When you get a ticket for something like simple speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign, chances are you just pay the ticket and move on with your life. Maybe you accrue a few negative points on your license, but as long as you’re a little more cautious you can forget about it once you pay the fine, and go on with your life.
A reckless driving charge, on the other hand, can have serious and far-reaching impacts on your life. In Virginia, even residents can be caught by surprise when they’re accused of reckless driving and discover that it’s actually a criminal offense that can lead to jail time, costly fines, and loss of driving privileges.
If you’ve been charged with reckless driving in Virginia, representation by an experienced traffic defense attorney may be crucial as you seek to avoid the potentially serious consequences of this charge.
Reckless driving usually is charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. There are some circumstances under which the charge can be a Class 6 felony. Either class of offense can result in a jail sentence, a significant fine, and a driver’s license suspension.
- Jail Time: When reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, Virginia law allows for a jail sentence of up to 12 months. Chances are that a first offense won’t result in that kind of sentence, but if you’ve had repeat reckless driving convictions or a bad driving history in general, the likelihood of a jail sentence at the top of the range increases.
If you’re convicted of one of the forms of reckless driving that’s a Class 6 felony, you face a prison sentence of one to five years, although Virginia law allows a judge or jury to sentence you to less than 12 months if that’s deemed appropriate in your case.
If your reckless driving charge was in Fairfax, Loudoun, or Prince William Counties, and was based on speeding, some judges in those counties have an informal policy of sentencing you to at least 1 day in jail for every mile per hour over 90 that you allegedly were driving. So if you were clocked at 100 mph, you’d likely expect a sentence of at least 10 days in any of those counties. Judges in the city courts for Fairfax, Manassas, and Leesburg tend to impose at least one day in jail for every mile per hour over 35 on city streets where the posted speed limit is lower.
- Fines: For either a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony, the maximum fine under Virginia law is $2,500. A judge can choose to fine you less, or not to fine you at all. However, it’s unlikely that a judge won’t impose at least some amount of fine.
- License Suspension: If you’re convicted of reckless driving, you may face having your driver’s license suspended for 10 days to six months. To get your license back, you’ll have to comply with any conditions set by the judge, which could include completion of a driver improvement clinic. You’ll also have to pay a reinstatement fee to the DMV as well as show proof that you have car insurance.
- Demerit Points: Reckless driving is a six-point demerit offense in Virginia. Those points stay on your driving record for 11 years.
Other Consequences of Reckless Driving
In addition to criminal penalties imposed by Virginia statutes, there are a number of other ways that a reckless driving conviction can affect your life.
- Insurance: Every insurance company has its own individual criteria for setting the rates on your car insurance policy, but it’s likely that a conviction for reckless driving will cause your insurance company to raise your rates. Some companies may even choose to cancel your policy, which means you’d have to find another company to issue a new policy, probably at higher rates.
- Criminal Record: A guilty plea or a conviction for reckless driving will result in having either a misdemeanor or felony criminal record, depending upon the circumstances of your charge. It’s very difficult to get a conviction expunged in Virginia, which means that criminal record will stick with you and may turn up in background checks when you apply for a job or an apartment rental and become an obstacle to obtaining employment or housing. This criminal record will also show up regardless of whether or not you’re a Virginia resident.
- Security Clearances: If you apply for a security clearance, or if you already have one, you’ll likely have to disclose your reckless driving conviction. Whether that stops you from getting or keeping a job as a government contractor or employee will be up to the agency granting the clearance, but you should be aware that it likely will come up in your background check, and may affect whether you get that clearance — especially if your reckless driving conviction was a felony.
- Civil Liability: If you were charged with reckless driving because of an accident, a guilty plea or a conviction may give any person who was injured or whose property was damaged ammunition to sue you in civil court. It’s not automatic that if you’ll be found liable for reimbursement of medical or repair costs, but being convicted of reckless driving related to the accident definitely won’t help if you get sued.
If you want to avoid or lessen the potential consequences of a Virginia reckless driving charge, it’s recommended that you talk to a lawyer with experience defending reckless driving cases in the court where your case is pending. A skilled Virginia defense lawyer can help you through the process, and negotiate with prosecutors or argue to a judge for a reduced charge such as improper driving or lesser penalties than you might get if you try to go it alone.