When drivers get behind the wheel, they are expected to follow traffic laws. When traffic laws are broken, drivers can face penalties such as points, fines, and even jail time. Reckless driving is a criminal offense that can carry all of the above penalties. If you are facing a reckless driving charge, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
What is Reckless Driving?
Reckless driving is generally what it sounds like, driving that is reckless and dangerous. Under New Jersey law, reckless driving is defined as driving a vehicle “heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”
This broad definition allows many different acts of driving to be considered reckless driving under New Jersey law. The most important words in this definition are the words “disregard” and “endanger.” If a driver is considered to disregard the safety of others and endanger others with his or her driving, then they can be charged with reckless driving.
What Factors Are Considered in Determining If Someone's Driving Was Reckless?
Several factors can be in play when determining if someone was driving recklessly. Speed plays a major factor, along with how aggressively someone was driving. If the person committed other traffic offenses such as not stopping for stop signs, red lights, or making illegal turns, then that person can face a reckless driving charge. If someone was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then that will be considered when determining an appropriate charge. There is no one specific action on the road that will result in a reckless driving charge. Each case is viewed independently to determine what the driver's mindset and actions were.
What are the Potential Punishments for Reckless Driving in New Jersey?
Pursuant to New Jersey Statutes 39:4-96, reckless driving can be punished with jail time and fines from the court. A first offense reckless driving conviction can carry up to 60 days in jail upon conviction. A second or subsequent offense reckless driving conviction can carry up to 90 days in jail upon conviction. Fines for a first offense reckless driving cannot be less than $50 and cannot be more than $200. A second or subsequent offense of reckless driving carries a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $500. A judge will determine if an individual will be sent to jail if they are convicted of reckless driving. A reckless driving conviction will not appear on an individual's criminal record but will appear on a driver's record. This can still affect you, as most employers will pull your driver's record during any hiring process.
Collateral Consequences of a Reckless Driving Conviction
There are several collateral consequences that come with a reckless driving conviction. Aside from the stress and agony of dealing with the police, prosecutors, and the court, a reckless driving conviction can hurt you in other ways. Common collateral consequences of a reckless driving conviction include:
- Driving record points: If you are convicted of reckless driving, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission will add 5 points to your driver's license. If you get 6 points, you face a state surcharge.
- Driving Record Surcharge: Once you have 6 points on your license, you face a state surcharge. The state imposes a $150 fee annually once you have 6 points, along with a $25 fee per point after that.
- Auto Insurance Increases: If you have a reckless driving conviction on your driver's record, then expect your auto insurance rates to increase as high as 50%. You may also be dropped from your insurance carrier if they choose.
- Court Costs: Along with potential fines and jail time, the court can also impose additional court costs with any reckless driving conviction. These costs must be paid in full and can result in sanctions from the court and the Motor Vehicle Commission if they are not timely paid.
These are some of the most common collateral consequences of a reckless driving conviction. Having too many points or other offenses can result in your license being suspended or revoked. If you have questions about how a reckless driving charge might affect you, then make sure to speak to an experienced attorney.
Defenses to Reckless Driving
For a prosecutor to successfully prosecute a reckless driving charge, they have to prove that the driver was driving with disregard for people's safety and endangered them. A prosecutor does not even need a specific victim to prove a reckless driving case, nor any property damage to anyone. A driver's intent in a reckless driving case is extremely important. A driver's mindset is key to any reckless driving prosecution. If it is shown that the driver disobeyed a traffic law, that in itself is not reckless driving. Any witness testimony, traffic light cameras, or police video can help show what the driver was actually doing before he or she was pulled over. If the prosecutor is not able to prove the driver exhibited a reckless disregard for other people's safety, then they will have a tough time obtaining a conviction.
Difference Between Reckless Driving and Careless Driving
Careless driving is found in the New Jersey Statutes at 39:4-97. This law states that someone is guilty of careless driving if they drive a vehicle carelessly, in a manner to endanger or likely endanger others. While the definitions of reckless and careless driving are similar, the difference in potential punishment between reckless driving and careless driving is vast. Reckless driving carries potential jail time, while careless driving does not. The maximum penalty for a careless driving violation is two points on your driver's record, along with a fine between $50 and $200. This fine does not increase if you are found carelessly driving again. Careless driving is a popular option to try to negotiate to avoid the stiffer penalties of a reckless driving charge.
Can a Reckless Driving Charge Be Added to a Drunk Driving Charge?
Yes, if the circumstances permit. Driving under the influence is not in itself reckless driving. While drunk driving is dangerous, it does not automatically amount to a reckless driving charge. If you are driving drunk and are driving in a dangerous manner, putting others at risk, then you can be charged with both drunk driving and reckless driving in New Jersey. Reckless driving and drunk driving have different legal elements that are necessary to secure a conviction. A person can be guilty of drunk driving simply for driving with enough alcohol in their system to pass the legal limit. Drunk driving does not require any dangerous driving at all. A reckless driving charge does, and if you are charged with both reckless driving and a drunk driving offense, then the prosecutor will need to show recklessness along with intoxication.
Expunging a Reckless Driving in New Jersey
Most driving offenses cannot be expunged under New Jersey law, and reckless driving is no exception. Once a reckless driving conviction occurs, then it cannot be expunged no matter how many years pass. Other driving offenses such as drunk driving also cannot be expunged. This may seem counterintuitive since many driving offenses don't end up hurting anyone, but this is the law until it changes.
How an Attorney Can Help with a Reckless Driving Charge
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you assess the strength of any case against you and its weaknesses. If you have potential legal defenses to a criminal offense, then your attorney can help explore how to use those defenses to help you. It is important to understand the parameters of your case so you can make confident and intelligent decisions on how to proceed. If you are looking to negotiate a deal for your reckless driving charge, then your best bet is to have an attorney negotiate on your behalf. If you are looking to fight your charge, then it is important to have an attorney's help in defending your case. If you have legal questions, then attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are standing by to help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you are facing a reckless driving charge in New Jersey, then make sure to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Reckless driving charges are treated seriously by both the court and prosecutors. Understanding the issues and potential defenses in your reckless driving charge is critical to formulating the appropriate defense strategy. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help you find success defending your charge. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice to help you fight your reckless driving charge, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.