Driving on the streets, roads, and highways of Virginia is a privilege. Not only must any driver pass a test to obtain a license, but they must continue to drive in a way that does not violate the rules of the road or place other people in an unnecessary risk of harm.
While many of the Commonwealth’s laws concerning safe driving are straightforward, this cannot be said for many allegations of aggressive driving. Officers can charge a driver with this offense, if, in their opinion, that driving was done at an excessive speed or involved a carelessness towards the safety of others.
Making matters worse, many moving violations are automatic instances of reckless motor vehicle operation. Incidents involving racing, excessive speeding, and even improper lane changes are all criminal offenses that can bring severe penalties.
This offense is a rare moving violation that is a criminal offense. A conviction for any reckless driving offense will create a criminal record, could require you to pay a fine, and can even result in you going to jail. This is saying nothing about the administrative penalties to your driver’s license and insurance that are impossible to avoid. It is clear that a conviction can affect every part of your life.
A Virginia reckless driving lawyer may be able to help you. They can work to investigate the incident that led to the arrest. Was the arrest the result of an automatic charge or was the decision to file these charges made at the officer’s discretion? A defense attorney could then work to create a defense strategy to help you during every stage of the case from arrest, to arraignment, to pre-trial hearings, to a final trial.
Allegations involving aggressive driving are among the vaguest and difficult to define in the Commonwealth’s criminal code. VA Code §46.2-852 provides a general definition of reckless driving. It states that, “…any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”
There is a surprising amount to unpack here. First, it helps to understand what it means to be “reckless” in a legal sense. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a person is reckless when they act in a way that is careless and indifferent to other people.
Therefore, a reckless driver may be a person who operates their vehicle in a way that places others in danger without regard for the wellbeing of others. Normally, recklessness is a concept used in personal injury cases. For instance, a reckless driver who gets into an accident may be liable for any damage that they cause. However, the concept of recklessness is also an idea used in criminal cases.
A police officer may arrest a driver if they have probable cause to believe that the driver is operating in a reckless manner. As a result, an arrest is usually a matter of opinion. One officer may think that an aggressive lane change counts as reckless driving while another does not. Similarly, the law requires any prosecutor trying the case, the judge overseeing the charges, and even jury members to make the same judgment call.
For this reason, many allegations of reckless motor vehicle operation are extremely defensible. Especially if the arrest is based solely upon an officer’s opinion, there may be many opportunities for a Virginia reckless driving lawyer to contest the merits of the charges. This can come into play during pre-trial talks with prosecutors, during any motions filed with judges, and in trials before juries.
An attorney could help to convince a prosecutor to lower the severity of the charges from reckless driving to something far less serious. They might also help to persuade judges that there was no probable cause for the arrest based on the circumstances leading to a dismissal.
Some allegations of aggressive motor vehicle operation have no room for interpretation. Some actions that a person may take while behind the wheel are so egregious that Virginia’s statutes consider them reckless per se. This simply means that a court will automatically classify these actions as reckless driving.
A prime example of this is speeding. According to VA Code §46.2-862, it is reckless driving per se for any person to drive 20 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. In addition, any stop for speeding where the driver is accused of going over 80 miles per hour fits this definition. As a result, many drivers facing accusations of speeding may face simultaneous charges. This turns what would otherwise be a simple moving violation into a criminal charge.
It is also reckless per se to drive a vehicle that is not under proper control. VA Code §46.2-853 provides an example of a vehicle with inadequate brakes. Still, many of these arrests may be up to the discretion of the officer who makes that stop. Who is that officer to state that a defendant’s brakes are “inadequate?”
There are numerous other examples of activities that count under the Commonwealth’s reckless driving laws. These include:
A lawyer in NoVa could help defendants to understand the concept of recklessness per se and how it may affect their reckless driving case. While many of these statutes state that a conviction for these activities is automatically aggressive driving, these statutes do rely on a police officer’s opinion as to whether a defendant’s activities qualify as violations of the law. An attorney in Virginia could help to rebut the assumption that a driving incident qualifies as reckless driving.
While this offense is often an arresting officer’s choice as a catch-all to describe potentially dangerous operation, many of these accusations can accompany other moving violations. For instance, we have seen that speeding at a very high level automatically gives rise to a reckless driving charge. However, there is nothing to prevent an arresting officer from also filing charges for speeding on its own.
Similar rules can cover scenarios where an officer is of the opinion that a driver was acting in a reckless manner, but the behavior does not fit any of the per se categories. For instance, it is illegal to text-message while driving in NoVa, yet this is not one of the automatically reckless behaviors. An officer may still cite a driver for both violating the texting while driving law and for what they may deem to be reckless driving. A Virginia lawyer could help to provide a powerful defense to both reckless driving charges and any other allegations that may accompany them.
Unlike most other instances that involve getting pulled over by a police officer, reckless driving is a criminal offense. While many traffic stops for allegations of speeding, driving while texting, or running a red light are mere moving violations, these charges are criminal offenses.
This means that a conviction can have a permanent effect on a driver’s life. According to VA Code §46.2-868, a core reckless driving conviction is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This means that the court may sentence a guilty defendant to a jail sentence of up to one year, a fine of up to $2,500, or both under VA Code §18.2-11.
However, there are a few aggravating factors in these cases that may enhance the available penalties. The law classifies a reckless driving conviction as a Class 6 felony if:
Class 6 felonies are what are known as wobblers in Virginia criminal law. The jury trying the case has the option of imposing a sentence at either misdemeanor level punishments or felony level consequences. As a result, VA Code §18.2-10 (f) says that a conviction for a Class 6 felony can result in either a term of imprisonment from one to five years. Alternatively, a jury may choose to sentence of up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
A local attorney could help to defendants facing reckless driving charges to understand the potential criminal penalties. Of course, regardless of the severity of the charge, a conviction will create a criminal record. An attorney in NoVa could help defendants to avoid this fate. In addition, in cases involving a death, a lawyer could help argue to juries that the case does not merit a felony-level punishment.
Of course, the potential criminal penalties that accompany a reckless driving conviction are serious. However, this is not the full extent of a defendant’s concerns. The court is also required to report any criminal conviction to Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
The DMV maintains the driving records of every license holder in the Commonwealth. If a driver accumulates a certain number of demerits, or points, on this driving record, the DMV is required to suspend or revoke their license.
The first step in the disciplinary process is for the DMV to send a driver a letter requiring them to participate in a driver improvement class. This occurs if a driver accumulates twelve demerit points within a twelve-month period. Completing this program can remove five demerits from a driver’s record.
Further convictions can bring harsher consequences. If a driver receives 18 points within 12 months, the DMV issues an automatic suspension. This is done without warning and is automatic. The DMV is also required to suspend a driver’s license if they accumulate 24 points in any 24-month period. It is essential to fight back against the accumulation of points at every opportunity. These penalties may be different for someone carrying a CDL, teenage drivers, or out-of-state motorists.
Reckless driving is among the most serious moving violations that a defendant can accrue. According to the DMV’s points system, aggressive driving is almost always a six-point offense. In addition to the accumulation of points, most of these convictions will remain on a defendant’s driving record for 11 years. The lone exception to this rule is a conviction for speeding 20 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. This only remains on a person’s record for five years.
Reckless driving may also be a four-point offense. This only applies if the conviction involves a failure to stop before entering a highway. Much like most other reckless driving convictions, this will remain on a person’s driving record for 11 years.
In addition, the criminal court itself can suspend a guilty driver’s license following a conviction. VA Code §46.2-392 says that a court may suspend a driver’s license for a period of between ten days and six months. Furthermore, if the reckless operation of the motor vehicle is the result of an alcohol or drug-related offense, the court may order a defendant to attend a drug or alcohol-safety program. If so, the court must order that the DMV not reinstate a suspended license until that program is complete.
It is clear that enduring a reckless driving conviction can have a harsh effect on a person’s driving privileges. While a singular conviction is not enough to warrant a suspension or even a required safe-driving course under the DMV rules, it can have a major impact on a person’s future driving. The six points that follow most convictions is the most that a single conviction can place on a record and many of these allegations accompany other charges such as speeding, failing to stop, or DUI. These can combine to result in an automatic suspension if a court returns a guilty verdict on all counts. In addition, the court itself has the power to suspend a guilty driver’s license. A lawyer in the area can, therefore, help to protect not just your freedom from a criminal conviction but also to preserve your driving privileges following reckless driving allegations.
Another auxiliary effect that a conviction of this type could have on a defendant’s life is in their car insurance. Virginia requires all drivers to maintain a minimum level of insurance. The rates for these policies and even a company’s willingness to provide insurance are dependent on a person’s driving record.
A conviction may certainly cause an insurance company to think twice about continuing their relationship with a driver. At the very least, this may involve a significant increase in premium rates. In extreme cases, an insurance company may choose to terminate a policy altogether.
While a Virginia lawyer cannot help to mediate any disputes with an insurance company that may result from a conviction, they can work to prevent reckless driving convictions in the first place that may lead to car insurance problems.
These charges are state charges, and as such the law applies to all counties and cities within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Local jurisdictions, however, may be more or less inclined to impose the harshest sentencing terms. This is why it’s always a good idea to retain a nearby lawyer who is locally based and who has handled reckless driving charges in the jurisdiction where you were charged.
The mere allegation of reckless driving can throw your life into chaos. Unlike many other allegations that involve poor driving, reckless operation of a motor vehicle is a criminal offense. A conviction will create a criminal record, may affect your driving privileges, and can even result in a jail sentence. Extreme versions are even felonies that can follow you for the rest of your life. It is essential to provide yourself with every possible advantage.
Hiring a Virginia reckless driving lawyer could provide valuable help. They can work to conduct their own investigation into the incident. Especially in cases where the charge of recklessness is merely an officer’s opinion, an attorney could help to rebut this opinion before prosecutors, judges, and juries.
The effects of a conviction for this offense cannot be overstated. Even if you manage to avoid a jail term, the creation of a criminal record may affect your job, where you can live, or even custody or visitation with children. In addition, the court is required to report the convicting to the DMV who will assess points on your license. While this is not enough to mandate a suspension on its own, many of these charges accompany other moving violations, and the combination may force the DMV to take adverse action against you. Convictions can also affect your finances as a court can require a guilty defendant to pay a fine. There are also heavy fines that apply to reinstate a suspended license and insurance rates are likely to skyrocket after a conviction for reckless driving.
Take a positive step towards preserving your future. Contact a NoVa reckless driving lawyer today to see how they can help you. The sooner you hire them, the quicker they can get to work to give you the best chance for success. Call an attorney today to set up an appointment. To learn how Karin Riley Porter has helped others, see her reviews on Avvo.
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