Fighting Reckless Driving Charges in WA State

Washington Reckless Driving Lawyer: Your Legal Guide

Reckless driving is more than just a phrase; it’s a serious charge with significant consequences. It’s defined as any person driving a vehicle in a ‘willful’ or ‘wanton’ disregard for the safety of persons or property. What does that mean in practical terms? Essentially, it refers to an act of driving that disregards the potential risks or dangers to others, either intentionally or with a gross disregard for the possible repercussions.

This concept might seem straightforward on paper, but real-world applications can be incredibly diverse. From excessive speed to dangerous passing maneuvers, reckless driving can take many forms. 

Let’s delve deeper into the charge world of reckless driving, its implications, and its impact on Washington drivers who are charged with it. In this article, we’ll unpack the legal definition, understand the elements required for a conviction, explore some defenses, and talk about how this charge could be a game-changer for your driving record and insurance rates. So buckle up as we navigate the intricate freeway of reckless driving laws in Washington State.

Understanding Reckless Driving in Washington State

Reckless driving in Washington State encompasses many behaviors that can lead to a charge. Actions such as excessive speeding, hazardous overtaking, or committing multiple traffic infractions simultaneously can all contribute to reckless driving. It’s essential to consider the specific actions, the intent behind them, and the potential consequences that may arise.

According to Washington State law RCW 46.61.500, reckless driving occurs when an individual operates a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. While police officers have discretion in determining whether to arrest and charge someone with reckless driving, an arrest does not automatically imply guilt. It reflects the discretionary power of the officers to assess whether the situation warrants a reckless driving charge. Ultimately, the decision to proceed with charging lies with the prosecutor.

Elements for Conviction of Reckless Driving in Washington State

To secure a conviction for reckless driving in Washington State, the prosecution must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  1. The defendant operated a vehicle,
  2. The driving was conducted in a willful or wanton disregard, and
  3. The disregard was for the safety of persons or property.

‘Willful’ indicates that the act was intentional, while ‘wanton’ signifies a deliberate act without considering the consequences. Notably, the prosecution doesn’t need to demonstrate that the defendant’s actions actually put other people or property at risk.

Understanding these elements and the discretion involved in the process can provide clarity when facing a reckless driving charge in Washington State. It is crucial to seek the guidance of a knowledgeable reckless driving attorney who can navigate the intricacies of the law and build a strong defense on your behalf.

Prima Facie Evidence of Reckless Driving

When a court decides if there is enough evidence in a criminal case, they look for a “prima facie case.” This means they check if the evidence and reasonable inferences are enough to let a jury decide. If the court says there is a prima facie case, it means the evidence seems strong enough on its own to let the jury consider if the person is guilty or not. 

Washington law identifies specific actions considered prima facie evidence of reckless driving. These include:  

  1. Embracing another while driving: As per RCW 46.61.665, it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while embracing another person, as it prevents the free and unhampered operation of the car.
  2. Racing: Under RCW 46.61.530, any person or persons racing any motor vehicle on any public highway of this state is guilty of reckless driving, regardless of whether such speed is in excess of the maximum speed prescribed by law.
  3. Excess Speed: Excess speed can serve as prima facie evidence of reckless driving under RCW 46.61.465. However, evidence of excess speed alone is insufficient to uphold a conviction for reckless driving.

Defenses to Reckless Driving in Washington State

Unfortunately, there are no statutory defenses to reckless driving in Washington. That being said, a key aspect to note is that the charge of reckless driving often relies heavily on evidence of speed alone. In a Ninth Circuit case, Hanna v. Riveland, the court held that evidence of speed alone is insufficient to uphold a conviction for reckless driving, thus presenting a potential defense.

One thing that has been surprising to more than a few former clients is that reckless driving laws apply regardless of whether it happens on public roads or private property. 

The Implications of Reckless Driving

Reckless Driving as a Plea Bargain for DUI Charges

Interestingly, reckless driving often becomes part of a plea bargain in Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases. This means that individuals charged with a DUI might prefer to face a ‘reduced’ reckless driving charge to avoid the severe penalties and consequences of a DUI conviction.

Impact on Your Driving Record and Insurance

A reckless driving conviction in Washington State can significantly impact your driving record and insurance. Insurers can increase your premiums or cancel your policy due to a reckless driving conviction. On average, drivers with a reckless driving charge may experience a substantial 61% increase in their car insurance premiums.

Penalties and Consequences of Reckless Driving

It is a gross misdemeanor if you’re convicted of reckless driving in Washington State. The punishment can be as severe as 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. While it is possible to avoid a jail sentence since there is no mandatory minimum jail sentence, individuals convicted of reckless driving will face a mandatory 30-day license suspension imposed by the Department of Licensing (DOL).

During the 30-day license suspension following a reckless driving conviction, you may have the option to drive with a special license. To obtain this license, you must secure SR-22 insurance specifically designed for high-risk drivers and pay an application fee to the Department of Licensing (DOL). Once the suspension period is over, you must reinstate your driving privileges by paying either a $75 or $150 fee to the DOL. Additionally, you will be required to maintain SR-22 insurance for the next three years as part of the reinstatement process.

Additional Factors to Consider

Whether you are contemplating accepting a plea of reckless driving as a reduced charge or have been arrested for reckless driving, it is crucial to consider the following factors:

  • Impact on Future DUI Charges: If you opt for a plea deal to reckless driving, be aware that it can be treated as a prior offense for DUI charges. Consequently, if you are convicted of reckless driving and face subsequent DUI charges, the previous conviction will count as a prior for sentencing purposes. 
  • Habitual Traffic Offender Status: Reckless driving is categorized as a major moving violation in Washington. If you accumulate three major moving violations within a span of five years, the Department of Licensing (DOL) may designate you as a Habitual Traffic Offender. This designation can lead to a lengthy license suspension of up to seven years.

These considerations highlight the potential long-term consequences of a reckless driving conviction. It is essential to consult with a knowledgeable reckless driving attorney who can guide you through the legal process and help you make informed decisions regarding your case.

How to Find a Reckless Driving Attorney

Finding the right reckless driving lawyer can be crucial to navigating a reckless driving charge. Having an experienced lawyer who understands the complexities of Washington State’s reckless driving laws can significantly impact your case. Here are some steps you can take to find a reputable reckless driving attorney:

  1. Conduct Thorough Research – Start by doing a comprehensive online search. Look for law firms or attorneys focusing on reckless driving or traffic violations in Washington State.
  2. Look at the Experience – Ensure the attorney you choose has significant experience with reckless driving cases. An attorney focusing on reckless driving cases will be more familiar with the laws, potential defenses, and strategies that might benefit your case.
  3. Read Reviews and Testimonials – Online reviews and testimonials can give you a sense of an attorney’s reputation and the experiences of previous clients. Look for attorneys with positive reviews who have helped others in similar situations.
  4. Schedule Consultations – Most attorneys offer a free initial consultation or charge a minimal amount for a consultation. Use this opportunity to discuss your case and evaluate if the attorney is the right fit. Ask about their experience, their approach to cases like yours, and what kind of outcomes you might expect.
  5. Assess Communication and Comfort – You’ll be working closely with your attorney, so it’s crucial that you feel comfortable with them. They should be able to communicate, answer your questions, and make you feel understood.
  6. Consider the Cost – Legal fees can vary greatly, so it’s essential to understand the cost structure. Some attorneys may charge an hourly rate, while others work on a flat fee. Make sure to discuss the cost upfront to avoid any surprises later on.

In conclusion, the right attorney can significantly impact the outcome of your case. So take the time to find someone experienced, trustworthy, and empathetic who will fight for your rights and provide the best possible defense.

Get Help From a Washington Reckless Driving Lawyer Today

Reckless driving is a serious charge that can result in hefty penalties, impact your driving record, and increase your insurance premiums. If you face a reckless driving charge in Washington State, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced attorney who can help navigate the complexities of the law and explore potential defenses. Remember, knowledge is power, and understanding the implications of reckless driving is the first step toward protecting your rights.

Make sure you take steps to defend yourself, your driving record, and your future by contacting an aggressive Washington reckless driving lawyer at Garguile DUI & Traffic Lawyers, PLLC. Our firm proudly offers no-cost, risk-free consultations to those facing reckless driving charges throughout Western Washington. Claim yours by completing our quick contact form or calling our office.