If you have been arrested or been given a citation for reckless driving in Pinellas County, then you may already be aware that this is a serious charge that must be taken seriously. I have personally observed over the years that police officers are confused about what constitutes a reckless driving charge. Law enforcement officers (especially inexperienced ones) seem to issue reckless driving charges to young people, those who are driving expensive cars, and to those whom they simply don’t like. Because the officer is usually the only witness in the case, the charges are doled out inconsistently throughout Pinellas County. I have found that whether you get a charge like reckless driving depends more on the officer than what you actually did. This is a sad state of affairs but is the reality in Pinellas County on a subjective charge like reckless driving. Therefore, if you have been charged, it is always wise to speak to a criminal defense attorney to find out the options and consequences prior to your arraignment or court date.
What Is Reckless Driving in Pinellas County?
Reckless driving is controlled by Florida Statute 316.192. The statute states that “[A]ny person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.” It also states that anyone who flees from a law enforcement officer is reckless driving per se. Per se is a Latin term that means by itself.
What Does Willful or Wanton Mean for Reckless Driving?
Under the reckless driving statute, the term willful means intentionally, knowingly, and purposely. Wanton means that the vehicle was driven with a conscious and intentional indifference to the consequences and with the knowledge that damage to persons or property was likely. While this sounds very difficult to prove, it is such a subjective standard that any police exaggeration could suffice.
This standard means that if you act in a negligent or careless manner, that is not supposed to be enough to constitute reckless driving. This really comes down to the state of mind of the driver, which is tough to prove and must be based solely on statements of the driver and on the driving conduct.
What Are Examples of Reckless Driving?
Speeding alone is not supposed to be enough to be reckless driving. This comes with a caveat, however. If you are driving at a grossly excessive speed, that could be enough to be reckless. Again, when the charge comes down to the opinion of the police officer, this is how it all depends on the officer you get. Most examples of reckless driving come from aggressive driving. Weaving in and out of traffic to pass people is a common allegation. Driving through a stop sign or red light is another example. And, if you are speeding and commit any other violation, that is usually enough to be reckless.
What Is Reckless Driving Compared to Careless Driving?
The difference between reckless and careless is the state of mind of the driver. If you simply made a negligent or careless mistake, that is careless driving. If you were perceived as driving dangerously on purpose, that is more apt to be reckless. While both charges are subjective, the big difference is that reckless is a crime and careless is simply a civil infraction. The penalties for a reckless are much more severe than for careless. In fact, we often ask the State Attorney in Pinellas County to amend the charge down to a careless as part of our negotiations.
What Are the Penalties for Reckless Driving in Pinellas County?
As mentioned in the above, reckless driving in Pinellas County is a crime.
- For the first offense of reckless driving with no injuries or property damage, the crime is a second-degree misdemeanor with penalties up to 90 days in the Pinellas County Jail or 6 months of probation, and up to a $500 fine.
- For a second or subsequent offense of reckless driving with no injuries or property damage, the crime is also a second-degree misdemeanor, but there is up to 6 months in the Pinellas County Jail and up to a $1000 fine.
- If there was property damage or injury, the penalty becomes a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in the Pinellas County Jail, up to 12 months of probation and up to a $1000 fine.
- Reckless driving can become a felony if a serious bodily injury occurred. IN this situation, the crime becomes a third-degree felony with penalties of up to 5 years in prison, up to 5 years of probation, and up to a $5000 fine.
How Do I Get a Reckless Instead of a DUI?
Reckless driving is commonly the goal of a criminal defense lawyer when one is charged with DUI. It is an amended charge, is less severe, and carries fewer penalties. The stigma for reckless driving is also less severe than a DUI. If you are charged with DUI in Pinellas County, your lawyer will likely ask the State Attorney’s Office to review the case and amend the charge to reckless driving. The State Attorney is the only entity that has the power to perform this amendment. The Judge on your case has absolutely no power to amend your case to a reckless. Therefore, regardless of how well your criminal defense lawyer knows the judge, it is the prosecutor who must be convinced to give you a reckless driving instead of a DUI.
How Many Points Do I Get on My Driver’s License for Reckless Driving?
If you are convicted of reckless driving, you will get 4 points on your driver’s license. This is not normally a big deal unless the officer has loaded you up with other civil citations too or you have a bad driving record. If you go to court by yourself and plead out to these charges, you may get a notice in the mail from DMV notifying you of a driver’s license suspension. If you get 18 points within 18 months, your license gets suspended for 90 days. If you get 24 points within 24 months, you will lose your license for a year. Most people have no idea how many points they currently have on their record or how many points they are getting by resolving the case in court. So, it is always better to consult with a criminal defense attorney before trying to handle the case alone.
Why Did I Get a Notice from DMV After Pleading to a Reckless That I Have to Go to Driving School?
Under Florida Statute 322.026, after a conviction for reckless driving, DHSMV is required to send you a letter that you are required to complete a four hour Basic Driver’s Improvement class. This class must be completed within 90 days or your driving privileges get suspended. This requirement only applies to a conviction for reckless driving. Thus, if the court withholds adjudication, meaning no conviction, then you are not required to take the class.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney in Pinellas County
I understand first-hand how difficult certain law enforcement officers can be in Pinellas County. The State Attorney’s Office tends to side with every officer regardless of that person’s level of experience or the department they are from. We all know that certain police agencies can be sloppy and unprofessional. When you come across officers like this, you need the assistance of a criminal defense attorney to defend and mitigate the charges. Reckless driving cases can be tough because the police officer is normally the only person who observes the driving. Even if it is caught on tape, the police can exaggerate or claim the driving was worse than it looked. Because your driving privileges are so important, don’t go to court alone and try to resolve the case with a slap on the wrist. I have seen too many people go to court alone only to walk into a driver’s license nightmare thereafter. If you have any questions about a reckless driving charge in Pinellas County, please contact me for a free consultation.