Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
The 5 best defenses to a charge of reckless driving are that the defendant was not the driver, the driving did not amount to recklessness, the driver was distracted, the radar gun was not used or calibrated correctly, and necessity. Because every case is different, a criminal defense attorney can tell which defense strategy is the most likely to work.
The 5 best and most common defense strategies for a reckless driving charge are:
Not all of these defenses will be strong in any given case. In most cases, only one will be a viable defense strategy. A criminal defense lawyer from a law firm in the local area will have the experience to tell which one will be the most effective.
To prove a case of reckless driving, the district attorney has to show that it was the defendant who was driving the vehicle. If they cannot prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, it can lead to an acquittal or the charges can be dropped.
The identity of the driver can be an issue when the person being accused of reckless driving:
For example: Clarisse is pulled over and ticketed for reckless driving. When the police ask for Clarisse’s identification, she provides the ID of her friend, Amy, instead. Amy is then charged with reckless driving.
Reckless driving is a well-defined term. In California, for example, reckless driving requires driving a vehicle:
Driving with a wanton disregard involves both:
It does not, however, require an intention to cause damage or injuries.
Without more, driving above the speed limit does not automatically make it a violation of reckless driving law.3 These instances are often handled with a mere speeding ticket, instead.
This makes plenty of poor driving choices fall short of the threshold needed for reckless driving. Many defense strategies rely on evidence that shows that the defendant was merely:
While these can defend against a serious charge of reckless driving, they can lead to lesser traffic infractions.
Similarly, another possible defense to a reckless driving allegation is that the defendant was merely distracted.
Reckless driving requires an awareness that the driving is very unsafe, and then ignoring the risks. People who drive poorly because they are distracted do not have that awareness. They are only driving poorly because they are not paying attention to what they are doing.
If the particular case relies on the defendant’s speed, then challenging the reliability of the radar gun can be a strong defense to criminal charges of reckless driving.
Radar guns have to be used properly and have to be regularly calibrated. If it was not maintained, or if the police officer was not adequately trained in using it, the reading could be unreliable.
The legal defense of necessity is that the defendant had a sufficiently good reason to commit the offense and had no other alternative. It would admit to reckless driving, but would argue that the defendant had to drive recklessly.
Necessity can be a strong defense if:
No, because the defendant would be pleading guilty to reckless driving in order to avoid a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI).
Prosecutors pursuing a DUI case will sometimes offer reckless driving as a plea bargain. The driver would admit to a less severe offense of reckless driving in order to have the DUI charges dismissed.
This plea bargain is often referred to as a “dry reckless” plea deal. Defendants who take the plea deal will not be subjected to some of the penalties of a DUI offense, like a mandatory jail sentence or license suspension.
However, by pleading guilty to reckless driving, defendants waive their legal defenses to that charge. They will not be allowed to raise any of these common defenses to reckless driving. Their case will go straight to sentencing, instead.
In the state of California, reckless driving is a misdemeanor. Convictions, even for a first offense, carry up to:
However, if there was a minor injury due to the reckless driving, the penalties increase to:
If the reckless driving produced a serious bodily injury in California, the penalties increase even further. These offenses are wobblers that can be pursued by law enforcement as a misdemeanor or as a felony. Convictions for a felony charge carry up to:
The vehicle can even be impounded for these serious offenses. Establishing an attorney-client relationship and getting the legal advice of a reckless driving defense attorney is the best way to fight this serious criminal offense.
This is in addition to the sanctions that come with a serious traffic violation like a reckless driving case. Reckless driving tickets will come with other threats to the defendant’s driving privileges, like:
The reckless driving conviction will also appear on the defendant’s criminal record.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.