reckless driving in Virginia .. what now?
January 3, 2011 2:05 PM   Subscribe

I was caught going 83 in a 70 in southern Virginia. This is considered reckless driving and I have a mandatory court appearance in a town 3+ hours away. Since this is a misdemeanor charge, I don't want to just pay the fine and deal with it. What do I do?

My options:

a) Waive my trial and pay the fine. This results in 6 points on my record, a misdemeanor charge, and probably a significant raise in my insurance rate. This can't be a good idea.

b) Get a lawyer. From what I've read, this will probably result in the charge being brought down to a regular speeding ticket. Also, a very expensive bill to my lawyer.

c) Go to court. I don't know what this would accomplish.

My driving record is not bad. I have had speeding tickets before, but they were in the state of Florida, and I was able to avoid points by taking online classes. I am not sure if they appear on my record. My insurance agency said my record was clean, despite the fact that I received a ticket two years ago.

What do I do? I cannot afford a lawyer, and it's not even guaranteed success. Am I better off going to court? Is there any chance I can plea deal my way down to a speeding ticket without having to go into debt?

Advice would be appreciated.

I have read these questions.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total)
I have been in exactly your situation (actually clocked going 21+ mph over if I recall correctly, in southeastern VA), and got out of it with a relatively minor fine and no court appearance.

What I did was call the court and find out how to reach the prosecuting attorney. I called him and basically rolled my own plea bargain - I agreed to accept a lesser violation (lower speed) and pay the fine, rather than go to court and fight it out. The prosecutor wanted to see a clean driving record and I think he also talked to the cop who ticketed me.
posted by exogenous at 2:14 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should consider talking to a lawyer. Specifically, you should look to the court's website for information about the public defender or whatever local provision is made in those parts for indigent defendants (i.e., those who can't afford a private lawyer). A lawyer can tell you which defenses you could raise and whether the evidence collected can be assailed in some way.

If private attorneys in your area give a free consultation, you might want to do that just to have some insight into what the procedure is like and what to expect. You can also find out about fees.

Even fairly simple traffic matters can be defensible and it would be foolish to waive rights without even knowing what they might get you if exercised. In my jurisdiction there are all sorts of ways to challenge tickets and even experienced traffic lawyers have reasonable rates ($500 to $1000) when compared to the increased cost of insurance premiums over time.

You simply must talk to a lawyer.
posted by Hylas at 2:21 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, I was one of the previous questioners.

If you call them they will probably knock it down to a regular speeding charge, although I would suggest chatting with a lawyer first.

I wish I could be more helpful, but I dont really remember what happened other than it ended up all right and I paid it off.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2011

If you show up in court, they will almost certainly reduce the the charge considerably.
posted by Lame_username at 2:39 PM on January 3, 2011

Judges in Virginia are serious. Go to court, be sincerely that you made a mistake, and will not do it again. He'll probably reduce it to a regular speeding ticket.

However, when I was 17 and living in Virginia, I was caught going 83 in a 65 - reckless. The judge reduced the fee, but made me take the school bus to and from school for a month. I was still allowed to drive, but as a senior in high school, I was not allowed to take a ride with someone else - friend or family - to or from school. I had to obtain the bus driver's signature every day, each morning and each afternoon, and submit the signatures to the judge. I learned the hard way, driving fast makes you very, very uncool.
posted by raztaj at 2:52 PM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is there really much you can do even with a lawyer? They won't be able to "magic away" the fact that you were caught breaking the law. Unless there were mitigating circumstances that a lawyer can present in a manner the judge will find acceptable, I think there's little to be done in this case other than accept it and deal with the consequences.

For future reference, I would have asked the police officer/relevant authority full details concerning when the radar gun/speed camera was last calibrated. If not in date, it matters not what the actual device said, the reading cannot be relied upon.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:05 PM on January 3, 2011

IANYL but in my jurisdiction Reckless Driving is a criminal offense. It is worth the cost of a lawyer to negotiate to a better result than that. (And also, in my jurisdiction, speed alone doesn't establish recklessness -- there has to be a showing of gross disregard for the safety of people or property. I.e., there may well be something to litigate/bargain over here.)
posted by bearwife at 3:13 PM on January 3, 2011

I had a similar charge in Northern VA (going 75 in a 55 - anything 20+ in VA is reckless driving). I showed up for my mandatory court date without a lawyer. The cop who pulled me over was there, she told her story, I told mine, 20 minutes later I left with a basic speeding ticket and a requirement to take a "defensive driving" class which wasted an entire Saturday of my life.

Potentially relevant factors: I had a totally clean driving record (first time I'd ever been pulled over), and I had what I thought was a legitimate excuse, though I suspect the cop/judge think I was making it up (there was a car who was driving incredibly erratically - swerving all over the road, speeding up, slowing down, etc that I wanted to distance myself from).
posted by CharlieSue at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2011

Approach the DA (or ask the judge, if there is no DA) and ask if you can plead to some lesser, non-criminal charge. Tell them you're going to plead "not guilty" and a get a lawyer otherwise. They may cut you a deal right there.

If they don't cut you a deal, plead "not guilty" and tell them you want to get a lawyer. Set a date as far out in the future as possible.
posted by mikeand1 at 4:20 PM on January 3, 2011

"Is there really much you can do even with a lawyer? They won't be able to 'magic away' the fact that you were caught breaking the law."

It isn't magic, it's called plea bargaining. You have leverage, because you have the right to a trial, etc. That is expensive for the court and the DA, so they are almost always willing to lower the charges in exchange for a plea.

But it depends on your circumstances. That is why you should GET A LAWYER.
posted by mikeand1 at 4:22 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to court, apologize for your error in judgment, express remorse and fear over the prospect of points.

Is your driving record clean? If so, you're likely in luck. When I lived in Virginia (caveat, it's been over a decade now) you could get points reduced significantly if you agreed to go through a "safe driver's class," which was a couple days' worth of a sort of seminar that was largely a review of driver's ed.

If your record isn't clean, you might luck out and get the points reduced somewhat. For the love of all that is good and holy, do not try to convince the judge that your ticket wasn't fair. They despise whining.
posted by desuetude at 4:41 PM on January 3, 2011

When a cowrker of mine went to court in a similar circumstances (nova, speed-related reckless) she said it was clear that there's a regular ritual between the lawyers and the prosecutors. They were all doing their dealing before they went before the judge and went up agreeing to drop to lower charges. She didn't think she could have made the same arrangement and that it was contingent on the old boy network nature of things, but she's exceedingly negative about such things and not adventurous about just trying to ask.
posted by phearlez at 5:23 PM on January 3, 2011

Hi there. I'm a lawyer. I have worked as a public defender and I have dealt with charges very, very similar to your circumstance. However, I am not licensed to practice law in Virginia. I am not your lawyer.

You are getting some bad, and flatly wrong advice in this thread.

I will suggest to you that—contrary to your assertion—you can, in fact, "afford a lawyer." Consider contacting the Virginia State Bar's Lawyer Referral Service to locate someone who can assist you. An initial consultation will cost you $35. You can afford this. can.

Good luck.
posted by red clover at 5:29 PM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know a traffic attorney here in VA. Here is his website. Even if your ticket was not in the counties that he serves, he can refer you to somebody that can help you. Call him tomorrow - the call will not cost you anything. Tell him I referred you - real name is in my profile. Not getting 6 points on your license will pay for his services.

Good luck.
posted by COD at 5:46 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I offered my own plea as mentioned above, I was a first-year law student. It is hard to imagine what hiring a lawyer here would accomplish that a reasonably smart person couldn't do on their own. Lawyers are not magic. Best case, you pay someone who is buddies with the prosecutor?

True story: when I called the court to sort out who the prosecutor was, I asked the person on the phone how I could get a copy of the court's Local Rules, like they taught me in legal research and writing class. Her answer: "Rules? You have to wear a shirt and shoes."
posted by exogenous at 7:31 PM on January 3, 2011

dougrayrankin: Is there really much you can do even with a lawyer? Answer: Yes. Please do not give advice based on pure guesswork.

OP, please follow red clover's advice (and others).

red clover: You are getting some bad, and flatly wrong advice in this thread. Which advice is wrong? That comment is fairly useless on its own. (If you meant dougrayrankin in particular, I agree, and have said so.)
posted by IAmBroom at 6:57 AM on January 4, 2011

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