vehicle cases very seriously, though. As such, it is unlikely that a person convicted of this offense will be sentenced to the minimum.
What are the elements of the Serious Injury by Vehicle offense?
The elements of an offense are the different factors that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction on a particular charge. For Serious Injury by Vehicle cases, the state must prove:
- That the Defendant was either Driving Under the Influence or Driving Recklessly;
- That the victim received a sufficiently serious injury; and
- That the Defendant’s actions were the cause of the victim’s injury.
The Underlying Offenses: DUI and Reckless Driving
DUI and Reckless Driving are essential elements of a Serious Injury by Vehicle charge. This means that, if the State is unable to prove one of these underlying offenses beyond a reasonable doubt, a conviction for Serious Injury by Vehicle cannot be sustained. This is why it is absolutely essential in Serious Injury by Vehicle cases to retain a Georgia DUI Attorney who has DUI experience. There are many ways in which a DUI case can be flawed — the police may have failed to correctly perform Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, for example. Or a chemical test may have been conducted improperly. Regardless, you need a lawyer who knows how to examine every detail of your case and find these flaws, who understands the science of a DUI case, and who has to expertise to present them to a judge or a jury in a convincing way.
The Victim’s Injury
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-394 applies only to “serious” injuries. These include injuries that:
- Deprive a person of a member of his body;
- Render useless a member of another person’s body;
- Seriously disfigure the body of another (or a member thereof);
- Cause organic brain damage which renders the body or any member of the body useless.
It is important to note that, while injuries must be “serious,” they do not have to be permanent. See Adams v. State, 259 Ga.App. 570 (2003). For example, in Keef v. State, the victim suffered temporary dislocation of her hip, which rendered her temporarily unable to walk. The Court of Appeals found that injury to be sufficiently serious to satisfy the statute. Keef v. State, 220 Ga.App. 134 (1996).
There is no comprehensive list of injuries that are considered sufficiently serious to satisfy the statute. The determination of whether an injury falls into one of the categories above is left for the trier of fact to determine. This In Bray v. State, the Court of Appeals held that whether fractured bones rise to the level of serious disfigurement is left for the jury to determine. Bray v. State, 330 Ga.App. 768 (2015). The implication of this is that some juries may consider a fractured bone to be serious, while others may not.
Finally, the Defendant’s actions must actually be the cause of the victim’s injury. Even if a Defendant can be proven to have been under the influence at the time of the accident that resulted in the injury, if the accident was not the Defendant’s fault, a conviction for Serious Injury by Vehicle cannot be sustained, although the Defendant may still be convicted of DUI. For example, if a driver is under the influence and someone rear-ends him while he is properly stopped at a stop light, the accident would likely not be considered to be his fault. He may still be DUI, but not necessarily responsible for the accident.
Merger of Offenses
Typically, in a Serious Injury by Vehicle case, State charges with both the underlying offense and the Serious Injury by Vehicle offense. The underlying offense will merge, or be subsumed by, the more serious offense and the Defendant will be sentenced only on that.
Other offenses do not merge, however. If there are multiple victims in a case, a person may be charged with multiple counts of Serious Injury by Vehicle. These multiple counts do not merge into each other. Each count carries the potential for up to 15 years of imprisonment. Should the judge decide to run sentences consecutively, or back to back, rather than concurrently, this can result in many years of incarceration due to a single accident.
Why hire an attorney for a Serious Injury by Vehicle case?
Serious Injury by Vehicle cases are extremely serious and can result in years of incarceration. You might feel like the deck is stacked against you. But you should never try to handle a case like this without competent legal representation. I have handled hundreds of DUI and reckless driving cases. I understand the science behind them, and I understand the personalities involved. If you have been charged with Serious Injury by Vehicle, call me today.