Ranging from fighting the validity of the traffic stop to arguing for reduced charges, there are several options for you to talk over with an attorney before your court date.
In this article, we’ll discuss various ways you can argue for reduced reckless driving charges in Virginia.
However, keep in mind that this is just an overview of a few common ways to reduce the charges.
When it comes to developing a legal strategy for your specific case, you should always discuss your case with an attorney before appearing in court.
Reckless and Improper Driving in Virginia
One of the most common ways to fight for a reduced sentence in Virginia is to argue for lower charges, such as improper driving.
Virginia has some of the harshest reckless driving laws in the country.
By default, Virginia considers any of the following acts to be reckless driving:
- Driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit, OR faster than 80 mph total.
- Failing to maintain control of the vehicle you are driving (including any failure to maintain safety equipment, such as brakes).
- Driving in a way that endangers others, regardless of speed.
Reckless driving almost always entails substantial penalties, even for a first offense.
In rare cases, you may be fined up to $2,500, and sentenced to up to a year of jail time.
However, it is much more likely that you will face a smaller fine and perform community service.
In most cases, the bigger concern is losing your license.
Because a reckless driving conviction can add six points to your driver’s license, it can easily put you over the threshold for suspension.
Furthermore, the judge overseeing your case can decide to suspend your license even if you are under this 12-point threshold.
To avoid this, you can argue to have your charges reduced to improper driving, or present mitigating evidence to fight against the license suspension.
After you’ve been charged with reckless driving, the judge or Commonwealth Attorney overseeing your case may choose to downgrade the charge to improper driving.
Under the Virginia Code, improper driving is only a traffic infraction, not a misdemeanor.
This means that, at most, you will have to pay a fine of up to $500, although smaller fines are more common.
In addition, improper driving is only worth three points on your driver’s license.
This makes it much less likely that you will lose your license due to a charge of improper driving.
Arguing for a Reduction
According to the law, improper driving describes a case of reckless driving where “the degree of culpability is slight.”
Of course, the interpretation of this law is ultimately up to the judge.
However, there are a few specific circumstances that can work either for or against you when it comes to improper driving charges.
Negligence and Intentional Reckless Driving
Often, a judge will choose to reduce a first-time offender’s reckless driving charges based on whether or not they intended to drive recklessly.
If the court determines that you were only accidentally negligent, the judge may decide to reduce your charges.
However, if the evidence shows that you were deliberately reckless, a reduction is very unlikely.
Typically, “negligent” driving refers to driving in a way that endangers the lives of others in a way that might not be obvious to the driver.
For example, driving over the speed limit, but non-aggressively and with the flow of traffic, is usually considered to be “negligent” instead of “reckless.”
On the other hand, very aggressive driving may be seen as deliberately reckless.
For example, if you were weaving in and out of lanes while going faster than 95 miles per hour, the judge will likely consider your actions to be intentionally reckless.
Of course, there are considerable grey areas between these extremes.
In such cases, having a good Virginia traffic lawyer representing you can make all the difference.
Driver Improvement Clinics and Community Service
Sometimes, a judge may decide to reduce your charges in exchange for having you complete a driver improvement clinic.
If the judge agrees to this, you will then attend the clinic for several weeks.
When you are finished, the judge will often reduce the charges or drop them entirely.
However, keep in mind that not all judges allow people charged with reckless driving to reduce their charges in this way.
Depending on the judge, attending a clinic before your court date can either help or hurt your case.
The same can be true of performing community service before your court date.
For this reason, you should always consult with your lawyer before attending a driver improvement clinic or performing community service.
Reduction to a Speeding Ticket
Finally, if the speed you were driving at is the only reason you were charged with reckless driving, the judge may decide to reduce your charges even further to a simple speeding ticket.
However, you should note that, in some cases, a speeding ticket can actually be worse than an improper driving charge.
In particular, a speeding ticket is worth four points on your record, while improper driving is only worth three.
For this reason, it’s sometimes better to see if you can get the charges reduced to improper driving instead.
While the fines for a speeding ticket may be lower, sometimes the one-point difference can save you from losing your license in the future.
Above all, reckless driving cases are complicated.
Since reduction cases often center on the discretion of a particular judge or court, you’ll want to talk over your strategy with someone who has experience in your ticket’s jurisdiction.
For this reason, it is always in your best interests to find an experienced, local traffic lawyer.
By hiring a knowledgeable attorney, you can develop a plan to get your charges reduced or even dropped entirely long before you step into the court room.