The answer is YES! You do need an attorney to defend against a reckless driving charge. A reckless driving charge is not just a glorified traffic infraction, it is a criminal misdemeanor charge. In Virginia, traffic laws are very tough. Being found guilty of reckless driving means that you will have a Class 1 misdemeanor, the most severe misdemeanor charge you can get in Virginia.
The judge can give you:
- Up to ONE YEAR in jail. (I don’t want to scare you into thinking that jail time is likely in every situation. Click here to read about the likelihood of jail time for reckless driving.)
- A fine of up to $2,500.00. (Click here to read about the likely fine if convicted.)
- A suspended license for up to 6 months
A conviction will also result in a six (6) point reduction on your DMV record and could potentially increase your insurance premiums. Many insurance providers treat a reckless driving conviction like a DUI conviction and your insurance premium could go up for three or more years. A conviction might hurt your chances of obtaining employment at certain places, could affect your Commercial Driver’s License, and could result in increased sentencing guidelines should you ever be charged with future offenses in Virginia or another state.
This is why courts will make you sign a waiver saying that you are willing to be tried without an attorney before they hear your reckless driving case. The American Bar Association explains the law in Virginia:
“Absent a knowing and intelligent waiver of counsel, no person may be imprisoned for a criminal offense without the assistance of counsel.” (The Spangenberg Group, A Comprehensive Review of Indigent Defense in Virginia, January 2004, available here.)
If you sign the waiver, you can be imprisoned for a criminal offense without the assistance of counsel. The court wants proof that you understand how serious a reckless driving charge is and what you are giving up. If you are unwilling to sign the waiver, the court can proceed with trying a case if the prosecution or the court does not wish to impose a jail sentence (see Va. Code § 19.2-160). In that instance, you can still be tried and found guilty of a criminal misdemeanor charge for reckless driving without a court appointed attorney. A judge could still revoke your license for six months without offering you a court appointed attorney. If the court offers you a court appointed attorney, it is likely that you are going to jail if you are found guilty of reckless driving.