Reckless driving charges are serious criminal charges in Florida. It is one of the worst traffic offenses a person can be charged with after a DUI. A person with a reckless driving conviction stands to face immediate penalties and long-term consequences that can impact his daily life. Reckless driving is not the same as careless driving, which is a lesser, civil traffic offense. If you face a reckless driving charge, discuss it with a traffic attorney in West Palm Beach as soon as possible; you may have a limited window in which to fight the charge and avoid penalties.
Understanding Reckless Driving in Florida
The state of Florida defines one who is guilty of reckless driving in Section 316.192 of the Florida Statutes as “any person who drives a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Under the statute, fleeing a law enforcement officer is also grounds for a per se reckless driving charge.
A conviction for reckless driving can lead to severe penalties and add points to your driver’s license. You might be able to avoid the worst consequences if you act quickly to resolve your charge with the help of a criminal and traffic lawyer.
Proving Reckless Driving in Court
In order to bring forth reckless driving charges, prosecutors must meet the following elements:
- The defendant must have driven the motor vehicle
- The defendant must have driven the motor vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or property.
In this sense, the term “willful” means with intent. It can reasonably be assumed that the driver knew his or her actions could have caused serious bodily injury or property damage. “Wanton” describes the act of driving with a conscious and intentional indifference to the consequences along with the knowledge that damage was likely to occur.
Oftentimes, reckless driving is confused with careless driving or negligence; however, mere carelessness or negligence is not enough to constitute a reckless driving charge in Florida. The accused’s behavior must be intentional and his actions executed with awareness and indifference to likely consequences. This elevates the criminal status of a reckless driving charge, as intent must be proved. For this reason, it is difficult for the prosecution to prove reckless driving occurred.
Speeding by itself does not meet the two elements that must be proved to convict a person for reckless driving. This is true even in a hypothetical scenario in which a driver passes through a 30 MPH zone at 60 MPH. It must be coupled with other factors that show a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others.
Reckless Driving Penalties
First Offense Reckless Driving
A first offense reckless driving charge is a second-degree misdemeanor when no bodily injury or property damage occurred.
- Up to 90 days in jail or up to 6 months of probation and
- A fine of up to $500
Reckless Driving with Previous Conviction
This is also a second-degree misdemeanor, but the penalties one could face include:
- A maximum of six months in jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
Any time that reckless driving results in bodily harm or property damage, penalties escalate. Reckless driving with property damage and non-serious bodily injury escalates to a first-degree misdemeanor, with penalties of:
- Up to a year in jail or twelve months of probation
- Fines of up to $1,000
Reckless Driving Which Results in Bodily Injury
Reckless driving that results in serious bodily injury becomes a third-degree felony charge with penalties of:
- Up to 5 years in prison or 5 years of probation
- A maximum fine of $5,000
In Florida, careless driving is a civil traffic offense that does not incur criminal penalties. A police officer might issue a traffic citation for careless driving, but you do not face the risk of accruing criminal charges, which can be detected by a background check. Careless driving is a moving violation that can lead to points on your license, higher insurance rates, and a fine. Often, police issue tickets for careless driving when they cannot pinpoint another violation that caused a traffic accident.
Contact Our Firm for Comprehensive Traffic Defense
Under certain circumstances, a DUI can be reduced to a charge of reckless driving or a “wet reckless” charge. If you have been arrested for DUI or reckless driving in Florida, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. With over 30 years of trial law experience, Brian Gabriel serves as Palm Beach County’s top defense attorney for serious traffic offenses. Call 561-622-5575 for a free consultation.