Virginia Reckless Driving Charge – Why Jurisdiction Makes a Difference
This article is no substitute for a consultation with a licensed and actively practicing Virginia reckless driving lawyer * (meaning, an attorney who practices criminal and/or traffic law in the jurisdiction where you face the charge). We recommend hiring an attorney who dedicates his or her practice to criminal and/or traffic law, and who has (very) recently handled similar cases in the jurisdiction where your case is pending.
Most charged drivers have questions concerning:
- penalties for a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia;
- likelihood of license suspension and jail;
- the fine the court may impose; and
- the merits or defenses given the facts.
This article addresses an often overlooked aspect.
Jurisdiction makes a difference
When you talk to a Virginia (or our local) Fairfax reckless driving lawyer, questions you want answers to will be based on your goals. Aside from the facts of your case (such as the speed you were alleged to have been traveling, etc…), tendencies and policies of different judges and prosecutors in the jurisdiction where you were charged is relevant to:
- What may or may not be helpful to do before a court date in order to improve the chances of a favorable plea agreement.
- Case preparation and strategy; and
- Overall analysis of likelihood of a particular outcome (among many others).
To prove that there are, in fact, differences even though each county, city, and town is subject to the same Virginia statutes, below you can read about a few which immediately come to mind when I consider reckless driving and cases, generally, in Fairfax County, Alexandria, Stafford County, and Arlington County.
For purposes of this comparison, assume a hypothetical driver has been charged with reckless driving by speed. There are many ways one may be charged with reckless driving, and the vast majorities do not relate to speed at all. Reckless driving due to speed, however, is the most common reason people face this charge.
Fairfax County Reckless Driving Charges
If you face a criminal or traffic charge in Fairfax County – including reckless driving – the prosecutor will not discuss the case with you. This policy, I believe, is in effect for sake of efficiency. As the largest jurisdiction in the Commonwealth (in more ways than one, including docket size), prosecutors in Fairfax County only negotiate plea agreements with criminal defense attorneys.
If you do not have a lawyer to represent you in Fairfax County for a reckless driving charge (or any case, for that matter), then you will be at the mercy of the judge.
Some judges tend to view speeding as a more serious offense than others, but regardless of the judge who is presiding over the courtroom, you will be forced to wait until the judge calls your name and asks you how you wish to plead: guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
The safe bet is to hire an attorney to advise you how you can prepare for your case, but this is especially important if your charge of reckless driving is scheduled to be heard by the Fairfax County General District Court. In other jurisdictions (such as Prince William County), the prosecutors may (though they do not have to) talk to you about your case before you have to answer to a judge.
Arlington County Reckless Driving Charges
Arlington County is unique in the sense that it prefers that those charged with reckless driving or other traffic offenses, oftentimes when it deems appropriate, complete their own special driving safety class.
Example: in an Arlington County reckless driving case involving a relatively low speed and an individual with a very clean driving record, it may be possible to take the Arlington County driving course as part of a plea agreement or in some cases, to dismiss or drop the charge. This is different from other jurisdictions, because often, (and many Virginia reckless driving attorneys can explain during a consultation how taking a driving improvement course sponsored by the Virginia DMV could help your case for purposes of negotiation / leniency).
The practical effect
An Arlington reckless driving lawyer could possibly give different directions and instructions to a client charged with the same speed in Arlington, than he or she would to a client in a bordering jurisdiction. Particularly as pre-trial preparation involves completion of a driving course.
Stafford County Reckless Driving Charges
Stafford County is unique in that speed limits are higher in more areas. There are stretches where the limit is 65 mph (many cases involve Virginia State Troopers who have charged the defendant after he or she is alleged to have violated the law on I-95.
Another very unique thing about Stafford County traffic court as it relates to reckless driving: Stafford County does not assign Commonwealth’s Attorneys to typical reckless driving matters.
The practical effect
Reckless driving in Fairfax involving the same speed as Stafford may very well be treated with a varying level of leniency (e.g., 90 mph in a 55 mph zone is likely to be punished more harshly than 90 mph in a 65 mph zone). In Fairfax County, speeding 90 mph in a 55 mph zone could land a driver in jail. It also could land a driver in jail in any jurisdiction, but in Stafford County, refusal on the part of the judge to reduce the charge to a traffic (vs. a criminal) charge may be more likely than jail. Remember: every case is unique. Do not rely on anything you read online, but instead, run your case by a local Virginia reckless driving lawyer.
Since there is no prosecutor assigned to the traffic docket in Stafford County, the defendant must go directly before the judge (with or without an attorney by their side) and enter a plea. Because there is no prosecutor, a Stafford reckless driving lawyer may explain to you during a consultation how he or she will approach the situation (the judge, in court), to reach a favorable result in your case, whereas the procedure and reasonable expectations may differ as opposed to a neighboring general district court.
City of Alexandria Reckless Driving Charges
The City of Alexandria is a relatively small jurisdiction, but that does not mean that it is not possible to get charged with reckless driving if you exceed the speed limit by 20 mph or more, or if you drive in excess of 80 mph (among the more than a dozen other ways to be charged, by statute). The unique thing that stands out to me, given my experience with this jurisdiction and its prosecutors and judges, is that they are very professional and if a case can be resolved prior to the court date, they will be willing and open to at least give an ear to the defense attorney. I cannot speak on whether or not Commonwealth’s Attorneys in the City of Alexandria talk to unrepresented parties.
The practical effect
In many jurisdictions, it is not a realistic expectation to have a case resolved prior to your court date (by way of plea agreement negotiated between your attorney and the prosecutor). In Fairfax, for instance, the Commonwealth’s Attorneys often are assigned a particular docket (set of cases) on the day of court. This makes it impossible to reach someone willing to discuss the case and a possible agreement until the day of. On the other hand, the Commonwealth’s Attorneys in Alexandria tend to have their assigned cases earlier, making it possible, in some cases, to provide more information to the client earlier on in the process.
*Virginia has no procedure for certifying organizations, and by using the phrase, “Virginia reckless driving lawyer,” it is only intended to describe an attorneys handle reckless driving cases in Virginia.
In addition to the most pressing concerns and questions on your mind, you should discuss your Virginia reckless charge with an attorney who practices criminal or traffic law in the jurisdiction where the alleged offense occurred. When you discuss your case, ask the attorney(s) you speak with how he or she might analyze the case – or explain any particularly important points to know – when it comes to where to go, what to expect, and how to prepare.
“I-95”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:I-95.svg#mediaviewer/File:I-95.svg
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