Reckless Driving Because of an Accident in Fairfax County
Being involved in a car accident is not a fun experience. There is usually some vehicle damage and sometimes a physical injury. Many times it is truly an accident where no one is at fault. Other times you are at fault but were not trying to be malicious or reckless. Perhaps you were trying to pass someone and cut it a little close. In other instances maybe your mind was elsewhere and you did not stop in time for the car in front of you when it slammed on its brakes. These situations arguably do not form the requisite intent to reckless driving. However, police officers and state troopers will write reckless driving tickets for accidents even if they did not see the accident.
Accident With No Witnesses
A single car accident with no witnesses or other evidence is not reckless driving. The case law is clear on that issue. However, many times, police officers and troopers will appear on the scene of an accident and issue a reckless driving charge simply because there is some damage. After all, the charge only requires driving in a manner as to endanger life, limb, or property. Since the property is damaged it must be reckless driving to them. However, in Powers v. Commonwealth, it was held that the mere happening of an accident is not reckless driving. In that case, the damage was severe. There were vehicle impressions on the road for over 840 feet, two trees 20 feet apart were debarked, the vehicle was in a ditch off the highway, and the engine was thrown 36 feet from the car. Notwithstanding all of the damage, the court found the Defendant not guilty of reckless driving because there was no way to determine what had caused the accident. Rather, the Defendant could have fallen ill or have been met with a sudden emergency. That case was decided almost 50 years ago and we still use it today with success.
It should be noted that just because there were no witnesses to an accident does not mean an automatic acquittal of a reckless driving charge. Remember, if any statements were made to the officer regarding speed or other distractions, it can become difficult to say "we don't know what happened in this case Judge." For example, if it's snowing out, you are driving a little sports car, the speed limit is 50 mph but you are driving 65 mph (and tell that speed to the officer) around a curve and strike someone or hit a tree, that could be reckless driving. While on a normal dry day that speed may be just fine, on a snowy day, that could be too fast given the weather. Each reckless driving case involving an accident is different.
Reckless Driving Charge for a Minor Accident
Minor accidents have a wide array of possible outcomes in court. If there is a witness (usually the other driver), then there will either be a trial or, if appropriate, a plea deal reached with your attorney and the prosecutor. In cases where the officer did not see the accident but there is another driver involved, these types of cases are ripe for trial. It becomes a "he said, she said" type of case. With all things being equal among the parties, many Judges will find the Defendant not guilty of the charge. If the Judge finds a lesser degree of culpability (i.e. guilt), the Judge may find the Defendant guilty of the lesser offense of Improper Driving. Every case is different.
Insurance Issues in Reckless Driving by Accident Cases
Over the years it has become clear that many insurance companies will find fault or no fault for their insured on their own investigation irrespective of what happens in court. We have had clients' insurance companies contact them before court to advise that they are not being held at fault for the accident (and that the court result won't matter). In other cases, even if the client is awaiting trial on their reckless driving charge, the insurance companies have already decided their insured will be held responsible for the accident. Other times, there is just no way to know what the insurance company will do.
One thing is clear, it is best to plead not guilty in accident cases where there is a charge of reckless driving. Even if the client is clearly at fault and would be found guilty by the Judge, pleading "not guilty" would at least preserve the question of fault for insurance purposes. They will do their own analysis and have to parse through what they have from their client's statement and that of the other driver. All things being equal, when they look at the court proceeding, they can see their insured plead "not guilty." After all, when analyzing fault, what are they to think when their insured says the accident is not their fault but then plead guilty in court. It is better to stay consistent in that case.
Fairfax County Procedure in Accident Cases
In accident cases in Fairfax County, you will have a right to have a trial. However, the first court date is generally not the trial if there is another driver involved. Rather, if you plead "not guilty," the Judge will continue the case to a later date that other driver will be subpoenaed to appear for that next court date for the trial. It will be at that time you should be prepared for trial.
In the event you wish to plead guilty at the first court hearing, there will be no trial date. Instead, the Judge will either find you guilty of the charge or, sometimes, find you guilty of a lesser offense. However, it is never advisable to simply plead guilty in reckless driving cases that involve an accident.
Have a Lawyer in your Accident Case
Whether you wish to have a trial or wish to enter a guilty plea in your reckless driving case, it is important to have a lawyer. Remember, not all accident cases are reckless driving in Fairfax County. Some are ripe for plea deals to lesser offenses while others are perfect for trial. It is not advisable to appear for trial without a lawyer because it will be the officer (and sometimes the other driver) against you. In some cases, it will be both the officer and the other driver against you. This is not a fair fight but it could be made more fair with the right help.