Reckless driving is one of the most serious traffic offenses in New Jersey. Though it is classified as a “traffic offense” rather than a “crime,” it can still carry significant penalties, including jail time. If you were charged with reckless driving, it is vital that you talk to an attorney about the charges. Not only can these charges lead to license suspensions and high fines, but they can also result in jail time. Talk to an Atlantic City reckless driving defense lawyer at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today for a free consultation on your case and to begin the process of fighting the charges against you.
What is Reckless Driving in New Jersey?
Reckless driving is a vague offense with a definition that’s written broadly to cover a wide range of behaviors. As written, the statute (N.J.S.A. § 39:4-96) punishes anyone “who drives a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”
This includes a few key factors and requirements. First, the driving must be “heedless,” and “disregard the rights or safety of others.” This disregard must be “willful or wanton.” The definitions of many of these terms may have technical definitions, but the important take-away is that reckless driving is driving that puts others at risk. The “willful or wanton” part is important, however, because it creates a high burden for the government.
“Recklessness” is a heightened level of “mens rea.” Every crime has some mental state requirement, and proving that someone did something “with willful or wanton disregard” requires showing more than just accidental or careless action. Because police and prosecutors cannot read your mind, it may be difficult for them to prove this. Instead, they must rely on the circumstances surrounding your driving to infer your mental state.
Lastly, the driving must have actually put others at risk, or been “likely to endanger” them. Alternatively, the driving could have risked putting property in danger. This is not a particularly high standard, as any dangerous driving could potentially put others at risk. However, combined with the other factors above, proving that your driving was “reckless” may be a difficult job for the prosecution.
One thing to note is that driving after being awake for 24 hours is automatically considered to be reckless driving, and could face punishment – especially if it causes an accident.
What are the Penalties for Reckless Driving?
N.J.S.A. § 39:4-96 also lays out the penalties for reckless driving. For a first offense, you face a fine of $50-$200 and up to 60 days in jail. For “a second or subsequent conviction,” you face up to 3 months in jail and a fine of $100-$500. Additionally, reckless driving counts as 5 points on your license – something the New Jersey MVC adds automatically.
The imprisonment involved in this offense is optional. That means it’s up to the judge whether your driving was reckless enough to warrant jail time. If you are sent to jail, it would be a county or municipal jail, not a long-term prison. Jails often include those who have not yet been convicted of a crime, and those convicted of lesser offenses. However, you still don’t want to spend any time in jail, and may need a lawyer to help fight the charges.
The fine is not optional, and must be at least $50 for a first offense ($100 for a second offense). The judge can leave the fine at $50 if your lawyer can convince them to use a lower penalty or that your conduct wasn’t particularly severe. However, the judge can, if they choose, give you the maximum fine.
The MVC will automatically put 5 points on your license for any reckless driving conviction. If you accumulate more than 12 points on your license, your license will automatically be suspended. Though reckless driving does not itself carry license suspension as a penalty, if you have too many traffic offenses too close together, you could lose your license. A suspended license means restoration fees and other costs. Additionally, it is a separate offense to drive with a suspended license, so you will be unable to transport yourself, or else risk further jail time, fines, and suspensions.
Reckless Driving Defense Lawyer in South Jersey
Being charged with reckless driving doesn’t mean you will automatically go to jail. First, the government needs to prove the case against you. With the high standards involved in the definition of reckless driving, the government may face a tough challenge against an experienced reckless driving defense attorney. Second, there may be opportunities for your lawyer to argue a plea deal to reduce the charges to careless driving, which carries a lower fine and only 2 points.
For a free consultation on your case, contact the South Jersey criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling serious traffic ticket cases, handling criminal cases, and fighting to get positive results for our clients. For your free consultation, call (609) 616-4956 today.