Not too long ago in Denver, police opened fire on a car full of teenagers after the driver of the car supposedly started accelerating toward the officer. The driver of the vehicle, 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, was shot and killed.
In recent weeks, this incident has drummed up national attention. People are claiming that none of the teenagers in the car were armed, and thus the shooting was unprovoked and unethical. But should the car itself be considered a weapon? In Colorado—and across the nation—automobiles can in fact be considered deadly weapons, which makes cases like these even more muddled.
What Does the Law Say?
As the Denver Post reported, “In the [Colorado police] department’s use-of-force policy, officers are discouraged from shooting at moving vehicles.” But “discouraged” doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Officers are allowed some leeway on this issue.
According to Colorado law, police officers may open fire at a moving vehicle if:
- The vehicle poses an immediate physical threat (e.g., death or serious physical injury) to the officer or another individual, or
- The officer is left with absolutely no other reasonable course of action to prevent serious physical harm.
Just as other areas of the country agree that cars can sometimes be considered deadly weapons, this type of legal clause regarding moving vehicles is not unique to Colorado. As long as cars can be considered weapons, police officers can take whatever action is necessary to protect themselves. This means that some crimes dealing with automobiles can legally be considered assault crimes.
Assault with a deadly weapon (AWD) crimes can be confusing because they deal with objects that are not typically considered weapons. For instance, a baseball bat or a hammer would not usually seem threatening, but depending on the damage they cause and the intent with which they are used, they can certainly become deadly weapons. The same is true for automobiles.
Even more confusing is the fact that AWD crimes do not have to result in physical harm. Even if no physical damage was dealt, in AWD crimes, sometimes proving intent is enough to get a person convicted.
What Does This Mean for Drivers?
If a motor vehicle can be considered a lethal weapon, it begs the question: Where is the line?Click To Tweet If a law enforcement official can claim that an individual was “armed” because he or she was driving a vehicle, this means that teens and adults may be considered suspects simply because they were sitting behind the wheel of a car. Drivers may find themselves being unjustly targeted and facing unfair charges.
Charges that – justified or not – can come with some very serious consequences, including fines, jail time, and license suspension. The consequences depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the crime and its classification (first degree, second degree, or third degree assault), and your existing criminal record. Only an experienced assault attorney will be able to fully explain the varying consequences that you may be facing.
Luckily, there are a number of defense strategies that a knowledgeable lawyer may be able to use to help you out. Some of these strategies include:
- Arguing that there is insufficient evidence
- Proving intoxication
- Proving that the driver was acting in self-defense or the defense of others
- Proving that the driver was acting under duress
If you’re facing charges as a result of using your car as a weapon, understand that these charges are extremely serious and must be dealt with deftly and professionally. You need to contact an attorney with a successful track record who knows this area of the law and begin building your defense today if you want the best possible chance at getting a positive outcome.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.