When you’re accused of reckless driving, you have options. One of the first choices you need to make is how you’re going to handle case. Do you want to handle it yourself, ignore it, or hire an attorney? Let’s see how those choices work.
1. Ignore it.
It’s A choice, but it’s not a good one. If you just ignore the reckless driving charge, you’re facing the full range of consequences and could possibly make the situation even worse.
The one benefit you gain by ignoring the charge is short-term. You don’t have to worry about it right now, and if you’re super awesome lucky (about as likely as winning the lottery jackpot, in my opinion), the officer might not file the ticket or he might not show up for court.
But in most cases, ignoring the ticket means you will at least be found guilty of misdemeanor reckless driving. If you’re lucky at that point, the court will simply send you a bill for a fine. Of course, if you don’t pay it on time, Virginia DMV will suspend your license for non-payment.
In a worse scenario, depending upon the facts of your case, the judge might issue a capias since you didn’t appear. That’s a warrant for your arrest, and it means you will typically be arrested by a deputy in the near future. If the judge goes that far, he most likely won’t be happy when you eventually appear in front of him.
2. Send a letter.
The next approach you might take to handling your case is to send a letter to the court. Some people who can’t personally make it to court send a letter to the judge.
This technique has advantages because you do get a chance to hopefully say something to the judge in the form of a letter. And of course you would not have to come to court.
However, there are disadvantages as well. You’re still risking the possibility of the judge being upset that you’re not in court if he really wanted you there. If the judge really wants to give you jail time, he is going to want to see you in his court.
The next disadvantage is that the judges react to these letters differently. I practice in a handful of counties, and judges around here handle letters differently. I’ve seen judges pick up a letter and say, “if you want to plead not guilty you need to show up.” I’ve seen other judges say, “please put that on my desk”; I assume they review the letter and consider an alternate outcome. It really does depend on the judge.
Thus, the biggest disadvantage if you don’t have in-person representation is that there’s no way you can properly argue for your case. Sending a letter is no substitute for having a live person in court to advocate on your behalf.
3. Appear by yourself.
Of course, you can appear by yourself for your reckless driving charge. This is sort of the default response to a reckless driving ticket because the law says you’re supposed to appear in court.
The advantage here is that you don’t have the expense of hiring a lawyer. You just appear in court and hope for the best.
However, that’s also a major disadvantage. This is sort-of like crossing your fingers and hoping things go well. It certainly is NOT taking every possible step to get the best possible result in your case.
For example, do you know how the judge responds to a driving record like yours? Do you know if driving school or community service is a possibility to earn a break on your charge? Are you familiar with the possible defects on a calibration certificate that could get your charge dismissed? Those are just a few of the issues that I review with a typical client who is charged with reckless driving.
When you need a tooth extracted, you normally don’t just grab pliers and yank it out yourself. While pulling a tooth isn’t brain surgery, it is a fairly complex operation and having the proper experience, tools, and anesthesia make it relatively painless and easily successful.
The same could be said about the law. I never tell people that you must hire a lawyer in every case. I always say that you need to at least talk with a lawyer to find out what may happen, what the lawyer can do for you, and what it would cost.
Another disadvantage to appearing yourself is that you’ll have to take off work and travel to court. Depending upon your work situation and how far away you are located from the court, this could be a substantial hassle and expense.
In some cases, your reckless driving charge may be similar to a tooth extraction. Having an experienced professional to guide you through it can help lead to the best possible result. However, sometimes the facts of the case might be more similar to a routine cold: handling it yourself without a professional might make sense.
4. Hire a lawyer.
Instead of handling a reckless driving ticket yourself or just crossing your fingers, you can hire a lawyer.
The only real disadvantage to hiring a lawyer is the cost of the attorney. However, in my opinion, the many advantages outweigh the minor cost.
The most significant advantage to hiring an experienced, local, traffic defense lawyer for your case is that he knows how to navigate the court to get the best possible result in your case. A top notch traffic lawyer should know the officer, the judge, the prosecutor, and the clerks. Simply having a thorough knowledge of the players involved helps give you a tactical advantage over someone who is handling their case alone.
Don’t sports coaches review footage of the opposing team before a big game? They’re not just doing that for fun; they’re learning about the opposition and developing strategies to win. The same principal applies to court and makes it worthwhile to have an experienced lawyer at your side.
In addition to knowing the people involved, your lawyer should know the subtleties of defending a reckless driving charge. For example, in a speed-related case, there are many complicated issues that can arise solely based on the officer’s calibration certificates. I’ve seen too many attorneys miss critical arguments that could have their client’s case dismissed!
Another benefit to hiring a lawyer is that you may not even need to appear in court. Yes, your ticket says you’re supposed to, but in many speed-only cases, I can represent clients without you taking the time and trouble of appearing. Combine that with our easy online client agreements, and you have a pretty streamlined process that lets you get on with life.
Which option is best for you?
The choice you make depends upon the goals for your case and your personal needs. You should really think about each different option before you make a decision. You should always at least talk with a couple local, experienced traffic attorneys to find out what they may be able to do for you.
photo credit: Colin_K
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