When you get behind the wheel of a car in Texas, you assume a responsibility to drive with caution and care. If you drive in a way that puts others in harm's way, you could face criminal charges for reckless driving. In Texas, reckless driving is a serious offense that can carry harsh criminal consequences. If you're convicted, you could be sentenced to time behind bars and even lose your driver's license for a period of time.
If you've recently been arrested for reckless driving in Houston or elsewhere in Texas, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C., to schedule a free case evaluation with our skilled legal team. We will review the details of your situation, determine the best strategy for your defense, and address any questions you may have.
What is Reckless Driving?
In Texas, reckless driving is defined in Transportation Code §545.401 to mean driving a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” This is a fairly broad definition that could capture a wide range of behaviors, ranging from speeding to driving aggressively to driving while distracted.
Examples of reckless driving could include:
- Driving at a speed significantly over the limit
- Texting and driving
- Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Weaving in and out of lanes (with or without the use of turning signals)
- Street racing
- Passing over a double yellow line on a highway
- Driving the wrong way down the road
- Failing to yield the right of way to other cars, bicycles, or pedestrians
- Attempting to “beat” yellow lights at an intersection
- Running stop signs, and
- Failing to stop for a stopped school bus.
Wilful or Wanton Disregard
It's important to remember that you can only be convicted for reckless driving if the state can prove that your actions were willful and/or wanton. If your actions were merely negligent, you cannot be convicted for the crime of reckless driving.
How can you know if your actions were reckless, rather than negligent? In Texas, reckless behavior “requires a conscious choice of a course of action, either with knowledge of the serious danger to others...or with knowledge which would disclose this danger to any reasonable man.”
Put another way, you may display a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others if you knew, or should have known, that your actions would likely result in harm.
Public vs. Private Property
In Texas, reckless driving is not necessarily limited to public roads. It is possible to be charged with reckless driving, even if you were on private property. According to §545.401, you can face charges for reckless driving if you display dangerous behavior while driving on:
- A highway or other public place, or
- A private access way or business parking area (other than a fee-based parking garage or lot).
Texas state law explicitly states that you cannot face charges for reckless driving if you are on the private residential property.
In other words, you can face charges for reckless driving if you are on a public road or other space that is private but open to the general public.
Defending Reckless Driving Charges in Houston
If you've been charged with the crime of reckless driving, the state will have to prove that you are guilty of each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Hiring an attorney to lead your defense will make it difficult for the state to satisfy its burden of proof.
There are two primary ways to defend charges for reckless driving.
The first strategy involves attacking the prosecution's case as well as the validity of any evidence it may have. Remember, you can only be convicted if the state can prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Casting any doubt as to your guilt can prevent the state from satisfying its burden of proof. If the state believes it may not be able to win, it may be inclined to offer a plea or drop the charges.
Examples of defenses that may fall under this first strategy include:
- The state gathered evidence against you in violation of your Constitutional rights.
- Your actions were merely negligent, not reckless.
- You have been falsely accused or mistakenly identified.
- Your conduct did not put anyone or anything in harm's way.
The second strategy involves the presentation of arguments that can justify, excuse, and/or explain your behavior. Affirmative defenses can be used to negate criminal liability for actions that are typically illegal. When you argue an affirmative defense, you admit to violating the law, but offer a justification for your actions.
Affirmative defenses that may be helpful in defending reckless driving charges include:
- Mistake of fact (e.g., you were honestly and reasonably mistaken about the speed limit)
- Necessity (e.g., you were speeding and driving aggressively because you were rushing a loved one to the hospital for immediate and necessary medical treatment), and
- Self-defense or defense of others (e.g., you were driving to evade an imminent threat of harm).
The defense that is best suited for you will depend on the specific details of your case. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Law Firm, P.C. to schedule a free case evaluation with our Houston criminal defense attorneys. As your attorneys, we will thoroughly investigate your alleged crime and determine the best legal strategy to minimize the consequences of your arrest.
Consequences of a Reckless Driving Conviction
There are two types of consequences you can expect if you are convicted of reckless driving: (1) criminal sentencing; and (2) collateral consequences.
Criminal Consequences of Reckless Driving
Reckless driving is one of the few driving offenses that carry criminal consequences. In Texas, reckless driving is classified as a hybrid misdemeanor offense. The range of penalties sits somewhere between those for a Class C Misdemeanor and a Class B Misdemeanor. The more serious your reckless driving offense, the harsher the consequences will be. This is particularly true if you are also cited for DWI or drag racing at the time of your arrest.
If you are convicted of reckless driving, your criminal sentence may include:
- A maximum of 30 days in jail, and/or
- A fine of up to $200.
Since reckless driving is a motor vehicle offense, additional consequences of a conviction may include:
- Points on your driving record
- The suspension and/or revocation of your Texas driver's license
- Community service
- Restitution to victim(s)
- Traffic school
- Court-ordered counseling and/or treatment
- Increased car insurance rates and premiums
- Loss of car insurance coverage, and/or
- Civil liability for harm caused to another person or property.
Collateral Consequences of Reckless Driving
The potential consequences of reckless driving do not end with jail time and fines. If you are convicted of reckless driving in Houston, you can also face significant collateral consequences. Collateral consequences are social and civil penalties that not necessarily directly linked to your crime. Instead, they can exist simply because you have a criminal record.
Collateral consequences of a reckless driving conviction in Houston can include:
- Loss of a job, if driving was a necessary component of your employment
- Difficulty finding gainful employment
- Difficulty taking care of your family, due to travel limitations caused by the loss of your license;
- Inability to secure employment in certain industries (e.g., healthcare, education, government); and
- Adverse child custody decisions.
The best way to minimize the likelihood of facing these (and other) consequences is by aggressively defending yourself against criminal charges. Contact Houston criminal defense lawyer Doug Murphy to find out how he can help you fight to protect your future.
Houston Criminal Defense Attorney
Have you recently been arrested for reckless driving in Houston? If so, you need the help of an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney. Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas attorneys Board Certified simultaneously in criminal law and DWI defense. He understands that a reckless driving conviction threatens your future and is prepared to help you minimize the consequences of your arrest.
As your attorney, Doug Murphy will thoroughly investigate your alleged crime, determine where the state's case against you is weakest, and prepare a custom legal strategy for your defense. This aggressive approach to your defense will increase the odds of securing the best possible outcome in your criminal case. Call today to schedule your free consultation and learn more.