What is it?
Reckless driving is a criminal traffic charge in Arizona that can involve some serious consequences. Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) 28-693(A) defines it as follows:
“A person who drives a vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of person or property is guilty of reckless driving.”
This statue is vague, as many of them are. It leaves a lot of discretion to the police officers writing the tickets. Usually a police officer writes a ticket for reckless driving if he believes the driver is putting other people or property in danger as a result of his or her driving. This is extremely subjective though. Sometime we see a police officer write a reckless driving ticket when someone is simply going 30 mph over the posted speed limit and there are no other cars or people around. Other times, we see a police officer only write a simple speeding ticket when someone is driving at 120 mph weaving in and out of traffic during rush hour.
We also see situations where an officer observes someone drive in a manner they not like. Then the officer swerves across 4 lanes of traffic without a blinker while speeding to pull over the allegedly “reckless” driver. It is a weird double standard where police can engage in the sort of driving that would result in an ordinary person getting charged with a crime.
Fortunately, the police not decide whether or not you should be convicted of a crime. That is up to a judge or a jury and the prosecutor must prove to the judge that you were driving recklessly.
Sometimes a driver is not driving recklessly, but gets charged anyway
We frequently see a reckless driving charge tacked on to a criminal speed/excessive speed ticket. The police officer’s position is typically that it was reckless to drive at an excessive speed. While we can often get the reckless driving charge dismissed, the fact that it was charged in the first place makes it more difficult to get rid of the less serious criminal speed charge. It is our opinion that police officers add reckless driving to criminal speed tickets, even when there is little basis for the charge, because doing so places the driver in a worse bargaining position when negotiating with the prosecutor. This results in an increased conviction rate for excessive speed charges.
What are the consequences?
If you are convicted of reckless driving, you are guilty of committing a class 2 misdemeanor (A.R.S. 28-693(B)). Because this is a class 2 misdemeanor, you are facing a $750 fine plus surcharges of $630, up to 4 months in jail, and probation. The judge may also order that your driving privileges be suspended for up to 90 days. (A.R.S. 28-693(C)). Plus, you will get 8 points on your license and have to attend traffic survival school.
If you have been convicted in the previous 24 months of negligent homicide with a car, manslaughter with a car, racing, DUI, extreme DUI, or aggravated DUI, a reckless driving conviction becomes a class 1 misdemeanor (A.R.S. 28-693(D)(1). This means you will serve a minimum of 20 days in jail with the possibility of up to 6 months in jail, the fine increases to $2,500 plus $2,100 in surcharges, and you may have to surrender your driver’s license.
There is one upside to a reckless driving conviction over other criminal traffic convictions. Specifically, you an apply to the court to have your conviction set aside. Most criminal traffic violations, like criminal speeding, cannot be set aside but reckless driving is an exception. It is at the court’s discretion to set aside a criminal conviction, however most courts are pretty accommodating with such requests. When a conviction is set aside, it means you no longer have a criminal conviction.
Defenses against reckless driving
Possible defenses could include:
- Whether or not the officer was able to actually observe what you did;
- The police officer’s training and ability to assess what they saw;
- There were no people or property near you to “recklessly disregard.”
We often see a reckless driving charge tied to other traffic violations, such as unsafe lane changes, following too closely or excessive speed. Police may add the reckless driving charge because they believe your driving posed a danger to other people or property. For example, maybe you had a passenger in your car while you were criminally speeding. That could result in a reckless driving charge. Or maybe you passed another vehicle while speeding in a no passing zone – that too could result in a reckless driving charge. You may be able to challenge the underlying violation(s) that contributed to the reckless driving charge.
Of course, each case is different and your defenses will depend on your particular fact pattern.
This is also a jury-eligible charge, so instead of a judge, you could choose to have some strangers decide whether or not you were driving recklessly.