When you’re a teenager, getting your first Virginia driver’s license is a thrilling experience. It’s one of the events that marks your journey into adulthood and toward independence from your parents. Soon you’ll be getting a job and graduating from high school. Before you know it you’ll be going to college or setting foot onto a career path and renting your own apartment. And it all starts with that rectangular piece of plastic with your name and picture on it.
It’s a natural part of growing up to make mistakes. That’s no different when you get behind the wheel of a car as a young person. Maybe you don’t pay careful attention to your speed, or maybe you get into a car wreck, or maybe you just forget that you’re supposed to pull over and stop for a school bus. Suddenly, a police car is behind you flashing its lights and blaring its siren, and you’re being charged with reckless driving.
Reckless driving is a criminal charge in Virginia, which for a minor — or the minor’s parents — can be a terrifying prospect. Will you lose your driver’s license? Will you go to jail? Will this be on your permanent record? Will it affect your college applications or ability to get a job? An experienced traffic defense lawyer can help you answer these questions and guide you and your parents through the legal process. The legal process and potential outcomes can be different for someone under 18 than when an adult is charged, so it’s important to have a lawyer with experience handling reckless driving cases in juvenile courts as well as adult courts.
For an adult, reckless driving is a serious misdemeanor crime in Virginia that can be penalized by:
- possible jail sentence of up to 12 months
- possible fine of up to $2,500
- six driver’s license demerit points
- possible driver’s license suspension of 10 days to six months
It’s possible that someone under 18 who is charged with reckless driving may be tried as an adult and face those consequences, depending upon the circumstances of the charge. It’s more likely that the minor will go through the process in juvenile court known as a petition of delinquency. A petition of delinquency essentially is how juveniles — anyone under age 18 — are charged with a crime unless the judge finds enough cause to transfer the case to an adult court.
If the facts underlying the reckless charge were relatively minor, an intake officer working for the court might decide that the better outcome for the juvenile is to divert the teen into an alternative program instead of going through the delinquency process.
If the circumstances of the juvenile’s case merit more serious treatment, the delinquency petition is started and the juvenile goes through a series of hearings until a judge makes a determination whether the juvenile should be found delinquent. During that process, the judge will hear testimony and evidence about the reckless driving charge to make a decision.
Consequences of Reckless Driving Under Age 18
If the juvenile is found delinquent — which basically means found guilty of the reckless driving charge — there are a number of actions the judge could take. The juvenile could be sentenced to
- Community service
- Participation in rehabilitation or treatment programs
- Payment of fines or restitution of damages
- Driver’s license suspension or delay in ability to get a driver’s license
- Confinement to a juvenile detention center
The system is supposed to work so that the option chosen is the least restrictive and that balances the best interests of the juvenile and society. The desired outcome is to rehabilitate the juvenile and prevent the juvenile from offending again, but also to provide some punishment for the delinquency.
An attorney with experience defending juveniles in reckless driving cases can represent the juvenile through the process and argue in favor of the outcome that will have the least impact on the juvenile’s long-term future.
Because reckless driving is a misdemeanor in most instances, the records related to the charge may be sealed from inspection by the public, but the conviction will stay on the juvenile’s Virginia driving record until he or she is 29 and then is automatically expunged.
Effect on Driver’s License
Drivers under 18 who are convicted of any demerit point violation — including reckless driving — are automatically required by the DMV to take a driver improvement clinic to learn safer driving habits. The teen has 90 days to finish the course, or his or her driver’s license will be suspended until the course is completed and a reinstatement fee is paid.