As one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, law enforcement in the Greater Houston area make numerous arrests for traffic-related offenses every day. One frequently charged criminal offense related to driving is reckless driving. A reckless driving charge can leave a stain on your record and result in a fine or jail time, higher car insurance rates and problems obtaining certain professional licenses, or a commercial driver’s license. Fortunately, it is possible to beat a reckless driving charge with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
How is reckless driving charged in Texas?
Under Texas Transportation Code 545.401, a person commits the offense of reckless driving if the person drives a vehicle in “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Reckless driving is more than just bad or even unsafe driving (although many people are arrested for reckless driving for just that). Reckless driving is punishable by a fine not to exceed $200 and/or confinement in the county jail for up to 30 days.
How are reckless driving cases defended?
The goal of a criminal defense attorney is to get a reckless driving charge dismissed. As noted above, police officers in Texas frequently arrest drivers for reckless driving without having enough evidence to meet the standard of “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The standard to prove a reckless driving charge can be difficult for the State of Texas to meet (in a criminal case it is always the burden of the State of Texas to prove that a criminal offense was committed).
To defend a reckless driving charge, a criminal defense attorney must conduct his own investigation, which starts with challenging the facts of the case. A criminal defense attorney must obtain the police report, videos and any witness statements. Since reckless driving cases are frequently overcharged, it is important that the sufficiency of the evidence is aggressively challenged.
The truth is that many police officers charge drivers with reckless driving for little more than poor or disrespectful driving. According to one Texas court, reckless driving requires “conscious indifference or subjective awareness of an extreme risk” and what is required is more than a momentary judgment lapse. According to another Texas court, poor of even rude driving habits do not necessarily translate into traffic violations, including a reckless driving charge. Depending on the facts, in other cases, there may be other defenses available, such as mistaken identity.
Even if it looks like the facts may not be in your favor, it is frequently possible for an experienced criminal defense attorney to negotiate a dismissal based on the lack of criminal history of the driver or other mitigating factors. In the Houston area, prosecutors may be willing to offer a dismissal of a reckless driving charge if certain conditions are met, like community service or a driver safety course. Criminal cases, including reckless driving cases, are resolved by either dismissal, plea agreement or trial. The goal should always be dismissal or an acquittal at trial.
How do you keep a reckless driving charge off of your record?
If your reckless driving charge is dismissed, or you are acquitted (found “not guilty”) at trial, then you will be eligible to have all records of the arrest destroyed by obtaining an expunction of the charge (there are other situations that could make a person eligible for an expunction but they are rarely applicable to reckless driving cases). It is important to keep in mind that if you pled guilty or are assessed probation, you will not be eligible for an expunction of a reckless driving charge.
An expunction of a reckless driving charge is the best possible result as it permits you to deny the existence of the arrest for most purposes, including on housing, school or job applications. Additionally, since the records of the reckless driving arrest are destroyed, the case will no longer appear on most criminal history searches after the expunction is complete (an expunction is a separate legal procedure that is not automatically done after a dismissal or an acquittal).
It is important to take a reckless driving arrest seriously and do everything possible to keep the charge off of your record. One of the most important things you can do is hire the right attorney to defend you in court. If you have been arrested for reckless driving anywhere in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today.