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How Much Does a Criminal Vehicular Operation Lawyer Charge in Minnesota?

The cost of a criminal vehicular operation lawyer in Minnesota varies based on the amount of legal work involved. At the low end, a simple case that settles in a plea bargain after several court hearings may cost a few thousand dollars in legal fees. Complex cases that go to trial and appeal cost five figures or more.

Criminal vehicle operation (CVO) laws criminalize gross misconduct behind the wheel when it causes bodily harm or death. The standards for CVO conviction differ markedly from civil negligence cases.

According to civil law, a driver who harms another through negligence bears the responsibility of making the accident victim whole. In a Minnesota personal injury case, the defendant may be found liable for monetary damages to compensate the injured party for property damage, medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of quality of life, and other damages. No intent to harm another or gross negligence exists in a typical personal injury case.

However, a civil court can impose punitive damages when the driver’s conduct rises above ordinary negligence. Punitive damages punish the defendant for bad acts and seek to deter others.

For instance, punitive damages are inapplicable when a personal injury occurs because a driver failed to see a pedestrian. This is an accident. However, if the driver was drunk and ran over a pedestrian, he committed an act outside of standard negligence and could face punitive damages.

He also faces criminal charges. Driving under the influence and hurting someone constitutes CVO, as do other cases of intentional conduct and outrageously negligent behavior. Minnesota criminalizes driving conduct that causes bodily harm, called criminal vehicular, and hurting someone while committing a crime, such as fleeing the police.

To win a conviction, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant engaged in CVO and caused the victim severe injury or death. Suspecting someone’s conduct rises to the level of CVO is insufficient for a conviction. The prosecution must present stand-up-in-court proof that the defendant engaged in a specific form of misconduct eligible for prosecution under Minnesota’s CVO law.


What Is Criminal Vehicular Operation (CVO)?

Prosecutors cannot bring CVO charges simply because of a severe accident with major injuries and fatalities. They also cannot define what constitutes CVO themselves. Instead, they must identify a specific act that qualifies as CVO and prove the defendant did it. The specific actions that qualify for CVO include driving while engaging in one of the following:

  • In a grossly negligent manner
  • In a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance or any combination of alcohol or controlled substances;
  • With a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more – Driving While Impaired (DWI)
  • While having a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more within two hours of driving (DWI Standard)
  • In a negligent manner while knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance
  • In a negligent manner, while any controlled substance other than marijuana or THC is present in the driver’s body
  • Where the driver who causes the accident leaves the scene of the accident when bodily injury to another is obvious
  • Where the driver who causes the accident fails to give notice to police after learning they were involved in an accident causing injury
  • Where the driver had prior knowledge of a citation for a defectively maintained vehicle that created a danger to others but failed to remedy the defective maintenance which caused the injury

Minnesota CVO Penalties in Minnesota

Minnesota law allows the state to prosecute CVO as a felony or a misdemeanor. The level of charge filed depends on the circumstances of the case.

What Constitutes Felony CVO in Minnesota

Prosecutors can charge felony CVO when the misconduct caused great bodily harm or death to the victim. Felony CVO also applies to harm to an unborn child.

Great bodily harm is more serious than substantial bodily harm. To qualify as great bodily harm, the injury must create a high probability of death, serious permanent disfigurement, or permanent loss or impairment of any body part.

Those convicted of felony CVO causing great bodily harm face up to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.

CVO causing substantial bodily harm can also be charged as a felony, though the sentence is less than with great physical damage. Substantial bodily harm includes fractures and temporary and substantial disfigurement or loss or impairment of a body part.

CVO with substantial bodily harm carries a maximum of three years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.

What Constitutes Gross Misdemeanor CVO in Minnesota

Gross misdemeanors in Minnesota are an intermediate step between a regular misdemeanor and a felony. As such, the sentences are greater than those with a regular misdemeanor but cannot exceed 364 days in jail.

Prosecutors charge CVO as a gross misdemeanor when the defendant caused bodily harm that is less than great or substantial.  Gross misdemeanor CVO carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of as much as $10,000.

CVO convictions have consequences beyond incarceration and fines. Convicts face forfeiture, license cancellation, and the loss of many important constitutional rights, such as your 2nd Amendment firearm rights or your right to vote.

Criminal Vehicle Operation Defenses in Minnesota

CVO differs from DWI in that CVO comes into play only when the defendant’s misconduct behind the wheel harmed another person. An individual driving negligently or while intoxicated does not commit CVO if there are no collision injuries. For instance, an intoxicated individual may collide with a parked vehicle, causing no injuries. While this constitutes DWI, it fails to reach the level of CVO.

Additionally, CVO can apply only if the defendant was operating the vehicle. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving the car.

Also, CVO cannot be used to prosecute a motorist unless he is engaged in a specific action that constitutes CVO. Without this element, anyone at fault for an injury accident could face a CVO charge. That would be absurd. Even the most careful drivers make mistakes, and quite often, more than one party is at fault.

The typical accident, therefore, results in a civil rather than a criminal case. The at-fault party must make the injured person whole. This is accomplished by reimbursing them for the expenses caused by the injury, compensating for any lost income, and providing payment for general damages, such as pain and suffering.

A CVO conviction requires the defendant to have acted in a gross, outrageous manner that violates specific criteria for CVO law. As a result, if you stand accused of CVO, you may have a strong defense. The state must prove one of the following factors applies to the defendant’s conduct:

  • Driving in a grossly negligent manner
  • Driving negligently while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance or a combination of them
  • Driving with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or more
  • Driving a vehicle in violation of any of the elements of regular DWI law
  • Causing an accident and leaving the scene in violation of Minnesota’s felony fleeing law
  • Driving after being issued a citation for defective vehicle maintenance, knowing remedial action was not taken, the defect created a risk to others, and injury or death resulted from the inadequate maintenance.

The prosecution must prove that the defendant engaged in at least one of these actions. Otherwise, the collision is an accident rather than a crime. Below we detail some possible defenses based on the specific CVO violation alleged:

Driving in a Grossly Negligent Manner

Gross negligence has a broad definition, consisting of behavior outside the scope of ordinary negligence. But what is that exactly?

In one case, a motorist was convicted of CVO after having a seizure behind the wheel and causing an injury collision. The case hinged on the fact that the individual had a history of seizures, his license was revoked, and his doctor told him he could not drive safely due to his condition.

When leveling this type of accusation, the state must prove that the defendant knowingly disregarded the safety of others. If the state fails to establish this, the court must dismiss the case. For this reason, avoid the temptation to answer questions without a lawyer. You may give away evidence that leads to a CVO conviction.

Instead, request a lawyer and follow his advice. He may be able to structure a defense around the state’s lack of proof that you engaged in any gross negligence.

Driving While Impaired CVO Defenses in Minnesota

Minnesota law deems it illegal to drive while impaired by alcohol or any drug. Even if you are below the legal limit, the state can win a conviction if it can prove your driving was impaired. As a result, a defense against DWI CVO cases must rest on the state’s inability to prove impairment.

For example, the law presumes impairment if the defendant exceeds the legal alcohol limit. But what if reasonable doubt about the accuracy of the test can be established? The case may fail if the state has no other proof of impairment.


Defective Maintenance CVO

The state prosecutes people who fail to fix maintenance issues with their vehicles after a citation. When the continued operation of the unsafe vehicle causes an injury to another, the driver faces CVO charges.

For instance, a motorist may have been cited for faulty brakes. He then continues driving without fixing the problem and is involved in an accident. To win a CVO conviction, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant received the citation, knew the brakes were unsafe, and caused the accident by disregarding the citation.

Though the state may prove a citation was issued and an accident occurred, they may lack evidence that the defective maintenance caused the accident. The state must prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.

CVO laws can result in fines and time behind bars. However, the state must prove its case before it can administer punishment. A talented defense lawyer will analyze a CVO case and discern whether the state has assembled a prima facie case for CVO, if reasonable doubt exists, and whether any affirmative defenses apply.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Criminal Vehicular Operation Lawyer Charge in Minnesota

Contact Gerald Miller for a CVO consultation. You may have a stronger defense than you know.

Related Content: Can Adjudication Criminal Vehicular Operation Be Expunged in MN?

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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