In Florida, if you operate a vehicle in a manner that is deemed as a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other people, you could be charged with Reckless Driving.
Reckless operation in Florida, depending on the circumstances, can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. It depends on whether the person caused serious bodily injury.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers have successfully defended clients from reckless operation charges in many different scenarios.What is Reckless Operation?
F.S. 316.192 defines Reckless Operation in Florida. There are two basic elements that prosecutors have to prove in order to score a conviction on a charge of reckless operation. Those are:
- Defendant drove a motor vehicle;
- Defendant did so with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of other people or their property.
This is further spelled out in Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim) 28.5.
What is willful or wanton conduct?
Florida courts have ascertained that “willful” means something that is done with intention, knowing or purpose. “Wanton,” meanwhile, is understood to mean that the vehicle was driven by someone who showed conscious or intentional indifference to the consequences, even with the knowledge that damage was likely to be inflicted on either persons or property.
If you flee from a law enforcement officer, per F.S. 316.1935, that is understood to be reckless driving per se, which means it is intrinsically or by and of itself automatically reckless operation.
It’s helpful also to understand what reckless operation is NOT. Reckless operation is NOT mere negligence. A lot of times, people confuse “reckless operation” with “careless driving,” but they are in fact two different crimes with two different proof burdens, reckless operation being the more serious of the two.
Per the 2005 Fla. 5th DCA case of D.E. v. State, simple carelessness or ordinary negligence while operating a vehicle aren’t enough to prove reckless operation of a vehicle in Florida.
In order to prevail in a reckless driving case, the prosecutor will need to show the person’s actions were both purposeful and knowing or were carried out with conscious disregard for the serious consequences. This was outlined in the Fla. 1st DCA decision of W.E.B. v. State in 1989.
To make this determination of recklessness, the judge or jury needs to decide if the defendant’s actions, in consideration of the surrounding circumstances, meant that death, bodily harm or property damage was foreseeable.Reckless Driving Penalties
The penalty for reckless driving will depend on whether there was damage done as a result of the driver’s actions and the extent of that damage. In particular, if you hurt someone, you could be facing a much more serious charge.
If you’re a first-time offender and no property was damaged and nobody was injured, you’ll be facing a second-degree misdemeanor. That carries with it penalties of up to:
- 90 days in jail
- 6 months of probation
- $500 fine
If it is your second or subsequent offense, it’s still considered a second-degree misdemeanor, but then you’re facing up to:
- 6 months in jail
- $1,000 fine
In cases where property damage or bodily injury is involved, the penalties go up drastically.
If it’s you’re first offense and you caused property damage or non-serious injury, reckless driving is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor (which is the highest level of misdemeanor there is). That charge carries with it the possibility of up to:
- 1 year in jail
- 1 year of probation
- $1,000 fine
However, if you’re charged with reckless driving in which someone was seriously injured, now you’re facing a felony. Specifically, it is a third-degree felony, which carries with it a maximum penalty of:
- 5 years in prison
- 5 years of probation
- $5,000 fine
Any one of these criminal charges could greatly impact your future educational, employment and housing opportunities, not to mention your freedom. Contacting an experienced defense attorney is critical to minimizing the damage.Reckless Driving Defenses
If you are arrested for reckless driving in Fort Lauderdale, there are a number of possible defenses we may raise. These include:
- Defendant was not the actual driver;
- Defendant was acting in a manner that was merely careless or negligent, not willful or wanton disregard;
- There were no persons or property nearby to endanger;
- Witnesses in the case are unreliable;
- Police allegations are unsupported by in-cruiser video;
- Witnesses contradict statements made by prosecutors;
- Charge is based exclusively on excessive speed allegation.
Generally speaking, excessive speed on its own is not grounds for prosecutors to prevail on a reckless driving charge. That’s been the ruling by at least three different appellate courts in Florida. For example, in House v. State, a 2002 ruling by the Fla. 2nd DCA, it was decided a driver traveling 60 mph in a 30 mph zone and then slammed his brakes just before hitting another car was not guilty of reckless driving.
However, if you’re excessively speeding in addition to some other infraction, such as improper passing, driving through a crowded residential area, not keeping a proper lookout for pedestrians, driving drunk or ignoring a stop sign, then you could be convicted of reckless operation.
If you have been charged with reckless operation, you need a good defense lawyer.
Contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (954) 761-4011.