Vehicle Code 23104 VC – Reckless Driving Causing Injury

Updated

Vehicle Code 23104 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to injure someone while driving recklessly. Reckless driving is an offense under Vehicle Code 23103 VC. This statute increases the penalties when the driving injures to another person.

23104 VC states that “whenever reckless driving of a vehicle proximately causes bodily injury to a person other than the driver, the person driving the vehicle shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than 30 days nor more than six months or by a fine of not less than two hundred twenty dollars ($220) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.”

Examples:

  • driving a car at high speeds through a school zone and hurting a motorist in a collision.
  • doing doughnuts in an icy parking lot and hitting a pedestrian.
  • ignoring a stop sign and rear-ending a vehicle, which causes an injury to the other driver.

Defenses

A defendant can raise a legal defense to contest a charge under this statute. Common defenses include:

  • no reckless driving,
  • no injury to someone else, and/or
  • necessity.

Penalties

Reckless driving causing an injury is a misdemeanor. This is opposed to a California felony or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

  • custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

reckless driving injury victim on the ground
Vehicle Code 23104 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to injure someone while driving recklessly.

1. What are the elements of reckless driving with injury?

A prosecutor must prove the following elements to prove a charge under Vehicle Code 23104:

  1. the defendant drove a vehicle recklessly, and
  2. when doing so, he caused injury to another person.1

Reckless driving” is defined as:

  • intentionally driving with,
  • wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.2

A person acts with “wanton disregard for safety” when:

  1. he is aware that his actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm, and
  2. he intentionally ignores that risk.3

Note that a driver does not have to intend to cause injury to be guilty of this crime.4

Example: Michelle is driving fast on a highway while weaving in and out of traffic. She realizes she is driving somewhat dangerous and could cause an accident, but she doesn't care. Michelle soon hits another car and injures that vehicle's driver.

Here, Michelle is guilty of reckless driving causing injury. She was aware that her driving created a risk of harm, but she ignored it and caused an injury in doing so.

Also note that if:

  • a driver pleads guilty to this offense, the guilty plea is only valid if,
  • the facts of the case do indeed show that a person did suffer an injury.5

2. Are there legal defenses?

A defendant can try to beat a charge under these laws with a legal defense.

Three common defenses are:

  1. no reckless driving,
  2. no injury to someone else, and/or
  3. necessity.

2.1. No reckless driving

A person is only guilty of this offense if he caused an injury while driving recklessly. Further, reckless driving has a specific meaning under California criminal law. This means it is a valid defense for an accused to show that:

  • he was not driving with,
  • wanton disregard for the safety of others.

2.2. No injury

A driver violates VC 23104 only if he drives recklessly and causes an injury to someone else. Therefore, it is always a defense for an accused to show that he did not cause an injury.

2.3. Necessity

A necessity defense is when an accused:

  • tries to avoid guilt,
  • by showing that he had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime.

People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of VC 23104, a defendant can show that he committed the crime since he had no other choice. Perhaps, for example, there was an emergency making him drive recklessly.

man behind bars for reckless driving causing injury
A conviction under this law can result in jail time and/or a fine

3. What are the penalties for 23104 VC?

A violation of 23104 VC is a misdemeanor.

The offense is punishable by:

  • custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.6

4. Are there immigration consequences?

A conviction under these laws does not have any bad immigration consequences.

Sometimes a California conviction can lead to a non-citizen being:

An example is when a defendant non-citizen gets convicted for an aggravated felony.

VC 23104 violations, though, do not have this effect.

5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?

A person can get an expungement for a conviction under this statute.

This is true provided that the defendant successfully completes:

  • probation, or
  • his jail term (whichever was imposed).

6. Are there related offenses?

There are three crimes related to reckless driving causing injury. These are:

  1. reckless driving – VC 23103,
  2. reckless driving resulting in specific serious injury – VC 23105, and
  3. speed contests – VC 23109.

6.1. Reckless driving – VC 23103

Vehicle Code 23103 VC is the California statute that defines the offense of “reckless driving.” A person commits this crime if:

  1. the defendant drove a vehicle on a highway or in an off-street parking facility, and
  2. the defendant drove with wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

A person does not have to cause any injury to be convicted under this statute.

6.2. Reckless driving resulting in specific serious injury – VC 23105

Vehicle Code 23105 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:

  1. drive recklessly, and
  2. cause a “certain injury” to another person when doing so.

These “certain injuries,” include things like:

  • a loss of consciousness,
  • a concussion, or
  • a bone fracture.

6.3. Speed contests – VC 23109

California Vehicle Code 23109 VC makes it a crime to willfully participate in a speed contest.

A “speed contest” is when a person:

  • races his vehicle,
  • against another car or against a clock or other timing device.

Unlike VC 23104, a person does not have to cause any injury to be guilty under this statute.

For additional help...

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For information on reckless driving laws in Nevada or Colorado, please see our articles on:


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 23104 VC.

  2. CALCRIM No. 2200 - Reckless Driving. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition).

  3. See same. See also People v. Schumacher (1961) 194 Cal.App.2d 335; and, People v. Young (1942) 20 Cal.2d 832.

  4. See same.

  5. In re Richardson (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 647.

  6. California Vehicle Code 23104 VC.

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