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How much discretion does a police officer have when making a reckless driving arrest?

Virginia law gives officers a significant amount of discretion when making a reckless driving arrest. However, judges also have discretion to reduce or drop the charge in many cases.

Officer Discretion

Virginia's reckless driving law specifically includes the following actions:

  • Speeding 20 miles or more above the speed limit or in excess of 80 miles per hour
  • Driving too fast for adverse weather conditions
  • Driving with an obstructed view
  • Drag racing
  • Failing to signal
  • Passing at a railroad crossing
  • Passing an emergency vehicle
  • Passing a stopped school bus
  • Passing two vehicles abreast
  • Passing at the top of a hill
  • Driving a vehicle with faulty brakes

officer discretion for reckless driving chargeBeyond these behaviors, officers can charge a driver with reckless driving whenever he is operating a vehicle in a manner that endangers life, limb, or property. This means an officer can charge you with reckless driving for swerving, weaving, tailgating, or any other behavior perceived as either aggressive or unsafe.

Since officers have a great deal of discretion in issuing a reckless driving citation, it's important to be polite and respectful whenever you're pulled over. If you're perceived as rude or uncooperative, the officer will be much less likely to help you out.

Judicial Discretion

While the officer making the arrest has the discretion to determine when a charge is appropriate, the judge is given authority to reduce or drop the charge. Judges can consider the following mitigating factors:

  • A past safe driving record
  • If your conduct was related to a legitimate medical emergency
  • Whether you've demonstrated remorse by agreeing to complete community service and/or attend a driver improvement clinic
  • Speedometer calibration issues
  • Recommendations from the officer

Judicial discretion plays such a significant role in reckless driving cases that attorneys typically advise drivers to appeal any initial conviction they receive. An appeal grants a new trial with a different judge, thus increasing your odds of finding someone who will be more lenient in assessing penalties.

How a Reckless Driving Attorney Can Help

An experienced reckless driving attorney will help you build the strongest possible defense to have the charge reduced to a lesser offense such as improper driving or dropped altogether. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review with Virginia defense attorney T. Kevin Wilson.

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