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Understanding Reckless Driving Charges in Prince William County

State law defines reckless driving as someone operating a motor vehicle in a way that endangers the life, limb, or property of themselves and others on the road. There are 15 different statutes in the state traffic code that relate to this offense, 14 of which define various types of careless vehicle operation much more specifically.

One of the most common types is reckless driving by speed, which means exceeding the posted limit by 20 mph or more or exceeding 80 mph. This is because Prince William County has two major interstate highways that run through it, both of which have high posted speed limits that range from 55 to 70 mph.

Additionally, the county is relatively close to the borders of West Virginia, Maryland, and DC, and visiting drivers passing through the area may be unaware that in some situation speeding may be a criminal offense in the state. Other kinds of charges may include improperly passing a stopped school bus, driving with faulty brakes, and failing to use proper turn signals. For help understanding reckless driving charges in Prince William County, you should speak with an attorney.

Potential Penalties

These offenses are Class 1 misdemeanors, which means they can be punished by up to 12 months in jail, and up to a $2500 fine. These charges can also result in a license suspension for up to six months. Some cases may approach a high level of severity if they involve particularly dangerous or destructive driving behavior. For instance, if a motorist was using their cellphone at the time of their traffic offense, there is an additional mandatory $250 fine upon conviction.

This type of offense also carries the highest category of negative points toward one’s driving record, which is six demerit points. The court may also choose to revoke an individual’s license if their behavior warranted it. A conviction may stay on someone’s record for 11 years before disappearing. To fully understand Prince William County reckless driving charges, it is important to know that a majority of these offenses may not fall near these harsh penalties.

How Is a Reckless Driving Charge Different from Speeding Ticket?

A reckless driving charge is a criminal misdemeanor, whereas a speeding ticket is a non-criminal traffic infraction. This is the primary difference between these two offenses. Additionally, criminal charges may stay on someone’s record, but infractions, such as speeding, may only be on someone’s driving history for a certain number of years.

Infractions also may not result in jail time or high-value fines. Courts also cannot suspend someone’s license for traffic infractions like they can for reckless driving charges.

Determining the Type of Charge Someone Receives

An offender knows if Prince William County law enforcement has charged them with reckless driving or speeding based on their requirement to go to court and to pre-pay their fine. Speeding tickets are pre-payable offenses, and those who have been charged typically do not have to court because they cannot receive any jail time.

Because reckless driving charges carry potential jail time, they cannot be prepaid. Additionally, officers must write the name and code section of the offense they are charging on a summons, and this information should indicate the nature of the charge.

Appearing in Court

A person generally must appear in court after being charged with reckless driving, unless the offense is subsequently reduced to a traffic infraction that does not carry any potential jail time, or if the court and prosecutor agree to not seek any periods of incarceration. It is common for an accused individual to hire an attorney who can appear on their behalf on the first court date. A legal representative may attempt to negotiate a resolution, which does not require the defendant’s presence, especially if they do not live near the jurisdiction where they got pulled over.

What to Expect

Reckless driving cases can be fairly predictable and tend to be resolved in one or two court dates. Most involve negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecutor or judge they reduce this charge to a traffic infraction or the punishment is decreased in severity if the defendant completes certain actions in mitigation of their case.

Only a minority of these cases go to trial, and those tend to involve accident situations where the police officer did not personally observe what happened prior to arriving on the scene. Additionally, someone should expect that the outcome of their case depends on the severity of their offense.

If someone is caught speeding above 90 miles per hour, the prosecution may seek active or suspended jail time and a higher fine with at least one month of license suspension. Reckless driving is a unique charge in that it is the only kind of traffic misdemeanor that a judge can reduce to a traffic infraction of improper driving. Improper driving is similar in severity to a normal speeding ticket.

Legal Treatment of Reckless Driving Charges

Courthouses routinely handle reckless driving cases. As such, judges and prosecutors have defined approaches to them based on the general circumstances of the offense and the accused’s driving record.

Accident, high-speed, school bus, and repeat-offender cases are the categories that receive the most serious treatment. Beyond these categories, a judge may be more willing to reduce certain charges to a non-criminal traffic offense, if not to dismiss the offense altogether.

Contact an Attorney for Help Understanding Prince William County Reckless Driving Charges

Depending on the severity of the allegations against you, the penalties for reckless driving can be severe. Therefore, you should consult with a lawyer if you have been accused of such behavior. If you need help understanding reckless driving charges in Prince William County, call an attorney today.