Virginia Reckless Driving Lawyer

What is Reckless Driving?

reckless driving lawyer arlington vaMost people know that it’s dangerous to drive recklessly. But they may not know there are severe consequences for doing so and will likely need to contact a Virginia reckless driving lawyer. Virginia Code 46.2-852 is the Virginia code section that outlines one type of reckless driving offense. This catch-all provision is commonly known as the “general” form of reckless driving. It reads:

“Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly, at speed, or in a manner to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”

There are fourteen types of reckless driving offenses, and contrary to popular belief, speeding is not a necessary element of many of them. “Reckless” simply means “a disregard by the driver of a motor vehicle for the consequences of his act and an indifference to the safety of life, limb, or property.” Powers v. Commonwealth, 211 Va. 386 (1970). The following is a list of the different types of reckless driving:

§ 46.2-852 Reckless driving is a general rule

§ 46.2-853 Driving vehicle which is not under control; faulty brakes

§ 46.2-854 Passing on or at the crest of a grade or on a curve

§ 46.2-855 Driving with driver’s view obstructed or controlled impaired

§ 46.2-856 Passing two vehicles abreast

§ 46.2-857 Driving two abreast in a single lane

§ 46.2-858 Passing at a railroad grade crossing

§ 46.2-859 Passing a stopped school bus; prima facie evidence

§ 46.2-860 Failing to give proper signals

§ 46.2-861 Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions

§ 46.2-862 Exceeding the speed limit

§ 46.2-863 Failure to yield the right-of-way

§ 46.2-864 Reckless driving on parking lots, etc

§ 46.2-865 Racing

What are the penalties for reckless driving in Virginia?

Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, meaning it is the most serious form of a misdemeanor. It can be punished by up to one year in jail, a 2,500 fine, or both. It is also punishable by a license suspension of a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of up to six months.

Reckless driving offenses are not always punished by jail time, but it is not uncommon to see judges in Northern Virginia give active jail sentences in cases involving very high speeds above the speed limit or where other factors make the offense particularly egregious. The common saying in Virginia is that for every mile over 90 mph, an active day in jail is expected. However, this does not occur in all cases, and many factors determine whether a defendant will receive active jail time.

Even with a suspended jail sentence or no jail sentence, other penalties, such as steep fines and license suspensions, can cause extreme hardship for those convicted of the offense. In addition, a reckless driving conviction will earn a defendant six DMV demerit points, and the conviction will remain on their DMV record for eleven years. While demerit points expire after two years, the conviction will remain permanently on an individual’s criminal record since reckless driving is a criminal misdemeanor. Convictions are generally not eligible to be expunged.

Suppose the reckless driving charge involved drugs or alcohol. In that case, a defendant may be required to enroll in an Alcohol and Safety Action Program and will have his or her license suspended until the enrollment is certified.

What are the defenses to reckless driving by speed?

One possible defense in a reckless by-speed case is creating reasonable doubt about the vehicle’s speed. It is important to remember that the Commonwealth’s attorney (prosecutor) must prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the speed was determined by PACE, the attorney might need to verify that the officer obtained an accurate reading of the speedometer and properly paced the vehicle. There are things that an officer has to do while pacing a vehicle to obtain an accurate reading. The officer needs to maintain a steady distance from the target vehicle while comparing his speed against the target vehicle’s speed. This performance can be subject to cross-examination, as it would appear difficult for the officer to pay attention to the speedometer at such high speeds while maintaining a steady distance.

Calibration certificates are an important part of reckless driving defenses. It is sometimes recommended that the client get a notarized vehicle calibration to see if their speedometer reading is accurate. This may help in negotiations with the prosecutor. For example, if a speedometer reads 80 mph but the actual speed is 85 mph, a defendant may be given a reduction of 5 miles in his or her favor.

In addition, some statutes govern the admissibility of the officer’s calibration certificates. The Commonwealth’s Attorney sometimes must introduce the certificate to prove their case. The certificates are required to comply with all statutory rules to be admissible. They must state when, where, and by whom the calibration was made. The calibration must have been made within six months of the offense for the Lidar or radar certificate to be admissible.

Other mitigating circumstances may be introduced to help reduce your offense, from reckless driving, a misdemeanor, to simple speeding, which is only a traffic infraction. The circumstances of the case will determine whether that is a likely result.

A driver improvement program and a reckless driving class are sometimes recommended to help negotiate with the prosecutor assigned to your case. In some jurisdictions, such as Arlington County, a driving class may be required as a continued sentencing agreement. In such a case, the defendant will be asked to fulfill certain conditions, such as completing a driving course, and will be required to return to court on a later court date for sentencing. Suppose the defendant completes the driving course recommended by the court and does not commit any additional violations. In that case, the charge may be reduced to a traffic infraction or dismissed at the return date, which is often set six months or a year from the trial date.

What about out-of-state drivers?

Reckless driving commonly affects out-of-state drivers who are shocked to learn that they are charged with a criminal misdemeanor in Virginia when they receive a reckless driving ticket. The most common question such clients have is whether the state of Virginia can suspend their driving privileges and whether they can be assessed demerit points on their driving record in the state where they are licensed.

While Virginia cannot take an out-of-state driver’s license, it can suspend a person’s right to drive in Virginia. Therefore, a person licensed in DC or Maryland will not have their license taken away, but the court may order that the individual’s driving privileges in Virginia be suspended.

Demerit points are issued by the DMV when a person is convicted of reckless driving. While the Virginia DMV cannot issue demerit points to an out-of-state driver, the conviction will be sent to the jurisdiction where the driver is licensed. That jurisdiction will decide what to do to the driver’s record.

Many out-of-state drivers are curious whether they should take a driver improvement course in Virginia, even though they are not licensed in the state. Although they will not receive additional positive points on their DMV record, a location in Virginia will likely be recommended if there is a need for a driver improvement course.

What is improper driving?

Improper driving is a type of traffic infraction. It is not a criminal misdemeanor, as is reckless driving. The DMW assesses three demerit points for an individual convicted of improper driving. A judge may accept a guilty plea for reckless driving and then reduce the charge to improper driving if he or she finds the defendant’s culpability slight. Likewise, a prosecutor may recommend this beforehand based on the level of culpability. This is allowed under Va. Code § 46.2-869. That section reads, “Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this article, upon the trial of any person charged with reckless driving where the degree of culpability is slight, the court, in its discretion, may find the accused not guilty of reckless driving but guilty of improper driving. However, an attorney for the Commonwealth may reduce a charge of reckless driving to improper driving at any time before the court’s decision and shall notify the court of such a change. Improper driving shall be punishable as a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $500.”

Will your reckless driving charge get reduced at your court date?

There are many factors that the courts will consider as to whether your charge will get reduced. As mentioned earlier, if the culpability was “slight”, judges or prosecutors have the power to reduce the charge to improper driving. In high-speed reckless cases, the prosecutor may offer to reduce the charge to simple speeding with varying degrees of points. For example, if the charge is reduced to speeding 14 mph over the limit, then that would be a four-point traffic infraction. If the charge is reduced to speeding 20 mph or more, that would be a six-point traffic infraction. An individual’s driving record, conduct with the police officer, the severity of the speed or recklessness, calibration certificate, DMV point balance, and other circumstances will determine the likelihood of the charge getting reduced.

What is a restricted license? Will I be eligible for a restricted license?

The court grants a restricted license to an individual who has had their license suspended or revoked. A restricted license allows an individual to drive at certain times and on certain days of the week, usually to and from their place of employment. It can also be granted for religious purposes, such as travel to and from a place of worship. Other uses of a restricted license include travel for school, family, or other important purposes like probation, jail, ignition interlock appointments, medical visits, and child custody visits. A violation of a restricted license order is taken very seriously and may result in a suspended sentence being revoked either partially or fully. Whether or not an individual will be eligible for a restricted license depends on the severity of the circumstances of the case and whether their attorney can successfully convince a prosecutor or judge to grant it.

If you’ve been charged with reckless driving, you need an experienced lawyer on your side. Bississo Law, P.C., is ready to help you! Schedule your free case evaluation today via phone or email and get the information, legal answers, and support you need to move forward.