Law Talk Episode 30: Reckless Driving in Virginia

Reckless driving is a serious crime with serious penalties. In this episode of Law Talk, Jennifer and Jessica discuss the specifics of how it works in Virginia.

Jessica: Good afternoon.

Jennifer: Good afternoon.

Jessica: Jessica and Jennifer here for Law Talk. We’re a little bit late today, but it’s a special occasion for you.

Jennifer: Yes, I became officially a US citizen, so it was worth the wait.

Jessica: Congratulations. Absolutely, for sure. Today we’re here, the two of us without Andrew, sadly, to talk to you guys about reckless driving in Virginia. We recently posted a big article about that, and so we’re going to go over some of the basic points today, just to give you some more information.

Jennifer: Yeah, we’re just going to talk about what reckless driving is and some of the defenses that could be applied to a reckless driving charge. If you have any questions, you’re more than welcome to call the office, and we’ll be happy to answer those. Reckless driving is essentially, in Virginia, that constitutes a criminal offense. It’s essentially you can receive a ticket for reckless driving by speeding. So if you are going 20 miles over the speed limit or if you’re going above 80, then in Virginia that qualifies as reckless driving. But I believe you mentioned earlier before we started the program, other instances of reckless driving.

Jessica: The thing about reckless driving in Virginia is, we associate it with speeding, but there’s lots of other things that can qualify as reckless driving. I know we’ve heard a little bit about recently the school buses and passing school buses, and actually, passing a school bus qualifies as reckless driving in Virginia. Also, not abiding by safety rules regarding bikes, like a bicyclist, in Virginia is also reckless, which is a big thing, I know, because we have a lot of those bike lanes.

Jennifer: And the newer ones, too, that are kind of like sort of in the middle, pretty much in the middle of the street, because now you have the bus lanes, and then you have very narrow lanes for the cars themselves.

Jessica: It’s crazy. The part of Richmond that I live in, there are some bike lanes that are to the right, where you typically see them, but they’re a little wider. And I’ve actually seen people using them as turn lanes, which is really scary. I mean, it seems convenient, but if there’s a cyclist there, you probably need to be aware of that, because you could get in a lot of trouble for that. Because like you said, we normally associate reckless with speeding, but it’s not just a normal speeding ticket. Like you said, it’s a criminal offense.

Jennifer: Right, and that’s the problem. A lot of people I know, they decide, because what is normally called the ticket, which is the summons-

Jessica: Yeah, that yellow sheet of paper.

Jennifer: Right, and that tells you what your charge is, and it tells you the day that you have to appear in court, but it also gives you other information that the officer may or may not mention when they stop you, and that is that you can just go ahead and pay it online. For most speeding tickets, that would work fine, and a lot of people are familiar with how to go about paying the fines for a speeding ticket. But with reckless driving, it’s important to remember that at least in Virginia, again, it’s a criminal conviction, and that is a misdemeanor offense if it’s your first time.

Jennifer: It’s important that you speak with someone, an attorney, who would be knowledgeable in the area and who can tell you what sort of consequences could stem from you pleading guilty to this charge, or the equivalent, paying the fine, and then that’s the same as pleading guilty in court.

Jessica: Which is, for a normal infraction, we don’t really think that much of it. It’s a couple hundred dollar fine. That may or may not be a lot of money, but it’s points on your driving record, your insurance might go up. It’s not a big deal. But like you said, this is a misdemeanor, so when you go online and pay that ticket, you’re pleading guilty to a crime that’s now going to show up on background checks and stuff like that. That’s a big difference than just paying that fine.

Jennifer: Yeah. No, absolutely, and for some people, it could disqualify them from their current employment. I know school drivers can’t have certain types of offenses on their record, and that includes reckless driving, at least for certain districts it does. So it’s very important that you’re aware of the consequences that a reckless driving charge could have. And because they can be so impactful in your life, that is why we want to address some of the defenses and why you should speak with someone who’s knowledgeable to help you craft a good legal defense, depending on the facts of your case, of course. Each defense will only apply depending on specific facts for specific people. Some of those offenses are, you can attempt to reduce it to defective equipment. I know you’ve mentioned before other sort of defenses.

Jessica: Yeah. Defective equipment, that would be like the speedometer, and your attorney, hiring an attorney, again, this is why it’s important, would kind of tell you how to go … I think you have to go to a mechanic and get it calibrated, and there’s all this. It goes into evidence. It’s a whole long process. Other defenses for reckless …

Jennifer: Depending on the situation, you could attempt to reduce it to a speeding charge or some other offense within the Code. As attorneys, and the public as well has access to the Code of Virginia, because it’s available online, and there are other offenses listed within the same Code section as reckless driving that, depending on the facts of the case again, an attorney could plead to the judge to reduce it to one that’s a reduced offense within that Code.

Jessica: So maybe not like a criminal offense, just a moving violation or points on your record.

Jennifer: Right. You know, sometimes just reducing it to speeding could go a long ways. Yes, it’s still going to impact your DMV record, but that’s much better than a reckless driving conviction, of course.

Jessica: And my impression is that usually when that happens, it’s a situation where you’re really upfront about it, you’re proactive, you’re doing community service, you might take a driver’s ed class. Again, all stuff that your attorney will help you figure out, but it’s kind of up to the judge whether they want to throw the book at you or not. It’s also, some of it is what kind of offense you had. Were you doing 85 in a 65, or were you doing 105?

Jennifer: Right, right. No, definitely. I mean, again, this is so case-specific, like most criminal cases are. They’re very fact-specific, but generally if the facts are in your favor, then you could have it reduced to speeding or defective equipment, or sometimes even getting it dismissed. It really does depend on what happened during your stop and whether, once you get it calibrated, you do find out that your car was not properly calibrated and you just saw the wrong speed. And that would actually be a good defense.

Jennifer: Of course, that’s not always what it is, but still, we would try to give it a shot and hope that we can get the ticket dismissed, and if not, then to get it reduced. But this is very, very case-specific, and that’s why it’s important that you speak with an attorney. Yeah.

Jessica: Yeah, so we talked a little bit about what reckless driving is and kind of what to do once you’ve gotten the ticket, but do you want to tell us a little bit about what the specific penalties are with reckless driving?

Jennifer: Sure. With reckless driving, you can get up to 12 months in jail and up to #2,500 in fine. Obviously, if it’s your first offense, that would be the extreme. Again, the Code section reads “up to”, so that means that’s the limit that you could get. Obviously, on a first offense, I wouldn’t foresee a judge actually implementing the maximum penalty. Of course, it would depend on the facts, but generally that doesn’t happen. It would have to be very egregious, or you would have to have a very bad record for the court to impose jail time on a first offense, at least in the Richmond area.

Jennifer: And again, those are just the legal consequences. Those are the consequences that you would get on the day of court, if you get convicted. Those are the potential consequences that the judge could impose. There are, like we’ve talked about before here and in our podcast, the collateral consequences. I don’t know if you know off the top of your head what some of those might be.

Jessica: I think the biggest one is losing your license. I think a lot of the time, when you get a citation for reckless driving, there’s an automatic suspension of your license for a certain period of time. You mentioned a driving record. Depending on what your driving record’s been, you can lose it for even longer, and the more violations you have, the longer you’re going to lose your license for. So it’s a huge deal with that.

Jessica: Also, you mentioned it’s a criminal offense, it’s a misdemeanor. If you get multiple within a short period of time, I think it’s three within five years, it turns into a felony. The third offense is actually a felony, which is an even bigger deal when your background check is run. And once those charges start piling up, employment opportunities are going to be affected too. And once you have a felony on your record … again, we talked about this in a podcast that I don’t think we’ve posted yet, but we will hopefully make sure … housing opportunities too. If you live in public housing, and you get convicted of a felony, that can affect housing. It can affect benefits.

Jessica: So it’s a small thing, we think of it just as speeding, but it really has really wide-ranging impacts, which is why it’s so important, like you said, to get representation, to get good representation that can help you knock the charges down maybe a little bit, hopefully.

Jennifer: Yeah, and I know we’ve been talking so far about Virginia residents, but those same collateral consequences, would those also apply to out-of-state drivers, since Virginia doesn’t have a hold over out-of-state drivers, outside of bringing them to court because of that violation of reckless driving?

Jessica: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I actually had a speeding ticket out of state this summer, and it was inconvenient, because I thought I was going to have to do all this stuff, but it was nice, because I could just go online and pay the fines there. But if it’s a reckless driving, you should not do that. It’s a summons. You should show up to court. You should take it seriously. But generally, the penalties that would apply in Virginia, like the points that come off your record, are going to apply in other states as well. There’s this thing called the Interstate Driver’s License Compact, and the theme is one driver, one license, one record.

Jennifer: That’s right. That’s right, across the board.

Jessica: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Virginia will report whatever infractions you are convicted of to your home state, and that includes speeding, but also negligent manslaughter with cars, if you’re involved in a fatal accident, DUI felony, failure to help at an accident. So it’s not just reckless, but anything that you do that’s a criminal infraction in Virginia is going to be reported to your home state. So even though you think it may in fact be tempting to go online and pay the fee, you need to be aware that these are impacts that are going to affect your driver’s license in your home state as well.

Jennifer: Yeah, and I know you mentioned, a lot of people would go online and just pay it, because they’re out of state, and they would be inconvenienced by showing up here to court, and that’s why it’s important to speak with an attorney, because sometimes you may not have to come to court. You can just have the attorney represent you, because you are out of state. That’s not the case always, but by speaking with an attorney about your specific facts, then you can figure out whether or not you would have to be present in court or whether in your case, with your facts, it would actually end up being the same to just pay the fine or hiring an attorney. Of course, each attorney will tell you what they believe is the best course of action, and if they don’t think that your case is winnable, just given the circumstances, then they will let you know.

Jennifer: It’s of course always good to try to fight it. You never know what will be good with the judge, but generally an attorney would know how a specific judge within a specific jurisdiction would react to the facts with your case, and they would be able to give you a good assessment of the case and tell you what the best course of action would be.

Jessica: Yeah, and even though your state will treat the violation like it’s a violation in your home state, it’s important to get a Virginia attorney for a Virginia offense, because each state does have different laws, even though a lot of them are very, very similar. Even something like the summons in Virginia is different than the summons in another state, so I think in Virginia there’s a little box in the very middle of it that is going to be checked if you don’t have to appear in court, not as a resident. But it’s something that, you know, as you and I appear in court, we get used to, like you said, the judges and how things work here. It’s really important to get someone that knows the local system and the local rules to help you out. So hopefully, lessen the consequences as a result of your ticket.

Jennifer: Yeah, No, definitely. I think that’s pretty much it on reckless driving. Again, do remember that this is a criminal offense. It will show up on your background check. You will have to disclose that as a criminal offense when you’re filling out employment paperwork.

Jessica: And watch out for multiple offenses, since as they pile up, they get serious.

Jennifer: Yes, and if you’re an immigrant, that’s specifically important. I’m glad that you brought that up. The multiple offenses for immigrants in particular, if you’re not a citizen, you do need to speak with an attorney, because that could have the potential of disqualifying you for immigration benefits. So if that’s your case, it’s important that you speak with an immigration attorney or someone who does both immigration and criminal law, because obviously they would be the most capable to give you the information about the potential consequences on the immigration side. But yes.

Jessica: And be careful driving afterwards, because if you get your license suspended, and you get caught driving-

Jennifer: That’s another charge.

Jessica: That’s another charge. So be careful driving after.

Jennifer: Yes, but do remember, if you have any questions, or you need help with any criminal matter, you can call the office and have a meeting with either myself or Jessica, and we’d be more than happy to help you.

Jessica: Yeah. Thanks for checking us out, even later in the day. We’ll see you next week.

Jennifer: Bye.

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