Short Answer: Usually a Misdemeanor, but Sometimes a Felony
Disclaimer: Every case is unique and case results depend on a number of factors unique to each case. Past results do not guarantee or predict future results.
Is Reckless Driving a Misdemeanor in Virginia? Or, Is Reckless Driving in Virginia a Felony?
Reckless Driving is Almost Always a Class 1 Criminal Misdemeanor
Virginia law punishes Reckless Driving as a class 1 misdemeanor offense. That means that if you are convicted, there are the following consequences:
- permanent criminal record that never goes away and can never be expunged
- possible jail sentence up to 12 months
- possible license suspension up to 6 months
- possible fine up to $2500
That is a big range of punishment. In my experience, jail time and license suspensions are reserved for cases that are more serious due to either a bad driving history or high speed or other endangerment such as weaving and tailgating. However, if you are convicted of reckless driving you will have a permanent criminal record that never goes away and can never be expunged.
COMMON RECKLESS DRIVING CHARGES IN VIRGINIA
Is Reckless Driving in Virginia a Felony? Here is the most commonly written Virginia misdemeanor reckless driving charge:
Reckless Driving by Speed 46.2-862
Here is the link defining the most common reckless driving charge in Virginia, reckless driving by speed under Virginia Code 46.2-862:
As you will note, anything EITHER 20 mph or more regardless of the speed (eg: 60 mph in 40 mph, 80mph in 60 mph) is reckless driving by speed OR anything over 80 mph is also reckless driving by speed (eg: 81 mph in a 70 mph; 83 mph in a 70 mph zone) in Virginia. Note that 80 mph in a 70 mph is NOT reckless driving by speed because it must be IN EXCESS (starting at 81 mph) of 80 mph.
So there are two ways to violate Virginia’s reckless driving by speed law. 81 mph or above, or anything 20 mph or more regardless of the speed zone. Note that 90 mph in a 70 and higher violates the law BOTH ways. But it carries the same potential range of punishment as 81 mph in a 70.
Reckless Driving General: Often accidents but really any driving that endangers life, limb or property
There are also many other Virginia Reckless Driving laws in addition to Reckless Driving by Speed. We commonly represent accident cases charged under the reckless driving general section 46.2-852:
Most cases under 46.2-852 are accident cases but I have seen screeching tires (burnouts) charged here. I have seen weaving in and out of traffic charged here. I have also seen people charged under this who were driving 83 mph in a 60 mph zone where there was the odor of alcohol. There was not enough to charge the DUI. Interestingly it is much easier for the prosecutor to get a conviction under the reckless driving by speed (46.2-862) section because under that code section merely driving 20 mph or more, or in excess of 80 mph is always per se reckless driving.
Compare that to 46.2-852 and driving 20 mph or more ALONE would not be enough. The prosecutor proceeding under reckless driving general 46.2-852 has to prove endangerment to life, limb, or property.
Reckless Driving, Failure to Maintain Control
In addition to Reckless Driving General, there is Reckless Driving Failure to Maintain Control under 46.2-853:
These are almost always accident cases charged as Virginia reckless driving. Accident cases often depend on the facts of each particular case. Was it a single vehicle accident (not as serious) or were multiple vehicles involved? (more serious) Was anyone injured? Was anyone transported to the hospital? How much property damage was involved? Were any drugs or alcohol involved? Does the person have insurance and has insurance paid for the damage yet?
Accident cases also depend on CAUSATION. What statements were made to the responding officer regarding how the accident happened? There are frequently few witnesses to an accident, so officers often rely on statements made by the defendant as to the cause of the accident.
Accident cases tend to be more serious than a run of the mill reckless driving by speed case, and they tend to be more fact intensive. And results vary more. A bad accident does not in any way, shape or form mean the prosecutor can actually prove reckless driving.
Virginia Reckless Driving Accident Cases Can Frequently be Dismissed or Reduced to Improper Driving
Either the judge, or the prosecutor can reduce the reckless driving charge to improper driving. An officer responding to an accident scene in Virginia does not have the discretion to charge this offense. However, if the officer charges reckless driving then EITHER the judge hearing the case or the prosecutor has the authority to reduce the reckless driving charge to a simple traffic infraction called improper driving.
§ 46.2-869. Improper driving; penalty.
- traffic infraction, not a criminal misdemeanor
- maximum fine allowed is $500, not $2500
- the judge has no authority to suspend the driver’s license
Other Reckless Driving
Other reckless driving laws include racing, aggressive driving, passing a stopped school bus, etc. They are charged but they are statistically less frequent. Virginia code 46.2-868 defines reckless driving as a misdemeanor in most cases, and a felony in the rare cases noted above:
Virginia code 18.11 defines the potential jail sentence for Class 1-4 misdemeanors:
How Long Does it Stay on My Record?
There is no such thing as one unified “record.” When you are convicted of the criminal misdemeanor, the conviction will go on your criminal record AND your driving record. Many states, including Virginia, will have time periods for how long a Virginia reckless driving offense will stay on the driving record. And then they will not appear. Or sometimes the points go away. In Virginia, the conviction for misdemeanor reckless driving stays on your driving record for 11 years.
However, the more important part of this is the criminal record. Once you are convicted of the misdemeanor, that never goes away. That means that if you apply for a job 10 years down the road this can show up on a criminal background check.
We take calls all the time from people who ask to expunge this charge, sometimes over TEN YEARS later because they are still negatively impacted by this conviction. Most times it is people calling who have been offered a job and then had a job offer held up or withdrawn due to this conviction. Often it is insurance related. I have spoken to many people whose insurance has DROPPED them from coverage, or had their rates DOUBLE and TRIPLE.
In addition, since this is a MISDEMEANOR, it can have immigration consequences as well. I frequently represent people who are here on a student visa, or have a green card, and are applying for full citizenship. The consequences of this are often far reaching and difficult to know. But it is VERY IMPORTANT to treat this seriously and try to get it reduced or dismissed.
When is Reckless Driving Actually a Felony?
Is Reckless Driving a Felony in Virginia?
As noted in my post, reckless driving in Virginia is almost always a class 1 misdemeanor. However, sometimes Virginia reckless driving is a felony. It is a felony in the following situations:
Virginia Code 46.2-868 B. Every person convicted of reckless driving under the provisions of this article who, when he committed the offense, (i) was driving without a valid operator’s license due to a suspension or revocation for a moving violation and, (ii) as the sole and proximate result of his reckless driving, caused the death of another, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
I have never seen this offense charged. It certainly could be charged, but as noted in the law it is a narrow set of circumstances that would result in a felony charge for reckless driving.
I Understand Now it Is Very Serious, What Can You Do to Help?
Sometimes the answer depends on the answer to the following questions:
Is my reckless driving in Virginia a misdemeanor? Is my reckless driving in Virginia a felony?
The vast majority of Virginia reckless driving tickets that are written are Virginia reckless driving by speed. And most of those are lower level charges where the most serious realistic impact would be the permanent criminal record. We do represent people who face the realistic possibility of jail and a license suspension, but statistically there are fewer of those cases written because by definition they are the outliers. Those are the truly high speed cases, or terrible driving records.
Statistically speaking, most reckless driving by speed cases in Virginia are in the 81-89 mph range in a 70 mph zone. These are cases that we can often get reduced depending on the facts of the case. Every jurisdiction is different and every judge is different in how they handle these cases. Sometimes we can get these cases reduced to a non moving violation that has no points, and sometimes we can get it reduced to a simple speeding ticket that is not reckless and not a misdemeanor. Sometimes we can get the case completely dismissed.
In the last two weeks alone we handled nearly three dozen cases. These reckless driving cases ranged from speeds as high as 90-96 mph to reckless driving by speed, 81 mph in a 70 mph zone. Every case was reduced or dismissed!
In the last two weeks I had cases that I had to litigate via a trial. In one case I found a legal defense on the ticket and tried the case and WON a complete dismissal. In another case I found a different error that resulted in a fantastic result. In other cases we were able to get dismissed with driving school. In yet other jurisdictions we were able to have charges reduced to either non moving violations that have no points or reduced to a minor traffic infraction that is not a misdemeanor and not reckless, again, often avoiding points.
Call Us for a Free Consultation 8048734004
We have the experience necessary to discuss your case and we know what to expect in each particular case. Every jurisdiction is different in how they treat these types of cases. In many locations you might face the realistic possibility of jail at 90 mph, where under the same facts I can frequently get the charge reduced in your absence.
We know the court policies on when clients need to appear in court, and when they do not. We know when it is helpful to appear even if you are not required to. And we know when it is best NOT to appear.