My name is Willie Mejia, I am a Virginia attorney.
If you’ll spend just a few minutes reading, I may be able to save you from being screwed by the traffic court over a charge of Reckless Driving.
What is Reckless Driving?
Simply put, “reckless driving” is a charge that essentially means you are accused of driving in an unsafe manner.
That is, driving in a way that “endangers the life, limb, or property of any person.”
That’s defined at Virginia Code § 46.2-852, which is the general law that criminalizes driving this way.
But under Virginia law, there are many different ways one can drive unsafely; by far the most common way is by going too fast.
§ 46.2-862 of the Virginia Code defines “reckless driving” by speeding. According to this law, if you are
(a) going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit (for example, going 60 in a 40 mile zone), or
(b) going over 80 miles per hour no matter what the speed limit is, you can be charged with reckless driving.
Consequences of Reckless Driving in Virginia.
Unlike in Maryland, or other jurisdictions where reckless driving is just a traffic infraction, payable by just a fine, in Virginia this charge is in fact a criminal misdemeanor:
If found guilty, the law authorizes a jail sentence of up to a year, a $2500 maximum fine, and suspension of your driver’s license from anywhere between sixty days to six months.
This is why it’s classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor, the most serious of misdemeanors, which are otherwise minor offenses.
What happens if your licence is suspended?
If you have a Virginia license, you must surrender it to the court if your license is suspended.
If you have a license from anywhere else, the “license suspension” means you no longer have permission to drive in Virginia.
In either case, you do have the option of obtaining a “restricted license” from the court.
This license allows you to drive for basic necessities, but there are extra steps involved in that process.
The impact of reckless driving in your driving record.
A reckless driving conviction will also negatively impact your driving record.
It knocks you down 6 points in Virginia, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
And may also raise your monthly insurance rate, as you will now be considered a riskier driver.
And finally, because this is a criminal offense, this will stay on your record forever in Virginia.
The impact of reckless driving if your are not lawfully present in the US.
Additionally, for those who charged but are not lawfully present in the United States, even a
short jail sentence– even just one day– can be enough for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
They can locate you, and initiate immigration court proceedings against you.
This offense is clearly no small matter.
What are the options in Reckless Driving cases in Virginia.
What should you do if you’re charged with this offense?
Generally speaking, those accused have two options: when you arrive at your court date, you may either
(1) go to trial, and fight the case,or
(2) you can plead guilty to the offense, and let the judge impose a sentence.
Reckless driving charges can be difficult to win at trial, because the issue is almost always very simple: you were either going too fast, or you were not.
How police officers measure the speed?
Police officers typically have access to radar and laser-guidance equipment to measure the speed of vehicles they observe.
They are required by Virginia law to maintain certificates showing these devices receive maintenance every six months.
Assuming they can have those certificates, it can be difficult to persuade the judge that you were not going that fast.
Even if officers don’t have that equipment, they can use the “pacing” method to determine your speed.
Simply following you and noting how fast they have to go to keep up with you.
Unless the officer has made a mistake or is otherwise being deceptive, a judge will likely accept the officer’s word against yours, and find you guilty.
Always consult with a lawyer first before trying a case on your own!
An attorney can advise you candidly as to whether or not your case is worth the fight.
How a lawyer can help you with your Reckless Driving case?
Part of a lawyer’s job, besides trying cases, is negotiating with the prosecutor and the police officer.
To see if an agreement can be reached as to the offense.
Judges routinely accept such agreements as to sentences.
Depending on your prior driving history, your prior criminal history, the state of your vehicle (does it have any mechanical problems that affect speed?)
And any driving classes or courses you have taken before your trial date.
It may be possible for an attorney to have the charge reduced to a simple speeding ticket, or even have the charge be dismissed outright.
Even if these outcomes don’t occur, a good defense attorney can at least obtain an offer that may be more acceptable to you than gambling on a trial, as attorneys cannot negotiate with judges.
A good attorney has contacts
Further, good defense attorneys have professional relationships with officers and prosecutors that can often make or break your case.
Rather than trying to negotiate with a prosecutor on our own, consult a local attorney.
It’s well worth the time and stress you save, and the money you spend, to obtain a better result.
Why to consult an attorney?
Consulting an attorney is also especially important in Virginia.
Because expungment of offenses (“erasing the charge”) can only happen IF you go to trial and win, OR the prosecutor is persuaded to drop your case.
This applies to all criminal offenses, so if expungment is something you seek, attempting to “win the case” on your own is a very bad idea.
Reckless driving in Virginia is not an offense that can be dealt with online by pre-paying.
If you are cited by a police officer to appear in court, you MUST appear, or else the court may issue an arrest warrant.
Which is itself a separate offense.
It’s okay if you don’t have an attorney yet by your first court appearance; judges in Virginia are obligated by law to give you time to hire one if you inform them that you don’t have one.
Law may change in Virginia.
Finally, it is worth noting that, perhaps as early as this summer, the law in Virginia may change.
In February 2020, the Virginia House and Senate passed a bill, now awaiting the Governor’s signature.
That would make someone guilty of reckless driving only if they were going faster than 85 miles per hour or more.
As opposed to the 80 that it is now, regardless of the speed limit.
The law would remain the same as far as going 20 miles over the posted speed limit.
So you would still need to be careful if you’re going 60 in a 40 MPH zone.
If the law does change, then going 85 would no longer be illegal.
But until then, it’s best to always slow down, as no place or person is important enough to risk your lives or that of others on the road.
Reckless driving is a serious criminal offense, but with the right knowledge and a good attorney, it’s completely possible to walk away from a court with a satisfactory result.
Keep this in mind if you ever cited for this particular offense.