IS RECKLESS DRIVING A FELONY? Practices in the US (Updated)

Is reckless driving a felony

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor in the state of California and a couple of other states in the US. “A person who drives a vehicle on a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of individuals or property is guilty of reckless driving,” according to California Vehicle Code Section 23103. Basically, those found guilty of this crime face up to 90 days in county prison and fines of up to $1,000. On the other hand, if the offender has a history of reckless driving convictions or someone has been hurt or killed, the penalties will be increased.

But that’s not all. So this article explains every other detail when it comes to felony and reckless driving.

What is Reckless Driving?

Reckless Driving is a type of moving traffic offense. State law defines it as driving with the deliberate, willful, or wanton disregard for the safety of others. It doesn’t have to be related to drunk driving, but the two infractions might sometimes occur in the same event. Common examples of reckless driving include;

  • Operating a car recklessly
  • Exceeding the speed limit by 25 miles per hour or more
  • Driving at night without headlights

What is California’s definition of Reckless Driving?

If you are convicted of reckless driving, you will receive two points on your driving record and your license may be suspended. Consequently, Your monthly auto insurance costs are likely to rise if your driving record accumulates points.

It’s worth noting that reckless driving charges are often accompanied by other significant criminal charges stemming from the same event. For example, reckless driving and driving under the influence, hit-and-runs, and street racing, for example, are often seen together.

Wet Reckless Driving Charge

A DUI can occasionally be reduced to a “wet reckless” driving charge, commonly known as a reckless driving charge involving alcohol, according to Vehicle Code Section 23103.5. A plea bargain is usually negotiated with the prosecutor in cases like these, and your counsel may try to fight the DUI. In rare occassions, they may be able to persuade the prosecutor that the evidence is insufficient, resulting in a lesser charge. It is crucial to understand, however, that you cannot be charged with a wet reckless right away. This can only be accomplished with a reduced DUI charge.

Dry Reckless Driving Charge

Simply put, a dry reckless is careless driving without the use of alcohol. Dry reckless charges are misdemeanors, according to Vehicle Code Section 23103, and can result in fines, probation, and potentially jail time.

This conviction will appear on your record as if you were arrested for careless driving at the time. In other words, if you are arrested for a DUI in the future, it will not qualify as a prior DUI conviction (unlike a wet reckless conviction).

Is It the Same Thing to Drive Irresponsibly as It Is to Drive Carelessly?

No. The term “driving carelessly” refers to driving without regard for safety. To put it another way, a driver is not paying attention to the road. Examples include; running a red light, driving distractedly, or neglecting to engage a turn signal.

Although state laws differ in how they define reckless driving, the following are some frequent examples:

  • Excessive speeding of more than 25 miles per hour beyond the posted speed limit
  • Illegal passing (for example, passing on a curve or passing in the opposing traffic lane)
  • Tailgating
  • Weaving through traffic
  • Ignoring traffic signs and signals
  • Driving a vehicle known to have broken brakes or other harmful defects
  • Racing other cars
  • Evading a police officer after a traffic check
  • Texting while driving

Is Driving While Intoxicated a Felony?

State laws determine whether reckless driving is a criminal. In Virginia, for example, reckless driving is referred to as a wobbler. Basically, a charge of driving recklessly can be either a misdemeanor or a felony is referred to as a wobbler. The charge is usually dictated by the facts, and the court makes the final decision.

When a person’s reckless driving causes serious damage or death to another person, a reckless driving charge can be elevated to a felony in some states. If a driver does not have a valid driver’s license when arrested in Virginia, the allegation of reckless driving becomes a felony.

Is Drunk Driving a Misdemeanor in Virginia?

In most cases, careless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. Class 1 has the most severe potential sanctions of the four misdemeanor classifications in the state. A Class 1 misdemeanor conviction can result in a year in jail, fines of up to $2,500, driver’s license suspension, and six demerit points on your driving record.

Many cases of reckless driving in Virginia, however, do not result in a jail sentence. It’s not uncommon to receive simply a fine and a license suspension, especially if the violation is minor — such as traveling 81 mph in a 70 mph zone.

Still, a charge of careless driving in Virginia is not to be taken lightly. It is, once again, a criminal offense with the possibility of harsh penalties and a permanent record. Also, car insurance prices may be affected by a reckless driving charge.

When Is Reckless Driving In Virginia A Felony?

Although most occurrences of reckless driving in Virginia are misdemeanors, there are times when it is a crime. According to Virginia code 46.2-868, a reckless motorist is guilty of a Class 6 felony if he or she:

Was driving when their license was suspended or revoked due to a moving infraction, AND their reckless driving resulted in the death of another person.

A Class 6 felony carries a penalty of up to a year or 5 years in jail, as well as a fine of up to $2,500.

Furthermore, if the reckless driving allegation stemmed from racing and injured or killed someone who was not involved in the race, Virginia law deems it a felony. If there were non-fatal injuries as a result of the race, the same Class 6 felony charges listed above may apply.

If a fatality occurs as a result of the drag race, the law deems it a special offense, punishable by prison sentence ranging from one to twenty years, with an obligatory minimum of one year. A driver’s license could be revoked for a period of one to three years.

What are the General Consequences of Felony Reckless Driving?

The penalties for driving carelessly vary depending on whether the offense was an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony. The following are some of the most common penalties for driving recklessly:

  • Imprisonment
  • Probation
  • Suspension or revocation of a driver’s license for fines of $500 or more
  • Increased insurance prices as a result of points on your driving record

Should I Consult an Attorney About a Reckless Driving Charge?

Yes, if reckless driving is a criminal violation in your state, you should contact an attorney as quickly as possible. But eventhough reckless driving is not considered a driving infraction in your state, you can still benefit from legal counsel. A criminal defense lawyer can represent you in court, negotiate a plea deal, or work to reduce your fines or time in prison.

Defenses to Risky Driving

In Florida, there are numerous defenses to a charge of reckless driving. The following are some of the more prevalent defenses:

  • Was the accused the one behind the wheel?
  • Is it more likely that the accused drove the vehicle with the required level of responsibility (willful or wanton disregard), or did the accused simply operate carelessly or negligently?
  • Was the accused’s driving pattern deliberate, knowing, and purposeful, or were there extenuating circumstances at work?
  • Were there any people or property in the area that needed to be protected?
  • Is the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses credible? Are the allegations substantiated by the in-car video (if one is available) if they are made by a police officer?
  • Are there any additional witnesses who can refute the prosecution’s claims?
  • Is the charge solely based on a claim of excessive speeding?

Speed Is Inadequate on Its Own

In most cases, a conviction for reckless driving cannot be founded only on proof of high speed.

In other words, the prosecution fails to prove reckless driving when testimony at trial simply demonstrates that a defendant was traveling 60 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone and then slammed on his brakes before colliding with another car.

Despite this general norm, at least two Florida appellate courts have suggested that “grossly excessive” speeding may be enough to get a conviction.

Speed, in Addition to Other Factors

When speed is combined with additional indicators demonstrating an intentional or wanton disregard for the safety of others, a reckless driving conviction will be upheld. The following are some of the most common factors considered by Florida appellate courts:

Improper passing; failing to lower speed prior to impact; disregarding the presence of children, ignoring traffic control devices; failing to look for pedestrians; and consuming intoxicants.

Driving Carelessly or Negligently Is Insufficient

Simple careless or negligent driving evidence is insufficient to support a reckless driving conviction. The defendant’s actions must be intentional or wanton in nature.

In Florida, a defendant made a left-hand turn at an intersection and failed to notice a woman pushing a stroller 47 feet in front of his vehicle after making the turn. The court concluded that the State had failed to prove the elements of reckless driving due to a lack of evidence of willfulness or wantonness.

In the case of Berube v. State, 6 So. 3d 624 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008), a defendant pulled into an intersection and attempted to make a left-hand turn on red after his passengers informed him that a dump truck was approaching from behind. The defendant made the illegal turn in a panic, resulting in a tragic vehicle collision. The court concluded that the defendant’s actions did not amount to reckless driving based on these circumstances, stating:

Evidence that Berube made an improper left turn with a conscious and intentional disregard to consequences and awareness that damage to persons or property was likely is missing from the State’s proof.

The distinction between reckless and careless or negligent driving is illustrated in a number of other Florida appellate rulings.

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