A first offense reckless driving charge can be very worrisome because you have never been through such a charge before. You know it's a problem because the word "reckless" sounds bad and your suspicions are in fact correct. A first-time reckless driving charge carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail, 6-month loss of privilege to drive, up to a $2500 fine, and remains on the driving record for 11 years. The silver lining is that in Fairfax County such a harsh punishment for a first offense is unlikely but a conviction is still possible. That said, what should you do next? First and foremost, after reading this page, we recommend you give us a call for a free consultation at 703-273-4100 so we can answer any questions you may have.
PREPARATION FOR YOUR RECKLESS DRIVING CASE
Before you appear for your court date it is important that you prepare for your case. You do not want to appear before the Judge without any mitigation. In most cases, even if we believe our client is innocent of the charge, we still have them prepare. Preparation will depend on the type of reckless driving charge alleged. For example, in an accident case, we may not have our clients take a driver improvement course ahead of time unless the case is aggravated. However, in a speed case, will more than likely have our clients take a driver improvement course and do a speedometer calibration depending on the case. More information on where to do these measures can be found on our main reckless driving page. These items would be handed up to the Judge at the Hearing.
We represent a very wide range of people with many different backgrounds. Our client's history may be useful to show good moral character or other attributes that portray them well. If they are in college or have recently graduated college, we may ask for a transcript or picture of their degree so we can show the Judge they are a college graduate and are about to enter the workforce. If our client has a career with the Government and has a security clearance, we may ask for information pertaining to the clearance (without putting the client at risk) so the Judge understands that a misdemeanor conviction could impact their job.
The Court Date
We recommend our clients appear for court about 30 minutes before the court hearing. This gives us time to meet ahead of time and get them settled in. The same rings true if you are representing yourself. You will also need a few extra minutes to park in the public parking deck (Public parking is available in Garage B located on Page Avenue). Upon getting to the main entrance of the Fairfax County Courthouse there is a security checkpoint. You CAN bring in your cellphones into the courthouse. Just leave anything sharp such as pocketknives or anything dangerous such as pepper spray in your vehicle.
Once you arrive, there is a computer docket board on the wall on the 1st floor of the courthouse with your name and courtroom number (you can't miss it). We will have our clients meet us outside of their assigned courtroom so we can touch base. If you represent yourself, you will want to simply go inside of the courtroom and have a seat and await your case to be called.
When the Judge enters the courtroom, they will call some preliminary matters involving attorneys first. The Judge will swear in the police officers for testimony and begin calling the docket. When the Judge calls your officer's name you should perk up because your name will be called soon. Once the Judge calls your name you will need to go whichever podium the Judge's Bailiff asks you to. This is when the Judge will ask how you plead: Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest to the charge. For our clients we do this for them and handle all of the logistics and argument.
Guilty or No Contest Plea
If you enter a guilty plea or no contest plea (a no contest plea is a guilty plea where you're not admitting guilt but admit to the facts of the case), all that is left for the Judge to decide is punishment. At this point, the Judge will ask the officer what your driving record looks like and, in many cases, a brief description of what happened. The Judge will ask if you have anything to say. This is your time to explain what happened from your point of view and hand up anything you want the Judge to review. The Judge will then decide punishment. If you have a good record, this is your first offense for reckless driving, and there is nothing aggravated, the Judge MAY reduce the charge to an infraction. Whether or not the Judge reduces the charge depends on a wide array of factors and that individual Judge's tendencies. It is important to note that some Judges will simply find you guilty of the reckless driving charge since you plead guilty anyway and enter a fine. In addition, if the driving behavior is bad or the speed is excessively high, you could face a license suspension or even jail time. We respect all of the Fairfax County Judges and have known some of them for a long time. For our clients, we use this knowledge to help them because we know the Court's tendencies and, sometimes, it is better to simply request a continuance and return to court at a later date with more mitigation or simply to get a different Judge. In other cases, if we know the Judge is family-oriented, we may spend a few extra minutes talking about our client's family or, if the Judge likes driver improvement courses, we may explain what the client learned from the course.
Not Guilty Plea
If you enter a not guilty plea, most Judges will ask that you return to your seat and they will call your case later in the docket so they can get to the quicker matters first. A not guilty plea means you contest the facts, believe you are not guilty of the charge, and are asking that the police officer prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The police officer will testify to their observations first. This is your time to listen to their testimony (don't interrupt them unless you have a valid evidentiary objection). Once they are done testifying, you will have an opportunity to ask them questions under cross examination about what they saw. After your questioning of the officer, you will then have an opportunity to testify as to what happened and make argument to the Judge as to why you are innocent of the charge. After hearing all of the evidence the Judge will then make their ruling. If the Judge finds you not guilty you are free to go. If they find you guilty the Judge will sentence you. They will ask the police officer about your driving record, your DMV point balance, and anything else they want to add (e.g., you were polite and cooperative during the stop, traffic was light or heavy, the road conditions were bad, etc.). You will then have an opportunity to ask the Judge for leniency.
Appealing a Reckless Driving Conviction in Fairfax County
When a case does not go as planned you have an absolute right to note an appeal of your case. In Fairfax County, you can appeal your reckless driving case within 10 calendar days to the Fairfax County Circuit Court. The new trial is called "de novo" which means, essentially, a brand new trial. Anything that happened in the General District Court following an appeal is stayed (meaning it has no effect). For example, if you had your license suspended by a General District Court Judge, your license would be returned to you at the clerk's office pending your appeal (without restriction). In addition, any jail time imposed would be stayed as well.
To note your appeal for a reckless driving conviction in Fairfax County, you will need to go to the Traffic Division located in room 106 on the first floor and advise the clerk you wish to appeal your conviction. You will have an opportunity to set the case for bench trial (decided by a Judge) or for a jury trial (decided by a Jury). If you request a bench trial the clerk can set a new court date at that time typically a month or two down the road on the Thursday Misdemeanor Appeals Docket. If you request a jury trial the clerk will set a court date called Term Day where you would appear in Circuit Court to set a date for the jury trial.
Whether or not you should appeal your case depends on the facts and an attorney should be consulted first. Every now and then we advise people not to appeal their case because, even if the sentence seems harsh, you could do worse in Circuit Court. In some cases, however, it may be a good idea to appeal because there a good chance to beat a reckless driving conviction. In other cases, there may have been a lengthy license suspension or jail time imposed that can be lessened or entirely avoided on appeal.
You should have a lawyer for your Reckless Driving Case!
We are in court almost every day and have a comprehensive understanding of the Fairfax County Court System. We have seen many people represent themselves in court on a first-time reckless driving charge and receive a conviction and license suspension when it could have been avoided. We understand that lawyers are expensive and we do our best to offer reasonable fees so that you are not going to court alone. When there is a Judge, Police Officer, and Defendant, adding a Defense Attorney to the mix really evens the score.