You were in a hurry. You needed to get to West Milford and you were way behind schedule. Still, you were confident you could make it on time because you know the Macopin Road like the back of your hand.
So, with a little more speed, some slaloming moves around slower traffic and a bit of pretty assertive driving, you’ just know that you can make it on time.
No harm, no foul, right? Well, sure, until your rear view mirror suddenly blazes with the flashing lights of a police cruiser. Next thing you know: A reckless driving ticket.
Now what? Can you fight it and, if so, how do you fight a reckless driving ticket in Passaic County, New Jersey?
Don’t panic. Of course you can fight a reckless driving ticket. Whether you do so successfully depends on several different various factors. First, it’s important to understand what “reckless driving” is, how the courts in New Jersey handle it and what consequences may result in the case of a conviction.
Reckless driving in New Jersey.
Reckless driving is often confused with careless driving. Although similar, they are different. Each has its own definition and carries its own fines and other penalties. Because they are not completely dissimilar, however, both will be examined here.
As defined under New Jersey Statutes Annotated (NJSA), you may be found guilty of reckless driving if you drove a vehicle in a willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of others, in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger a person or property (note the inclusion of property).
Make no mistake, reckless driving is a very serious offense. It is often tacked on to other offenses as well. These include speeding, DWI or even leaving the scene of an accident (the latter two offenses result in other serious consequences of their own).
A less serious offense than reckless driving, the statute
states that careless driving occurs when a person drives a car in a careless manner or, without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger a person or property.
Careless driving is referred to as a “lesser included offense” of reckless driving. This citation is very common because it is routinely issued by the ticketing police offer on the scene to whichever driver is considered to be a fault for a motor vehicle accident.
In other words, even if it is subsequently determined that you were not guilty of reckless driving, you may still be convicted of careless driving.
You might expect that the penalties for a reckless driving ticket can be severe and you would be correct. Factors that determine the severity of punishment include the number of prior traffic offenses as well as the amount of damage you caused via your motor vehicle accident, for example.
The following is an overview of the potential penalties and other outcomes you may encounter if that drive down Macopin Road didn’t turn out exactly as you planned.
Reckless Driving Ticket:
This offense can result in incarceration (up to 2 months for a 1st offense and not more than three months for a 2nd offense).
- A fine from $50 to $200 for a 1st offense and up to $500 for a 2nd.
- Your license can, at the discretion of the court, be suspended for up to 45 days.
- An assessment of 5 points against your driving record.
Careless Driving Ticket:
A careless driving conviction can result in incarceration of not more than 15 days.
- You may be fined in an amount not to exceed $200.
- A license suspension is possible but a court will not likely impose one if this is your first offense.
- Two DMV points against your record.
Although it may not seem obvious, jail time isn’t your only serious problem if you are convicted of either reckless or careless driving. In order to understand why, you need to fully appreciate the effect that DMV points charged to your record has on your driving privileges in New Jersey.
New Jersey Points System.
As is the case in other states, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission charges points against your driving record for traffic offenses whether major or minor.
Not surprisingly, major offenses result in more points. Points accumulate over time subjecting you to various additional penalties.
If you accumulate 12 points on your record, your license may (and likely will) be suspended. Unlike other states, note that New Jersey does not offer a conditional license which would allow you to drive for limited reasons (to and from work, for example).
Therefore, unless you are comfortable relying on public transportation or placing yourself at the mercy of co-workers, friends and/or relatives for rides, you really can’t afford a license suspension.
Consequences for points accumulation arise before you reach 12, however. If you accumulate 6 or more points within a 3 year period, the MVC will require you to pay a surcharge in addition to any court fees or other penalties, a surcharge payable annually for 3 years.
Given that a reckless driving ticket can result in 5 driving points, a conviction of that offense leaves you little wiggle room going forward. Clearly fighting a reckless driving ticket is in your best interest.
The case for having an attorney.
Do you really need an attorney? Perhaps you think you can’t afford one. Not sure? Ask yourself these questions:
- Can you afford to go to jail?
- Can you afford $200 to $500 in fines?
- Can your driving record withstand an additional 5 points?
- If you already have points against your record, can you afford a suspension or, if you haven’t reached 12 points yet, the annual surcharge for the next 3 years?
- You should be aware of the effect of these points on your car insurance. Your car insurance company may raise your rates based on the number of accumulated points.
What a lawyer can do for you.
An experienced attorney offers you the best chance of minimizing the impact of a reckless driving ticket (or careless driving ticket). You may be convicted of reckless driving if the evidence demonstrates that you “drove a vehicle in a willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of others, in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger a person or property.”
Therefore, conviction on a reckless driving ticket requires the prosecution to establish you acted with intentional disregard. The strength of your case depends on the evidence your attorney can present that you did not have such intent.attorney
If, for example, your lawyer can show that you merely acted negligently, you may end up with only a careless driving conviction. Not optimal, but certainly preferable.
In addition, an attorney who knows how to handle a reckless driving ticket can assess whether you should enter into a plea agreement for a lesser offense (such as speeding) or whether grounds exist for an outright dismissal of the charge completely.
Regardless of the particulars of your case, the sooner you attack your reckless driving ticket with competent legal help, the better.