Reckless Operation of a Motor Vehicle
Reckless operation of a motor vehicle is a serious offense that carries a license suspension and the possibility of jail time.Elements of Reckless Operation of a Motor Vehicle
In order to convict a defendant of reckless operation of a motor vehicle, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:
- Operated a motor vehicle;
- On a public way;
- In a reckless fashion.
The first two elements are ordinarily easy to prove – the Commonwealth must establish that the defendant was driving (or otherwise in control of) the car and that the operation occurred on a public way (any road maintained by the local, state, or federal government). Therefore, the disputed element is generally whether the defendant operated his or her car recklessly.
Recklessness occurs when the defendant ignores the fact that his or her manner of driving is very likely to result in death or serious injury to someone or the defendant is indifferent to whether someone is killed or seriously injured. Evidence of mere negligence, without more, is insufficient for the defendant to be convicted of reckless operation. In determining whether a defendant was reckless in these cases, juries are instructed to consider the defendant’s rate of speed and manner of operation, the defendant’s physical condition and how well he or she could see and control the vehicle, the condition of the defendant’s vehicle, the type of road being driven, the time of day, the weather, and whether there were other people on the road with the defendant. Each of these considerations would be subject to aggressive cross-examination at trial.
A car accident is not necessary for a defendant to be convicted of reckless operation, as the sole issue is whether the defendant ignored, or was indifferent to, the possibility of someone being killed or seriously injured as a result of his or her operation. If there was an accident, the defendant is not necessarily guilty of recklessness. In the case of an accident, the jury is instructed to examine all of the evidence concerning how the accident happened in order to determine (1) whether the defendant was at fault and, if so, (2) whether the defendant’s conduct rose to recklessness.
If a driver is charged with reckless operation of a motor vehicle and there was no car accident, the basis of the charges will usually be a police officer’s observation that the defendant was driving in an unsafe manner. Police officers routinely come to court to testify that drivers were reckless because they were speeding, weaving through traffic, inappropriately passing other motorists, or swerving over the double yellow line. Attorney Spring’s argument to rebut the police officer’s testimony is that drivers operate erratically for a lot of different reasons. Momentary distractions caused by other drivers, the weather, or the ringing of a cell phone can lead to swerving, speeding, or other minor traffic infractions. If the prosecutor cannot prove that the defendant willfully ignored or was indifferent to the dangers inherent in his bad driving, then the defendant is entitled to be found not guilty.