If you have been charged with either Reckless or Careless Driving in Washtenaw County, it's important to know what the prosecution must prove. If charged with either offense, most jurisdictions will offer a plea to a lesser charge, but if the prosecution cannot prove the charge, why should you plea? You should not plea to either offense if facing a weak case, because both crimes carry substantial driving sanctions for your Michigan driver’s license license. If charged with reckless or careless driving, and you are not offered a plea then you should most certainly challenge the charge. These two offenses can have a major impact on your driver's license, and could sink you financially.
Like any other offense in Washtenaw County, a client charged with either offense is proactive from day one. It’s important to explore what caused these alleged offenses to occur, and to address any concerns. I’ve worked with clients who have fallen asleep at the wheel or had a medical emergency, but were still charged with these offenses. Beyond showing the prosecutor and judge what happened, it’s also about addressing the question: will it happen again?
Along with addressing underlying issues, there’s also an opportunity to show a prosecutor and judge that the client has learned from the incident, and moving forward will be a better and safer driver. This usually means exploring driver improvement/safe driving courses, which can not only make you a better driver, but shows the prosecutor and judge that you proactively sought this out, and you’re generally as concerned as they are about the alleged bad driving.
With all “erratic” driving offenses in Michigan, you need to overcome the “asshole factor”. As a former prosecutor, anytime I handled a case of someone charged with driving “erratically” on the highway, I reflected on my own experience of being annoyed by a driver, who I thought was driving like an asshole. I was not exactly willing to cut this person a break, because I made a general assumption about their case.
From being in the position of stereotyping these drivers, I created a proactive plan for my clients to overcome that assumption. If back in my day as a prosecutor, an attorney came to me and showed the client had no prior driving offenses, this was an isolated incident, and the client has already addressed any concerns about poor driving by proactively completing a driver improvement class, I would be willing to dismiss and/or reduce charges. Nobody ever did that, so I do it now, and it works. Here are more specific breakdowns of the two offenses, and what a prosecutor must prove in court:
To found guilty of this offense, the prosecution must show that you were driving a car on a road open to the public or generally accessible to cars, including a parking lot, and you drove the car in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. "Willful or wanton disregard" means more than simple carelessness but does not require proof of an intent to cause harm. It means knowingly disregarding the possible risks to the safety of people or property.
This offense is a 90-day misdemeanor and carries many of the same license implications, fines and costs of a drunk driving offense. If convicted of this offense, six points would be added to your license.
The prosecution will attempt to prove this charge with testimony of your driving including speed, along with the the road conditions. If there is evidence of intoxication, the prosecution will be allowed to introduce this evidence; the jury may factor this into the decision whether there was a "willful or wanton disregard" for the safety or persons or property, but this alone is not enough for a conviction.
One way to defeat a reckless driving charge is to show an error in judgment on the part of the charged driver to explain the erratic driving, which creates reasonable doubt as "willful or wanton disregard". Let's say you're observed switching lanes, which causes an accident, and you're charged with reckless driving - well if the other car was in your blind spot, then this may be merely negligence on your part, not willful disregard.
Careless Driving requires the prosecution to prove you drove in a careless, imprudent or negligent manner. Reckless requires you intentionally drove in a certain manner, whereas Careless doesn’t look to your willful disregard but rather the results of your driving.
Careless driving carries the possibility of three points on your license, but it is not a misdemeanor, and carries no possible jail time. The fines, costs and license implications are less severe than Reckless Driving.
A careless driving case has a lower burden for the prosecution. Depending on the facts in your case, it's possible that the other driver was at fault, or your driving decision was out of necessity such as to avoid another car, a pot hole or any other reasonable explanation.
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