It is always best to beat a reckless driving charge in General District Court, rather than have to appeal it to the Circuit Court. Appealing a case will often cost you more: there will be additional fees required by your attorney if you hire one and higher court costs in the Circuit Court if you are convicted of reckless driving. Still, there will be situations where I counsel my client to appeal the outcome of the General District Court and exercise his or her right to a new or “de novo” trial in Circuit Court.
Sometimes I find that the penalty imposed by a judge in the GDC are harsher than normal. In some jurisdictions there is a greater disparity between what different judges of the GDC will do. One judge may give a driver 10 days of jail while another may give only 2 days. Perhaps my client can get less jail time or a shorter duration on a suspended license in the Circuit Court. Other times my client may be on the border of when mercy would be extended and he or she has a shot of avoiding a reckless driving conviction altogether if we face the right judge or prosecutor in Circuit Court. The issue becomes whether or not is it worth our time and effort to try for a better result.
Other than additional expenses, the risks can be quite low. A General District Court judge usually requires bond of some sort if he ordered jail time. If you don’t have the money, you’ll need to pay a bail bondsman. In General District Court, prosecutors are usually not assigned to reckless driving cases. But on appeal, prosecutors are usually assigned to the case. This creates an atmosphere where you may get a better result in the Circuit Court. Prosecutors are usually familiar with the norm of their jurisdiction. Often I can explain to the prosecutor that we had this or that outcome in GDC and the prosecutor will agree to negotiate a better deal. The availability of a prosecutor may mean that we can plea bargain and reach a deal.
If we are unable to reach an agreement that my client is happy with, my client can either withdraw his appeal or have the new judge decide the case. If the case is tried in Circuit Court, the judge may impose a harsher penalty than what happened in the GDC, since he or she technically doesn’t care what happened in GDC. Therefore, it is important to speak with an attorney about the potential risks before “rolling the dice” in Circuit Court.