A common type of misdemeanor traffic violation is the charge of reckless driving. The charge denotes more than one type of driving violation, meaning any type of driving that puts the driver and/or the community in which they are operating a vehicle in danger. While which types of reckless driving actions have different penalties according to state jurisdiction, there are some standard perspectives on what constitutes reckless driving, and how it should be punished. In the following discussion, we take a closer look at the definition of said offense, what types of driving crimes constitute a violation under this misdemeanor offense, what common penalties ensue for an offender of this crime, as well as common defenses that limit these penalties.
The definition-while slightly different in terminology according to state jurisdiction-of reckless driving is when the operator of a vehicle shows a “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. While the definition may seem cut and dry as regards misdemeanor traffic violations, there has been much discussion as to the vagueness of the law definition, and is therefore, unconstitutional. This is where the precise differences between the wording of this law from state to state can make a huge impact on a defense in criminal court. In some states, depending on the language of said law, defendants can properly fight and win a case on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
There are a variety of specific offenses that can be considered reckless. While none of the below examples of driving recklessly is considered enough to be subject to a criminal charge alone, either excessive actions of them, and/or being convicted of more than one of these offenses is sufficient for a criminal conviction of reckless driving. The most potent examples of this traffic violation are: speeding, causing a traffic accident, driving while intoxicated, inattentive driving, driving without headlights, jamming on the brakes, and any act that disregards traffic laws in that state. While simply failing to stop at a stop sign or speeding 10 mph over the posted speed limit is not enough for a conviction of this crime, as noted previously, adding another example of impropriety to this offense, such as operating a vehicle intoxicated will most definitely warrant a solid foundation for a conviction.
One of the most common misnomers in any case of reckless driving is how it relates to DUI. Most people would assume that drunk operation of a vehicle is, by nature, a form of reckless driving; but in legal situations, the two should always be considered separately, as they are two different crimes. Though in a case of DUI, the manner in how they driver was impaired is discussed as regards operating a vehicle, a reckless driving case must be proven as regards how the vehicle was operated. While closely conjoined in theory, most states make a distinction between the two, to avoid the convicted or acquittal of one charge automatically leading to the conviction or acquittal of the other.
Another factor that could play a part in a charge of this kind is how speed was included in the offense. Mere speeding is not grounds for a charge of this kind, but if excessive speed is used, or other traffic violations involved; this could most certainly be reason for prosecution. Moreover, there are a number of other factors that could affect how fast a person should go, and these also can influence a court’s rendering of a particular defendant. These are what the time of day is in which the vehicle is being operated, visibility, presence of traffic and/or pedestrians, the width and surface of the road, and weather. In all of these situations, a driver should always be more cautious than if normal conditions were present. This said, many courts could consider these aggravating factors in the sentencing of the defendant, and render a judgment that is more severe.
There are a number of penalties that could ensue for an offender of reckless driving. These punishments can range from mild to severe, according to the state in which they are processed, as well as the nature and specifics of the crime. The most common of penalties for this misdemeanor traffic violation are: suspension or revocation of driver’s license, heavy fine, jail sentence, revocation of parole, and/or deportation. Any and all of these penalties could be a result of some form of this charge.
Since this charge can be so vague in its definition according to the state in which a defendant is processed, there are a number of successful defenses to this crime, that can affect judgment positively for the defendant. First, if a defendant can prove a necessity to be operating a vehicle in the manner in which they were charged, the court might considered a lesser penalty or an acquittal. This defense is predicated on the belief that the driver was in an emergency situation, that this emergency “presented a threat to the driver or some third party”, and that the driver “did not create the emergency”. Second, if the defendant can prove that the law enforcement failed to identify them as the driver of the vehicle, many courts will side with the defendant. Third, the defendant might have a shot at a lesser charge or acquittal if they can prove that the area and environmental factors in which they were travelling has been the scene of a variety of accidents of the same manner, previous to his/her own.
All of these significant variables go into the charging, processing, and sentencing of a crime of this nature; and it is up to the defendant to properly evaluate his/her own case in order to defend the crime due to the vague nature of the state law. With this in mind, a charge of this kind will show up on a person’s criminal record, as it is a misdemeanor. Common belief is that all traffic records are not available to the public, but this is false, as it is just the traffic infractions that are not available without subject consent. Misdemeanors and felony traffic violations are most often, available for public search, and so a charge of this kind could easily be found if a comprehensive criminal records search is conducted.