If you are convicted of reckless driving in the General District Court, you have ten calendar days from your conviction date to note an appeal. It does not matter if you missed your hearing and were tried in your absence or if you appeared with or without counsel at the General District Court. You still have a right to appeal. If you appeal your conviction on time, your case will be reheard in the Circuit Court, where you will get a trial ‘de novo.’ This means you will get a brand new trial in front of a new judge, who will not care what happened in the lower court. A Circuit Court will not consider an appeal if it is filed after the 10 calendar day window. But if you file within the 10 day window, your appeal will be granted as a matter of right. Before noting your appeal however, you should talk to a traffic defense attorney to make sure you understand the risks involved. It is possible that the new judge in Circuit Court will give you a harsher sentence than what you received in General District Court. So there may be risks in taking a second bite at the apple.
If you have noted your appeal in the General District Court, you can withdraw your appeal within that same 10 day window you had to note your appeal without incurring any additional costs for appealing. But once that ten day window is up, your case file will be sent up to the Circuit Court. You can still withdraw your appeal from the Circuit Court at a later time before the new trial, but there will be court costs for the Circuit Court having had to touch your file. Withdrawing an appeal is an option some drivers use when there is a jail sentence assigned to a reckless driving charge and they want to serve the jail time later. In jurisdictions like Virginia Beach, when you note your appeal of a reckless driving charge in the General District Court you will be notified by the clerk of a new trial date set in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court. In Norfolk, when you note your appeal of a reckless driving charge in General District Court, you will be notified of a court date in Norfolk Circuit Court when you will need to appear to set a trial date.
Another option for having a case undone is to file a motion to reopen your case in the General District Court. The window for this option is 60 days from your date of conviction. A judge in the General District Court, usually the one who heard your case originally, will consider whether he should grant the motion to reopen your case. (General District Court judges don’t like to step on each other’s toes.) The judge has considerable discretion on whether or not to grant the motion to reopen. Sixty days to file the motion to reopen may seem like a long time, but it is discretionary, as opposed to the appeal option, so it is not wise to count on a motion to reopen to undo your conviction.
So in summary, a right of appeal or the motion to reopen option may be available to you if you were unhappy with the outcome of your General District Court trial. I would be glad to speak with you concerning the benefits of each option and the risks of having your case reheard. Don’t please wait until the last minute because you don’t want to miss your window of opportunity.