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Reckless Driving In Michigan: Legal Grounds and Penalties

Reckless driving in michigan legal grounds and penalties

Most people mistakenly believe that reckless driving is a civil infraction punishable by a fine like any other speeding ticket. In reality, reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense (or a felony offense depending on the circumstances) and can result in probation, incarceration and license sanctions. A reckless driving charge is no laughing matter and every Michigan driver should be armed with the right information to know what type of conduct is covered.

An individual is guilty of reckless driving in Michigan, contrary to MCL 257.626(2), if the prosecutor can prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (See Model Criminal Jury Instruction 15.15):

  • First, that the individual drove a motor vehicle on a highway, frozen public lake, stream or pond, or other place open to the public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including a designated parking area. The term “highway” includes the entire area between the boundary lines of a publicly maintained roadway that is open for automobile travel, but does not include private roads or private driveways. See People v Bartel, 213 Mich App 726; 540 NW2d 491 (1995).
  • Second, that the individual drove the motor vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. “Willful or wanton disregard” means more than simple carelessness but does not require proof of an intent to cause harm. It means knowingly disregarding the possible risks to the safety of people or property.

The penalties for reckless driving are as follows:

  • For a reckless driving offense contrary to MCL 257.626(2), the penalty is a misdemeanor conviction punishable by:
  1. A fine up to $500.00, or up to 93 days in jail, or both.
  2. Driver’s License is suspended for 90 days with no hardship appeal (for a second or subsequent offense, driver’s license is revoked for one to five years).
  3. 6 points added to your Michigan driving record.
  4. Driver Responsibility Fee of $500.00 for two consecutive years (will be eliminated and forgiven by October 1st, 2018).
  • If the reckless driving causes serious impairment of a body function to another person, contrary to MCL 257.626(3), the penalty is a felony conviction punishable by:
  1. A fine between $1,000.00 to $5,000.00, or imprisonment up to 5 years, or both.
  2. Driver’s License is revoked for one to five years.
  3. Commercial Driver’s License is suspended for one year.
  4. 6 points added to your Michigan driving record.
  5. Vehicle immobilization or vehicle forfeiture.
  6. Driver Responsibility Fee of $500.00 for two consecutive years (will be eliminated and forgiven by October 1st, 2018).
  • If the reckless driving causes the death of another person, contrary to MCL 257.626(4), the penalty is a felony conviction punishable by:
  1. A fine between $2,500.00 to $10,000.00, or imprisonment up to 15 years, or both.
  2. Driver’s License is revoked for one to five years.
  3. Commercial Driver’s License is suspended for one year.
  4. 6 points added to your Michigan driving record.
  5. Vehicle immobilization or vehicle forfeiture.
  6. Driver Responsibility Fee of $500.00 for two consecutive years (will be eliminated and forgiven by October 1st, 2018).
  • NOTE: In a prosecution for reckless driving causing death, the jury cannot be instructed to consider the lesser offense of moving violation causing death.

Reckless driving covers a wide range of conduct that could be committed on the road. The following court cases are examples of driving behavior that resulted in criminal liability:

  • People v Burris, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued October 23rd, 2007 (Docket No. 271790) – The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a conviction for reckless driving where the defendant, after receiving two citations from a police officer, drove off at a speed of 100 miles per hour on 8 Mile Road in Oakland County and forced a pedestrian to “dance” around him to avoid being hit. This behavior supported the jury’s verdict that the defendant engaged in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
  • People v Evans, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued August 20th, 2015 (Docket No. 320836) – The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a conviction for reckless driving causing death where the defendant made a U-turn to follow a victim, the victim said “punch it” and took off at a high rate of speed, and the defendant engaged in a race with the victim until she lost control of the vehicle and hit a tree. Defendant challenged that he was not the cause of the crash, but the appellate court found that the collision would not have occurred if the defendant did not engage in horseplay with the victim (thus, he was the proximate cause of the death and injuries).

  • People v Durocher, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued December 22nd, 2015 (Docket No. 322900) – The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a conviction for reckless driving causing death where the defendant operated a logging semi-truck that had a braking system only at 50% capacity and drove through an intersection. The prosecutor had presented evidence through an expert witness that the defendant only applied brakes when he was 61 feet from the intersection (a poor decision given the weight of the vehicle and the state of the brakes) and also presented evidence of the defendant’s cell phone sending or receiving phone calls or text messages around the time of the accident.
  • People v Nelson, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued January 12, 2016 (Docket No. 323685) – The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a conviction for reckless driving causing where the defendant was driving at dangerously, excessive speeds while repeatedly, aggressively and intentionally hitting the side of the victim’s van, eventually causing it to run off the road and crash into a cement wall. The fact the victim was also driving recklessly DOES NOT mean that the defendant was not the cause of the crash.
  • People v Carll, 322 Mich App 690 (2018) – The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a conviction for reckless driving where the defendant drove his pick-up truck on a gravel road at 30-40 mph and ultimately drove through a stop sign without slowing down to strike another vehicle having the right of way. The evidence was sufficient due to the damage from the high rate of speed and the testimony from a passenger in the pick-up truck that the driver was trying to “gun through” the stop sign.

On July 20th, 2018, former Michigan State University men’s strength coach Todd Moyer was found guilty of two counts of reckless driving causing death by a Monroe County jury where his pickup truck rear-ended a car in a construction zone that killed a mother and her child. The prosecutor presented evidence at trial that, in the minutes leading up to the crash, the defendant was texting on his cell phone. This texting behavior created a “willful and wanton disregard” to persons and property that, in the eyes of the jury, elevated this event from a mere traffic accident to a criminal felony conviction. He ultimately received a sentence of 7 to 15 years in state prison.

Reckless driving is not a trivial matter and requires the assistance of a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to help defend against this difficult offense. If you or a loved one is charged with reckless driving or any other traffic offense, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC.

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