The laws on negligent driving are complex and can be difficult to understand. The offense ofnegligent driving first degree is a misdemeanor with a punishment of up to 90 days in jail, and $1000 fine. Negligent driving second degree is an infraction with a penalty of $250 plus other costs.
NEGLIGENT DRIVING FIRST DEGREE
Negligent driving in the first degree is a criminal offense in Washington State. The elements of the offense are 1) that a person operated a motor vehicle in a negligent manner, and endangered or was likely to endanger persons or property, and 2) the driver exhibits the effects of having consumed alcohol or an illegal drug. “Exhibiting the effects of alcohol” means that the person has the odor of alcohol on their breath, or that by their speech, appearance, manner, behavior, lack of coordination, or otherwise exhibits that they have consumed liquor. Additionally there must also be proof that the person was in possession of alcohol or liquor or was in close proximity to a container that recently had alcohol in it; or was shown by other evidence to have recently consumed alcohol. As a person can see, the elements of this offense can be very complicated.
NEGLIGENT DRIVING FIRST DEGREE – DRUGS
A person can also commit the offense by driving negligently while “exhibiting the effects of having consumed an illegal drug.” This means that a person, by speech, behavior, manner, lack of coordination, appearance, or otherwise, exhibits that he or she has consumed an illegal drug. There is the additional requirement that there be proof that the person was in possession of an illegal drug; or was shown by other evidence to have recently consumed the illegal drug. An “illegal drug” is a controlled substance or legend drug for which the driver does not have a valid prescription or that is not being consumed in accordance with the prescription.
NEGLIGENT DRIVING IN THE SECOND DEGREE
Negligent driving in the 2nd degree is a traffic infraction. As with any infraction, the only punishment is a fine, and a person cannot be put in jail for such an offense. This is true even if a person has a substantial record of prior offenses. For an infraction, a person has no right to a jury trial or a defense attorney at public expense. Often the primary concern on such a ticket is an increase in insurance rates.
WHAT IS “NEGLIGENT” DRIVING?
“Negligent” means the failure of a driver to exercise ordinary care, and is the commission of some act that a reasonably careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances. Negligence can also be based on the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances. Criminal defense lawyers often see this offense alleged when there is an allegation of excessive speed, inattention to driving, or falling asleep. In Washington, the charges sometimes stem from an automobile accident although proof of a collision is certainly not required. Cases sometimes involve an allegation that a person drove too fast on snowy or icy roads during the winter months. Snow and ice can also result in tickets for Speed Too Fast For Conditions. “Negligence” should be contrasted with “reckless driving” which involves a greater risk to persons or property.
NEGLIGENT DRIVING AND DUI
Sometimes a charge of negligent driving (1st or 2nd degree) is charged along with the offense ofDUI. Under the Washington court rules, these double charges are usually permitted. This typically would not violate the double jeopardy clause. Negligent driving in the first degree is a common charge that DUI is amended down to as a result of a plea bargain. This is particularly true when the DUI breath test result is not very high, and when the defendant does not have any priors. For DUI convictions in Washington State, there is always a mandatory jail sentence, but there is no such mandatory minimum for convictions for negligent driving in the first degree. Additionally, for DUI, the probationary period is 5 years, but for negligent driving 1st degree convictions, the probationary period can be no more than 2 years. Whether or not a person should accept a plea deal for negligent driving depends on the facts of the case. This is something a person needs to discuss with their criminal lawyer after considering all the issues going in on their case. Obviously the best-case scenario is a dismissal, or “not guilty” verdict, and such a result should be the top priority of the defense attorney. If a person pleads guilty to negligent driving 1st degree after having been originally charged with DUI, that conviction will count as an alcohol related prior offense if they go to court again for another DUI. People convicted of DUI find that they have difficulty entering Canada, and the same is often true for people convicted of negligent driving in the first degree.
NEGLIGENT DRIVING AND YOUR DRIVERS LICENSE
For the charge of negligent driving 2nd degree, there is no required license suspension with the Department of Licensing. This is also true of the charge of negligent driving in the first degree. However, if a person is convicted of negligent driving in the first degree, DOL will require a driver to have an ignition interlock device installed on his or her car if the driver has any prior alcohol-related offenses.
Under Washington law, reckless driving is defined as driving a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. Courts have interpreted this statute to include circumstances when a person puts themselves at risk. It is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of $5,000. Reckless driving is an arrestable offense, and many people stopped by the police for this crime are handcuffed and taken to jail. When the police allege that racing or “road rage” occurred, they will issue a ticket for reckless driving. A person convicted of reckless driving will need to obtain SR-22 or “high risk” insurance.
RECKLESS DRIVING – EXCESSIVE SPEED
A lot of Washington reckless driving charges are based on an allegation of excessive speed. It is not uncommon for the Washington State Patrol to arrest drivers for reckless driving for going over 90 miles per hour on interstate 5 and 205 in Clark County, Cowlitz County, or Highway 14 in Skamania County. In the past, prosecuting attorneys were able to have juries instructed that they can infer recklessness based on excessive speed alone. However, such instructions have been ruled unconstitutional. When determining if traveling at high speed amounts to reckless driving, jurors often look at the weather conditions, lighting conditions, the type of car, and how many other vehicles were on the road. What might be reckless on state route 503 might not amount to recklessness on I-5. Speaking on a cell phone can be a contributing factor.
HOW RECKLESS DRIVING RELATES TO OTHER CHARGES
Sometimes a charge of reckless driving is the result of a plea bargain in a DUI case. Under new state statute, if a person is convicted of reckless driving (that is plead down from DUI), he or she must install an ignition interlock device on his or her car. When a defendant is charged with a more serious crime such as vehicular assault or felony eluding, the defense attorney might request that the jury be able to consider the lesser charge of reckless driving. However, under new court precedents, this is harder and harder to do. When a person is charged with reckless driving, the defense lawyer will often attempt to get the charge reduced down to negligent driving 2nd degree.
The Law Office of Erin Bradley McAleer will fight to ensure that you achieve the best possible outcome in your court case. Call attorney Erin Bradley McAleer today at (360) 334-6277 to schedule an immediate confidential free consultation.
Washington Attorney Erin Bradley McAleer represents clients throughout Southwest Washington State, including in Clark County, Cowlitz County, and Skamania County and Vancouver, Battle Ground, Camas, La Center, Ridgefield, Washougal, Woodland, Yacolt, Castle Rock,Kalama, Kelso, Longview, North Bonneville, and Stevenson. Attorney Erin Bradley McAleer focuses on the areas of Criminal Defense, Traffic Infractions, Landlord Tenant, Personal Injury, Firearm Rights Restoration, and Post-Conviction Relief (Vacating & Sealing Criminal Records).