If you were charged with Reckless Driving Generally because you were in a car accident, there is case law that holds that the mere happening of an accident does not automatically equal reckless driving. Namely, in the case of Powers v. Commonwealth, 117 S.E.2d 628, 211 Va. 386 (1970), the Supreme Court of Virginia held that "the mere happening of an accident does not give rise to an inference of reckless driving."
In Powers, the defendant’s car traveled in an erratic course for more than 900 feet and struck a tree with such force that the motor was wrenched from the defendant's vehicle and the defendant was thrown from his vehicle and injured. Despite these facts, the court stated that this did not create an inference of reckless driving because there was no evidence of how and why the accident happened. The court stated that the momentum of the vehicle and its erratic course could have been attributed to other causes and, because of that, the evidence leaves much to speculation and conjecture and does not exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. As a result, the court dismissed the Reckless Driving ticket against the defendant in Powers.
The Powers case establishes the law that just because you were in an accident does not automatically mean that you were reckless driving. Instead, the police officer needs to prove that your driving behavior was in fact reckless.
Furthermore, in the case of Cady v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1595-19-4, Court of Appeals of Virginia (2020), the Court of Appeals of Virginia extended and clarified the law established in Powers. This case is fresh off the press in 2020. The court in Cady held that the police officer not only needs to prove that your driving behavior was in fact reckless (as required by Powers), the police officer needs to prove that you had actual knowledge of the danger and then chose to disregard that danger. The significance of this case is that the Court of Appeals of Virginia clarifies that there is in fact a mens rea requirement (i.e., an “intent” requirement) to prove a Reckless Driving Generally case.
In Cady, the defendant — on a clear day while driving 2 mph above the posted speed limit with no erratic driving or distractions — rammed into the back of a motorcycle that was stopped, killing the driver of the motorcycle. The court held that although the defendant should have known of the danger, the crime of Reckless Driving requires proof that the defendant had actual knowledge of the danger. The evidence in Cady showed that the defendant did not see the motorcycle, to no fault of his own. The defendant was not speeding, was not driving erratically (weaving, etc.), was not intoxicated, and was not distracted inside his vehicle. Based on that, the court held that the defendant did not have actual knowledge of the danger because the defendant’s own driving behavior did not create danger. For that reason, the court dismissed the Reckless Driving ticket against the defendant in Cady.
The Cady case establishes the law that it is not enough if the police officer merely proves that you “should have known” of the danger and then chose to disregard it — the police officer needs to prove that you had “actual knowledge” of the danger and then chose to disregard it.
Be safe out there!
By Attorney Michael Huff