I have a buddy who practices law in Ohio; he laughed when I told him about Virginia’s reckless driving laws. See, first offense reckless driving in Ohio is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $150.00 fine. Virginia is—to put it mildly—a little different; people go to jail for reckless driving every day in Virginia. With that in mind, let’s briefly discuss the differences between reckless driving by speed and a run-of-the-mill speeding ticket.
Speeding is a “traffic infraction.” People say that word all the time, but nobody ever defines it. A traffic infraction is a “violation of the public order” as opposed to a misdemeanor or a felony. Simply put, speeding is not a criminal offense. Most of the time, speeding is punishable by a maximum fine of $250.00 with the amount of the fine pegged to the Virginia Uniform Fine Schedule ($6.00 per every mile per hour over the speed limit). The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will also assess points on your record: 3 points for going 1-9 miles per hour over the speed limit, 4 points for going between 10-19 miles per hour over the speed limit, or 6 points for going 20 or more miles per hour over the speed limit.
Reckless driving by speed, on the other hand, is a criminal offense. In fact, it’s a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine, or both. The court can also put you on probation and suspend your license for not less than 60 days nor more than 6 months. Finally, the DMV can assess 6 points on your license, and the offense stays on your driving record for 11 years.
Reckless driving by speed is also a “strict liability” offense. That means the prosecutor does not have to prove that you intended to speed. Rather, she only needs to prove that you were the driver of a vehicle traveling over 20 miles per hour over the speed limit.
Defending either of these offenses requires a nuanced understanding of the equipment that officers use to catch people speeding and the training they receive. With that in mind, a capable attorney can review the method used to calculate your speed and check whether the officer has the appropriate documentation. For instance, I recently represented an individual for a speeding violation. The officer failed to provide a copy of the appropriate LIDAR certificate, and the prosecutor dismissed the case.
However, technical due diligence is only part of an attorney’s job. I’ve successfully argued that signage conditions merited the reduction of a reckless driving charge to improper driving—a traffic infraction—by presenting the commonwealth with evidence that the speed limit signs were partially obstructed.
Finally, an attorney can also effectively present characteristics about an individual during negotiations with prosecutors. Speeding tickets and reckless by speed charges are often reduced—even when the evidence is strong—because a client took a driver improvement course, reckless aggressive driving course, or completed some community service ahead of the court date. In fact, in one recent example, a 24 mile per hour speeding ticket was reduced to speeding 1-9 over after convincing the prosecutor that the individual speeder’s situation merited a reduction, and in spite of the officer already gave him a break on the side of the road by not charging him with reckless driving by speed.