Getting a ticket for reckless driving can be a sobering moment.
In Virginia, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable with significant fines and up to 12 months in jail.
Further, a reckless driving conviction will stay on your driving record for 11 years, and can affect your insurance rates and future job searches.
For these reasons and more, it’s smart to fight the ticket if you are charged with reckless driving in Virginia.
In this article, we’ll discuss six strategies to help you fight a reckless driving ticket in Virginia. While these tips may not work in every case, they are the most common strategies you will talk over with your lawyer while preparing your defense.
What is Reckless Driving?
Virginia law defines reckless driving using several different legal codes. The three most important are:
- VA Code § 46.2-852 – Driving a vehicle in a way that endangers others, regardless of speed.
- VA Code § 46.2-853 – Failing to maintain control of a vehicle, including failure to properly maintain safety equipment such as brakes.
- VA Code § 46.2-862 – Driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit, OR faster than 80 mph total.
In other words, reckless driving is driving in a way that endangers the life, limb, or property of either yourself or another person. For this reason, Virginia courts generally treat reckless driving as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Since reckless driving is a criminal charge, most people choose to hire a lawyer so they can fight to reduce or dismiss the charges.
Since a reckless driving conviction usually results in large fines, license suspension, and possibly even jail time, you’ll at least want to talk over your case with an attorney.
Remember that it’s best not to make any statements to the police until you talk with a lawyer. Any statements you make can and will be used against you in court.
6 Strategies for Fighting Reckless Driving Charges in Virginia
When preparing to fight your reckless driving charge, you should keep three things in mind:
- Failing to appear in court is a serious mistake.
- Failing to understand the charges against you, or failing to take the charges seriously, can negatively impact your case.
- The Commonwealth Attorney must prove the charges against you. Don’t give them more ammunition by arguing with the arresting officer or talking with the police without your attorney present.
In addition to these three general tips, there are several other strategies you can use to fight a reckless driving ticket in Virginia.
Strategy 1 – Challenging the Validity of the Stop
The first strategy you should always look in to is challenging the validity of the stop.
In Virginia, a law enforcement officer must have at least reasonable suspicion that a traffic infraction or crime was committed by the driver in order to stop someone. They cannot simply pull you over for any or no reason.
Further, the officer must follow certain rules and procedures during the stop in order for the court to consider the stop valid.
What this means is that you should always look over the details of the stop in order to make sure the officer conducted the stop properly.
For example, you should always look at the reason they pulled you over (how did they notice you were speeding?) as well as the procedures they followed during the stop itself (did they start searching your car?).
In some cases, you may be able to have the entire case dismissed by showing that the stop, or the officer’s conduct during the stop, wasn’t by the book.
Strategy 2 – Proving You Weren’t the Reckless Driver
While it may sound obvious, a judge cannot convict you of reckless driving if they are uncertain whether you were actually driving the reckless car.
If you were the passenger in a car that was driving recklessly, you can avoid a reckless driving conviction by proving that you were only a passenger.
Similarly, if an officer issues you a reckless driving ticket when a different driver was actually at-fault, you may want to pursue that angle in court. For example, if someone causes an accident by blowing through a red light and then blames you for driving recklessly.
Since the officer didn’t witness the accident, they’ll have to take a statement from each driver about what happened. To argue your case, you’ll have to recreate the events leading up to the accident and provide as much evidence as possible that you weren’t actually at-fault.
Strategy 3 – Challenging the Radar/LIDAR
If an officer cited you for reckless driving by speed, you could also challenge the calibration of the device they used to check your speed.
If the officer clocked your speed using Radar or LIDAR, you have the right to ask for proof that the machine was properly calibrated. Your attorney can ask to see the calibration certificate, which should be dated within the last 6 months.
If there’s no proof that the Radar or LIDAR was calibrated properly, or if there is a chance of user error, the judge may dismiss the charges.
Strategy 4 – Showing that your Speedometer was Inaccurate
This isn’t the best defense, but it may help in negotiations with the Commonwealth. Essentially, you’ll need to show that your speedometer was improperly calibrated, and that you thought that you were driving safely.
Note that this can be tricky in Virginia since the law requires that you get your equipment inspected every year.
If you truly think that your speedometer was giving an inaccurate reading (especially if the reckless driving speed was borderline), it may help to get your speedometer calibrated.
After you get your speedometer calibrated, you’ll get a calibration report from the technician. This report will show the correct speed along with your speedometer’s reading.
If the report shows that your speedometer was consistently showing a lower speed than the calibration machine, you can use that information in court.
While it may not lead to a dismissal of the charges, you may be able to argue for a lower punishment, or even the reduction of the charge to improper driving (as seen in strategy 4).
Strategy 5 – Negotiate a Plea Deal
The court has discretion when it comes to reducing reckless driving charges and sentencing, especially if it’s your first offense. This is why many first-time offenders will try to negotiate for a lesser charge, such as simple speeding, or if the facts permit, improper driving.
Improper driving is a non-criminal charge that will only add 3 demerit points to your driving record (as opposed to the 6 points for reckless driving).
Since improper driving isn’t a criminal charge, it won’t go on your criminal record. Instead, you’ll simply have to pay a small fine.
Most commonly, you can negotiate the charge down to simple speeding, which carries even lower penalties. This is especially true for higher speeds, such as receiving a reckless driving charge for going 81 mph in a 70 mph zone.
Strategy 6 – Take Steps to Mitigate the Punishment
There are several strategies for lowering the potential punishment in your case. In general, these strategies center on (1) showing that you regret your actions, and (2) taking steps to correct this problem.
As two of the most common suggestions:
Take a Driver Improvement Clinic – One option is to attend a court-approved driver’s school to show that you are remorseful for your actions and plan to do better in the future.
This is where your attorney can give you valuable information – some judges will reduce the charges for individuals who attend driving school, and some won’t. Your attorney should be familiar with the judges in your local court, and will be able to advise you accordingly.
Perform Community Service – Sometimes the judge in your case will reduce the charges on the condition that you perform community service. If the judge offers this option, it’s generally recommended that you take it.
Spending a few hours in community service is usually worth keeping a criminal offense off your record.
Pay attention to the details of the community service requirements. The court may limit you to certain approved venues for service, or the service may need to be monitored.
If you don’t perform the service within these requirements, the court may not accept your service. In this scenario, you may still end up with a reckless driving charge on your record.
Special Cases – Repeat Offenders and CDL Drivers
Virginia judges are notoriously harsh when punishing driving crimes. This is especially true for repeat offenders.
For this reason, it’s important that you hire a lawyer to see what your best options are for fighting the charges. You’ll want to go to court to try to avoid the harshest penalties in your reckless driving case.
Similarly, CDL drivers should also be extremely careful when fighting reckless driving charges in Virginia. A reckless driving conviction could result in the loss of your CDL, as well as other additional penalties.
Virginia courts are notoriously tough on reckless drivers. However, judges have a lot of discretion in dismissing or reducing charges.
In most cases, it’s wise to take a plea deal to get a lesser charge. By using the correct strategy for your individual case, you can often avoid the harsher aspects of a reckless driving charge. Sometimes, you may even be able to lower the crime to improper driving or another similar traffic infraction.
Whatever strategy you choose in the end, it’s wise to hire an attorney to help fight your reckless driving charge.