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 of a conviction?
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)).
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.
Points and MVD consequences
If you are convicted of reckless driving, the court where you are convicted will transmit a record of that conviction to the Arizona Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicles Division (MVD for short). When the MVD is notified of a conviction, they will assess 8 points on your driving record. Check out this post for more discussion about points. 8 points means that the MVD will send you a letter saying you have to complete an 8-hour Traffic Survival School (TSS) class to avoid a license suspension. If you have taken TSS in the previous 24 months, you will just get a 3-month suspension.
These MVD consequences are in addition to any consequences imposed by the court.
Even if you do not have an Arizona driver license, the Arizona MVD will still impose essentially the same penalties. The MVD will create a record for you, send you the same letter about traffic survival school, or issue a suspension of your driving privileges. These MVD consequences will likely also impact an out of state driver license. Arizona, and most other states, participate in an interstate Driver License Compact. This is an agreement between states to share information about driver license records and suspensions.
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 a selection of people from the court's jurisdiction decide whether or not you were driving recklessly.
What does the court process look like?
What you should expect is much the same as what you would expect in any criminal case in Arizona. When you are issued a ticket for reckless driving, there will be a date listed on your ticket. When the officer gives you the ticket and lets you continue driving, you are promising to appear in court on that date. This date is called the arraignment date. The arraignment date is simply the date on which you will enter a plea. If you hire an attorney before your arraignment date, your attorney will file paperwork with the court entering a “not guilty” plea. The court will then vacate, or cancel, your arraignment date and set a new date for a pretrial conference.
The pretrial conference is the first opportunity for your attorney to meet with the prosecutor in your case and discuss settlement and request information (known as discovery) that may be useful in defending against the charge. Sometimes not much happens before the initial pretrial conference. This is because the rules of criminal procedure in a misdemeanor case require the prosecutor to do very little before that initial pretrial conference. You can expect t there will be several pretrial conferences, usually occurring about 30 days apart.
Before your initial pretrial conference we will send discovery requests to the prosecutor seeking to get information that may be helpful to your case. We will continue the discovery process until we have all relevant information that is available.
After we have finished the discovery process, we may submit a written request to the prosecution asking them to deviate from the charge. In other words, we may ask them to offer a plea to something less, like two civil violations such as speeding and unsafe lane change. This request will present your background and good character, and depending on what we have learned during the discovery process, ideally we can make a factual argument too.
Pretrial conferences will continue to occur until either a settlement has been reached, or until it is apparent that no settlement can been reached and all relevant information has been obtained from the prosecutor, at which point the case will be set for trial. If we are able to reach an agreement, the court will generally conduct a change of plea hearing to formally resolve the case.
You can read about these different stages of a case in more detail by clicking the links below.