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When Does Bad Driving Become Criminal?

car crash2.jpgBad driving is not just in Hollywood action movies. Here in Orlando, half the cars on the road are rented by tourists that don’t know where they’re going. This is recipe for accidents and tickets. But from a legal standpoint, the question becomes, when does bad driving rise to the level of criminal conduct?

Most central Florida citizens have received a traffic citation or two. These citations are typically “non-criminal traffic infractions”, meaning no jail time, no probation, etc. But, string enough of these traffic infractions together, and maybe an officer will write the dreaded–criminal–“Reckless Driving” citation (and even worse, make an arrest for reckless driving). The problem is sorting out which cases constitute criminal reckless driving, and which cases are simply careless driving (a civil traffic infraction–not criminal). The definitions of criminal driving is similar to the civil infraction: criminal reckless driving is a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. Civil careless driving is not driving in a careful manner endangering another person or property.

The case of State of Florida v. Nieves Y. Huarcaya, 11 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 160b (17th Judicial Circuit, Broward County case no. 03-58667TI40A) is a good example of what the courts consider careless driving. In Huarcaya’s case, her attorney’s appealed her careless driving infraction. She was delivering mail in the standard post office Jeep when she came upon a mailbox that was just off the sidewalk, closer to the sidewalk than the street. Huarcaya was not able to reach the mailboxes from the roadway unless she either got out of the truck or illegally drove on to the swale. The defendant drove ‘off road’ into the swale, but in doing so she ran over and killed a two year old child. The state attorney’s office and Broward County Sheriff’s office reviewed this case, and decided not to file criminal reckless driving. On appeal, the court upheld her conviction for careless driving.

Right here in central Florida another case involving reckless driving was decided by a jury. Mark Berube v. State of Florida, 6 So.3d 624 (Fla. 5th DCA) involved a vehicular homicide conviction out of Osceola County. Berube was driving on a busy stretch of U.S. 192, stopped for apparently no reason in an intersection, and made an improper left turn across oncoming traffic, causing an accident which resulted in a death. He was convicted of vehicular homicide. The court of appeals overturned Berube’s conviction because they found that the driving pattern did not constitute reckless driving (basically, vehicular homicide is a reckless driving that results in death). One of the main reasons the appeals court overturned the conviction is that there was no proof that Berube drove with a “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Id. at 625.