Can You Go to Jail for Driving Too Fast?

In July 2014, a writer for an automotive website spent three days in jail after he was caught speeding while he test drove a new Camaro. Patrick George of Jalopnik.com was caught going 93 mph in a 55 mph zone on a rural road during a press event. A rep from GM rep was riding shotgun. George later said that the new Camaro ZL1 he was driving is "obscenely, unbelievably fast" The supercharged V-8 engine "makes the new Corvette Stingray — certainly no slouch in that department — feel like the piece of s*%! Honda Civic you drove in college."

In an August 2014 article, George described his ordeal. The road where he was stopped was not near any schools or towns, and he got along well with the trooper that pulled him over. In a briefing before the test drive the PR rep from GM described the prescribed route we'd be driving on. Although his employers don't encourage his to break the law he, had had a brand new car with crazy performance specs. He felt compelled to push the car to do what it is designed to do. He did what a lot of us have done.

Mr. George expected a big fine and a lecture. Instead he got one day in jail for every mph over 90. Once in jail his cell mates were drug offenders and felons waiting to be shipped to higher security prisons. One fellow inmate was there because he strangled his girlfriend. He described what jail is like for a person that doesn't expect to be there

"To answer your inevitable questions right away, I didn't get raped. I didn't get my ass kicked (that does happen in jail but it didn't happen to me)....My jail experience sucked just fine on its own. You might think you can just wait it out, like you're stuck at an airport, but it's not like that at all. There's nothing nice about being confined somewhere, cut off from the outside world."

Jail Just for Speeding?

YES! A colleague once told me about his client with a spotless record that was pulled over for driving 100 mph. After the traffic stop, police searched his car and found a small amount of cocaine. That driver ended up doing more time for the driving offense then for the schedule one drug possession. Virginia courts make special provisions for first-time drug larceny or even domestic violence offenders. There are no such provisions for reckless driving.

In Virginia reckless driving is a class one misdemeanor. That means up to 12 months in jail. Any driving speed 20 miles over the limit or any driving over 80 mph is reckless driving. Almost every jurisdiction in Virginia will consider jail time for speeds over 100 mph. Many will consider jail for speeds 30 miles over any speed limit.

"But I Have a Good Driving Record"

A good or even perfect driving record will not save you. Your driving history does matter. If you have a bad driving history your chances of going to jail are much higher when you're driving at excessive speeds. Still, even drivers with good records are sent to jail for speeds in excess of 90 mph.

"But I Have a Family and I've Never Been in Trouble Before"

Being a professional or never having been to jail before also will not save you. Some judges and prosecutors seem to revel in the idea that imposing jail term for a good citizen's driving behavior will deter other drivers from speeding. In 2013 I sat in court and watched (not my client) a doctor and father of three children get 5 days in jail for driving 115 mph in a rural highway in southwestern Virginia.

"What Should I Do?"

A person charged with reckless driving for extremely high speeds needs to very quickly contact an attorney. Good legal strategies can lessen the impact of one of these driving offenses. Judges and prosecutors will recognize certain actions as proactive. These actions do not guarantee a painless result but they give the driver a greater chance of avoiding incarceration.

There are a number of tactics available. First, go to defensive driving school before court. Virginia has several extreme defensive driving classes that are recognized by judges. Second, performing community service prior to a court appearance will be viewed as reflective of contrition. Third, calibration of the subject vehicle's speedometer is helpful. A report from a calibration expert will not be enough to convince a judge that a driver was not speeding. However each mile over the speed limit counts. 95 versus 90 can be the difference between jail or a fine.

The last line of defense in a reckless driving case is appeal and possible demand for a jury. Some prosecutors will make concessions in order to avoid having to explain to a circuit court judge why they have wasted an entire day of resources and the courts time empaneling a jury on a speeding offense. If a reckless driving case does go to trial by jury, jurors are less inclined to incarcerate a person for a behavior as innocuous as speeding.

The lesson here is that in Virginia, reckless driving is no joke. If you are charged with a non-pre-payable speeding violation you should immediately contact Vaughan C. Jones, Attorney at Law.

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