Fairfax Reckless Driving Attorney

reckless driving

When most people think of a traffic ticket, they assume that a significant fine is the worst consequence they may face.  However, in Virginia, that is not the case for reckless driving.

Reckless driving in Virginia is a criminal offense. A conviction for reckless driving means you will have a misdemeanor on your record. It could also mean losing your license, jail time, and fines. If police cited you for reckless driving, it is important that you consult with a Fairfax reckless driving lawyer before accepting any type of resolution.

At the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone, our criminal charges defense lawyers have extensive experience helping drivers like you keep their licenses. We handle both administrative and criminal traffic violation cases. Our caring and compassionate Fairfax reckless driving attorney can clearly explain all your options and fight for your rights. We are a criminal defense firm with a track record of successfully challenging tickets and winning favorable pleas for our clients.

WHAT IS RECKLESS DRIVING?

Most people understand the concept of reckless driving, however, the criminal offense of reckless driving is a precise legal term. Virginia law states that “irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”

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What Does Reckless Driving Mean?

A reckless driving charge can leave you with many questions:

  • What does this mean?
  • How fast do you need to go to get cited for reckless driving?
  • What other traffic violations can lead to a reckless driving citation?

However, as you can see above, the Virginia reckless driving statute is very vague. Therefore, reckless driving can encompass many different things and other traffic offenses.

However, the most common reasons police cite drivers for reckless driving are below.

Faulty Brakes

A police officer in Virginia can arrest you for reckless driving if your vehicle has faulty or inadequate brakes.

Improper Passing

If you overtake a vehicle on a two-lane road and a curve or hill obstructs your view of oncoming traffic, a court can find you guilty of reckless driving. Likewise, it is reckless driving if you overtake two vehicles simultaneously or if you drive two abreast in a single-vehicle lane. It is also reckless driving to pass another vehicle stopped at a railroad crossing.

Obstructed View

A court can find you guilty of reckless driving if people or items in the front seat of your vehicle obstruct your view of the front windshield or side windows.

Speeding

Speeding is a traffic infraction that adds points to your record but doesn’t put you at risk of jail time or a criminal conviction. However, if you exceed the speed limit improperly by driving too fast for road conditions—regardless of the speed limit—an officer may charge you with reckless driving.

Also, if you are driving more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit or over 85 miles per hour on any public road, officers may decide to charge you with reckless driving instead of speeding.

Not Stopping for a School Bus

If a school bus is stopped on a highway, private road, or school parking lot to discharge or pick up children, you must remain stopped until the bus “is put in motion.” If you take off, whip around the bus, or make some other dangerous maneuver while the bus is stopped, a court can find you guilty of reckless driving.

It is important to note that this statute is not limited to school buses. The statute includes any bus used for school children, the elderly, or the mentally or physically disabled.

People often shutter when children are involved. Therefore, some find this section of the reckless driving statute the most egregious. However, the legislature does provide avenues for criminal defense.

For example, the bus must be appropriately marked as a school bus under the statute. Also, you need not stop if the road is a divided highway or a physical barrier separates the bus from your vehicle. A lawyer for reckless driving can explain other potential defenses.

Racing

Engaging in street racing is sure to catch the attention of police, who may cite you for reckless driving. The government doesn’t need to prove that you were actually racing, only that you put others at serious risk.

Driving Erratically

Frequently switching lanes, cutting other drivers off, and engaging in aggressive driving behavior can also be considered reckless driving.

It is important to understand that judges and prosecutors have a lot of discretion regarding reckless driving charges.

Elements of Reckless Driving in Virginia

The prosecution always has the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. In Virginia, the Commonwealth must prove two elements of reckless driving beyond a reasonable doubt. First, the prosecutor has to prove you drove a vehicle on a highway. Second, the prosecution must prove that you drove in a manner that endangered the life, limb, or property of another. 

Proving that you were on a highway is not that difficult for the prosecution. (Although you can beat your case if they don’t prove that element beyond a reasonable doubt.) There might be a rare instance where the police charge someone with reckless driving while on a private road and not a highway. In most circumstances, however, the prosecutor will focus on the allegations surrounding how you drove rather than where you drove. 

Courts in Virginia have ruled that the essence of reckless driving is the manner in which the person drove in particular circumstances. For example, driving 50 miles per hour on I-95 could be dangerously slow during rush hour traffic—but could also be dangerously fast during a heavy rainstorm with strong winds. 

How Reckless Driving Is Proven

Consider the example above again. One person traveling on a highway at 50 mph could be accused of driving dangerously slow, and another driving at the same speed during a rain storm could be accused of driving dangerously fast. The difference between these two events is the mindset of the person driving. Courts call a person’s mindset or intent mens rea. Virginia courts have said that the mens rea requirement for reckless driving is criminal recklessness as opposed to the negligence standard used in civil court. 

Therefore, to be convicted of the criminal offense of reckless driving, the driver must have been more than merely negligent—which implies they may not have known how dangerous their behavior was. Instead, the prosecutor must prove that a criminal defendant knew or should have known that their behavior was dangerous to others, but they chose to act dangerously despite the potential harm it might cause.

Police and prosecutors rarely know what is in a person’s mind when they commit a crime. Most of the time, the police have to prove the mens rea requirement with circumstantial evidence. However, sometimes reconstructing the accident helps establish the crime.

Technology In Reckless Driving Investigations

Police officers with specialized training in auto accident reconstruction analyze the different characteristics of a car crash to figure out how and why the crash occurred. Using scientific formulas, investigators can understand the following:

  • The speed of the vehicles before and after the crash, 
  • Their direction of travel, 
  • Whether the vehicles applied brakes, 
  • Whether the vehicles were accelerating at the time of impact, and 
  • Whether the vehicles were in good working order when the crash happened. 

The crash reconstruction officer will consider environmental factors, such as the weather, road conditions, traffic volume, and time of day. 

Technology also plays an important role in accident reconstruction. Most newer model cars have a data event recorder, which people sometimes call a “black box” for cars. Data recorders will tell investigators if the driver braked before the crash, the speed of the vehicle, and other information as well. Officers will look around the accident scene for surveillance cameras to see if a camera captured relevant information.

Accident reconstruction officers use traditional investigatory methods too. They will talk to witnesses and take photos of the vehicles, roadway, traffic signs, roadway markings, and other relevant evidence.

You should keep in mind that you never have to speak with a police officer who wants to question you about your role in the accident. If you feel pressured by them to talk, call our Fairfax reckless driving attorney right away for help getting the police off of your back. 

What Are the Penalties for Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving charges are serious. Reckless driving in Virginia is a class one misdemeanor. Therefore, a first-time conviction carries up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

However, reckless driving is a class six felony if your reckless driving caused the death of another person, and you were driving without a license. A class six felony carries up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

While these penalties are serious, a skilled Fairfax reckless driving lawyer can help you avoid the most severe consequences.

At the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone, we’ve had success getting prosecutors to drop charges, agree to a plea for a lesser charge, and even beat reckless driving citations at trial.

Will You Lose Your Driver’s License for Reckless Driving?

Yes. Unfortunately, if a court convicts you for reckless driving, you will lose your driver’s license for at least ten days. However, the court can order up to a six-month driver’s license suspension. The court can also require you to complete an alcohol safety action program if there is a reason to believe alcohol was involved. On top of this, your insurance rates may dramatically increase.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you beat the charge and keep your license.

Out-of-State Drivers

Since it’s so close to Washington, D.C., people from all over the country visit the Fairfax area. If you live in another state and Virginia police charge you with reckless driving, you will need a Fairfax reckless driving lawyer. You might have the impression that you can forget about the charges because you live elsewhere. Ignoring the charges can hurt you, no matter where you live. Virginia law allows judges to issue warrants for people who refuse to attend court. The police can arrest you if you have a warrant. Additionally, your home state could suspend your license because you have a warrant from another state.

As you can see, ignoring the charge only makes things worse. Contacting the Law Offices of Michael Pignone for advice is the best move you can make. Our office helps many out-of-state visitors each year fight their reckless driving charges successfully. We will work closely with you to ensure that you get the best possible defense from our Fairfax reckless driving attorney.

Should I Get a Lawyer If I am Charged With Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving may seem to be a minor traffic infraction. However, reckless driving is a severe criminal offense. Moreover, if you were recently cited for reckless driving, you may not have the option of paying a fine to make the case go away. And even if you do, that may not be the best thing for your future. The reckless driving attorney cost will pale in comparison to the fines, penalties, and possible jail time you can face if you are convicted.

The Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone have been helping good people get out of bad situations for over 25 years. We can help you understand all of your options so you can make an informed decision on the best and most advantageous course of action.

Our experienced lawyer also handles other types of criminal defense cases, including:

If you decide to fight, we will take the helm. We have years of experience handling both criminal and administrative traffic violation cases. And you can be sure that we will aggressively advocate on your behalf every step of the way.

To learn more, and to schedule, a free consultation with a Fairfax reckless driving attorney, give us a call today. You can reach us or you can also connect with us through our online contact form.