I’m often asked by clients why the police have charged them with certain traffic or criminal charges. Unfortunately, that’s a difficult question to answer. However, the thing to keep in mind is that the prosecutor has the burden of proving the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The driver who is charged has no burden. Cops who charge people with reckless driving have determined that the driver’s conduct “fits” the definition of the charge (or at least that’s their opinion anyway). In other words, the cop has made a determination that he/she has probable cause to charge the driver.
Reckless driving is no doubt a serious charge. It’s 8 points against a driver’s license, it’s a criminal charge, and it’s a habitual traffic offender charge. A driver in Colorado may be charged with Reckless Driving under the state statute or a similar municipal code section. State statute Reckless Driving charges are heard by the county court where the alleged bad driving occurred. These charges are prosecuted by the district attorney’s office for the corresponding county. Whereas, municipal code Reckless Driving charges are brought forth by the city or town prosecutor where the alleged violation occurred and are typically prosecuted under the Model Traffic Code- adopted by the particular municipal court.
Reckless driving is a Class 2 misdemeanor criminal traffic offense under the state statute. The penalty ranges from a minimum of 10 days in jail up to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a fine of $150 up to a maximum of $300. Both a jail and fine may be imposed. Additionally, 8-points will be assessed against a driver’s DMV record. Under the state statute, a district attorney would have to prove that the driver drove a motor vehicle with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. Bicycles, electrical assisted bicycles, and low-power scooters also qualify under the reckless driving statute. Reckless driving is often charged in cases when there is an accident, when a high speed is alleged, where drag racing is alleged, when hit-and-run is alleged, and where aggressive driving is alleged.
The possible penalty for reckless driving is even greater in most municipal courts throughout Colorado. For example, in Greenwood Village Municipal Court, reckless driving is punishable by a possible penalty of $2650 and up to 180 days in jail. 8-points are also assessed against a driver’s record in municipal court. In Commerce City Municipal Court, reckless driving carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and a $2650 fine, or both. The same penalty of 1 year in jail and a $2650 fine applies to reckless driving offenses in Brighton Municipal Court.
The elements for reckless driving under the Model Traffic Code are the same as the elements under the state statute. Those elements are that the person drove a motor vehicle with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. Bicycles, electrical assisted bicycles, and low power scooters also qualify for reckless driving charges under the model traffic code.
Jury trials are available in both county court and municipal court for reckless driving charges. However, in municipal court the defendant must submit a written jury demand and pay the jury demand fee to the Court within the allotted time period. Written jury demands must be filed within 21 days after entry of a not guilty plea and must accompany a jury payment of $25.00 pursuant to CRS 13-10-114 and CMCR 223(a). Some municipal courts require a higher fee for jury trials, thus it’s best to check with the municipal court clerk where the case is being heard to confirm the jury demand fee prior to payment. No jury demand filing or payment is required in county court.
According to the Yanaga case, 635 P.2d 295 (Colo. App. 1981), “knowing” or “wilful” conduct is sufficient to establish the culpable mental state of “recklessness”. Although the police sometimes charge both careless and reckless driving, careless driving is a lesser included offense of reckless driving according to the Chapman case, 557 P.2d 1211 (Colo. 1977). Thus, a driver cannot be found guilty of both careless and reckless driving.