New Jersey Reckless Driving Defense Attorney
When a person commits any type of traffic violation, they run the risk of not only being charged with the traffic violation – such as speeding – but also having a charge of reckless driving assessed, too. Charges of reckless driving occur when a person is accused of intentionally driving with a disregard for the safety of others, and carries heavy penalties in the state of New Jersey. In fact, if you are convicted of reckless driving, you could face jail time, a license suspension, and hundreds of dollars in fees.
Fortunately, proving beyond a reasonable doubt – the burden of proof required from the prosecution – that a driver was operating their vehicle “recklessly” can be difficult to do. By working with an experienced New Jersey reckless driving defense attorney, you can improve your chances of having your ticket/summons dismissed or downgraded. Contact the law offices of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall today to schedule your free case consultation and learn more.
What Is Reckless Driving?
N.J.S.A. 39:4-96 defines reckless driving as the “heedless” operation of a motor vehicle that is done with willful or wanton disregard of the safety of others, and in a manner to endanger, or likely endanger, a person or property. It is not to be confused with careless driving, which is very similar, but is instead defined as the careless operation of a motor vehicle without “due caution and circumspection.” The following are examples of behavior that could result in a charge of reckless driving:
- Excessively speeding, typically at a speed of 20 miles or more above the speed limit;
- Excessive speed for conditions, i.e. traveling at a speed that may be within the limit, but is excessive for the situation (i.e. a snow storm);
- Driving too fast or failing to stop within a school zone or for a school bus;
- Driving while intoxicated or impaired;
- Crossing in front of an oncoming train;
- Failure to yield or stop in an intersection;
- Tailgating; and
- Running a stop sign.
Remember, a person may incur a charge of reckless driving when they endanger another person or property with their reckless actions. As such, reckless driving charges are common in traffic violations involving pedestrian (like speeding through a crosswalk) or cyclists (such as recklessly failing to yield to a cyclist at a traffic light).
Reckless driving is typically a charge that is assessed in conjunction without another traffic violation charge. For example, a person may be charged with myriad offenses, such as excessively speeding, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, and failing to drive with proper insurance.
The Penalties for Reckless Driving in New Jersey
Because reckless driving is a dangerous act that, by its definition, puts others at risk of injury, the traffic violation is harshly punished in the state of New Jersey. According to the same section of code cited above, reckless driving is punishable by:
- Imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than 60 days;
- A fine of not less than $50.00 and not more than $200.00; and
- A period of license suspension.
In addition to potential incarceration time and a large fine, a person who is convicted of reckless driving in New Jersey will also have five points applied to their license, which can significantly affect their insurance premiums, and may – if the driver has other points already accrued – be enough to result in a license revocation. A person who is charged and convicted of a second or subsequent reckless driving violation faces up to 90 days of incarceration and a fine of between $100 and $500. The court also has the discretion to suspend a driver’s license (for a first or subsequent offense) for a time period of up to 45 days.
Careless driving is less harshly penalized than is reckless driving. In some cases, working with an experienced attorney can result in charges against you being downgraded from a charge of reckless to a charge of careless. Careless driving results in a fine of up to $200, incarceration for up to 15 days for a first offense and two motor vehicle points. A license suspension may also be imposed in the discretion of the court, although this is very unlikely.
What To Do After Being Charged with Reckless Driving
Perhaps the most important thing to know in the event that you are charged with reckless driving in the state of New Jersey is that you have the right to defend yourself against these charges. The prosecutor must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that you were the operator of a motor vehicle and did so in wanton and willful disregard for the safety of others; that is to say, that you operated your car or truck in a manner that was likely to endanger (or did endanger) persons or property. This burden of proof is, in fact, much higher than most appreciate and can frequently provide room for relief when a skilled reckless driving attorney is enlisted.
Because of the vague language of the reckless driving statute, specifically as it pertains to a wanton and willful disregard for safety, it can be difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant has committed an act of reckless driving. For this reason, the first strategy of a defendant is to seek outright dismissal of the charges. Some defenses to reckless driving charges include:
- Disproving the alleged speed. A difference of one to two miles per hour can change a charge of careless driving to reckless driving. If speeding is the cause of your reckless driving charge, attempting to disprove the alleged speed (i.e. suggesting that the calibration of the radar gun was off, or that the police officer who stopped you failed to use a radar gun at all) may be successful.
- Lack of knowledge. Because securing a charge of reckless driving requires the prosecution to prove that you knew you were violating traffic laws (hence the wanton and willful requirement), you may be able to prove that you had no idea that you were breaking the law. For example, if there was a lack of signage, such as a lack of a sign stating that making a U-turn at a certain location was prohibited, then you may have a case for lack of intent or knowledge.
- Reckless driving out of necessity. Another defense to reckless driving, although it is less common, is reckless driving out of necessity, usually because of an emergency situation. If you believed that an emergency situation existed, and had a reasonable basis for this belief, and the emergency was not one that you created was one that threatened you or the safety of another, you may be able to prove necessity.
In the event that your attempts to have the charges against you dismissed are unsuccessful, you still have favorable legal options. The next step is typically to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution, where you plead guilty to a lesser charge, such as careless driving, in exchange for reduced penalties.An experienced attorney can be extremely helpful throughout the entire process, and an attorney who has represented clients against reckless driving charges in the past will have an understanding of the court system, and will be familiar with the judge over your case and the prosecution. An attorney can not only help you to build a viable defense, but can also file motions with the court to have evidence against you withheld, or can protest the prosecution’s request for postponement, which may be made if they have failed to gather evidence against you within a specific amount of time. An attorney can also talk to the prosecution and the court to have penalties reduced. For example, rather than having your license suspended, your attorney can make a case that you are a great candidate for community service in lieu of suspension.
Reckless Driving Lawyers in New Jersey
Most people who are charged with reckless driving in New Jersey do not understand the charges against them or the severity of the penalties that may be imposed. Reality is, however, that you can face significant ramifications if you fail to successfully defend the charge including a license suspension, five points on your license, fines, surcharges and skyrocketing insurance rates. Our experienced New Jersey traffic attorneys have been helping those facing traffic and criminal charges for years, and understand the municipal court system and what it takes to improve a client’s chances of securing a positive case outcome. To schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers, call us at 877-450-8301.