Before I go into detail, I'll provide an abbreviated answer. You are
charged with a criminal offense, and there is a good chance you can
get the charge reduced to a civil infraction, particularly if you use
a lawyer. Using a lawyer may also enable you to resolve the matter
without the necessity of returning to California for court hearings.
Also, obtaining a conviction to a lesser offense should reduce the
fines, court costs, and increased insurance premiums associated with
the offense (should you need to obtain a car), while eliminating the
possibility of probation or jail time. (As noted herein, most courts
would suspend any jail time associated with this type of charge.)
I. Background Information
The vehicle offense code you describe, 23101, is a code for a drunk
driving offense. It seems likely that the officer either noted the
incorrect offense code, or that your copy isnt' clear. The proper code
for reckless driving is 23103(a). This would appear on the ticket as
23103/A/VC, standing for Section 23103(a) of the California Vehicle
Code. (Please note that a clerical error by the officer, if he did
enter the wrong code, will not invalidate the ticket.)
For a summary of common offense codes, see Section V of the following
document, a Driving School Instructor Lesson Plan from the California
Department of Motor Vehicles:
Pursuant to the California Code,
38316. (a) It is unlawful for any person to drive any off-highway
motor vehicle with a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of
other persons or property.
(b) Any person who violates this section shall, upon conviction
thereof, be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less
than five days nor more than 90 days or by fine of not less than fifty
dollars ($50) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500) or by both
such fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 38317.
This code section may be found online, on the California Department of
Motor Vehicles website,
II. With regard to your questions:
1. Can you get this misdemeanor offense reduced to a lesser charge?
The short answer to this question is "probably yes". The long answer
is that your ability to get a reduction in the charge depends in part
upon the policies of the police agency that issued the ticket, your
driving record, and the prosecutor's office handling the prosecution.
I have typically had good luck getting misdemeanor charges of
"reckless driving" reduced to civil infractions. However, some
prosecutors will defer to the police officer or operate under office
policies which restrict their ability to offer deals.
2. Should you hire an attorney even if you plead guilty?
You are charged with a criminal offense. If possible, you should hire
an attorney before you make the choice to plead guilty. With this type
of offense, the lawyer's greatest potential value is in negotiating a
more favorable charge prior to the entry of a guilty plea. In this
case, your attorney could attempt to negotiate a plea bargain, and may
also be able to manage your case so that you do not have to return
from Chicago to California for any court appearances.
3. If convicted of this misdemeanor, what are the implications?
The implications are as follows:
* You will have a criminal record.
* You will be subject to a fine of $50 to $500.
* You will be assessed court costs, typically in an amount comparable
to the fine.
* You will be subject to a sentence of five to ninety days in jail.
(It is likely that any jail time would be suspended.)
* You may be placed on a term of probation.
* The conviction will be reflected on your driving record.
* Your insurance rates will go up.
* Your ability to get a commercial driver's license (CDL), or other
specialized driver's licenses, will be impaired.
4. Will this affact your ability to obtain insurance in the future?
Yes, but only for a limited time. Any traffic offense that is
reflected on your driving record is likely to affect your insurance
rates. California will relay the information about the ticket to
Illinois, and thus, absent a mistake in processing the information,
any points from the offense will be reflected on your Illinois
According to the Illinois Secretary of State website, most driving
offenses will be reflected on your record for four to five years from
the date of conviction. If your license is suspended as a result of
the offense, this increases to a period of not less than seven years.
Please note that an insurance company may maintain its record of a
traffic offense for a different period of time than a state. By the
same token, states often restrict the amount of time a driving offense
may be held against you by an insurance company. There is a simple
overview of Illinois motor vehicle insurance law (drafted for teen
drivers) on the Illinois Department of Insurance website:
Google Search for "California Department of Motor Vehicles"
Browsing the California DMV website for statutory provisions.
Google Search for "23101(a) reckless"
Google Search for "Illinois 'drivers license'"
Google Search for "Illinois 'drivers license' points years"
Good luck with your ticket,
Clarification of Answer by
11 Oct 2002 23:12 PDT
I must add the following:
5. Should you contest the ticket "in part".
It is not clear from your description if the factors you would contest
(such as your speed) will affect the viability of the charge. That is,
if the court finds that you were driving at a lesser speed, all other
factors being equal, the odds of conviction or acquittal probably will
If you plead guilty to the offense, it may be possible to convince the
prosecutor to amend the factual basis of the charge, or to state that
you admit your guilt to the offense while clarifying what you believe
the facts to have been. However, this is not likely to change the
ultimate disposition of your case.
If you plea bargain to a civil infraction, you may be able to take
responsibility for the offense without making any statement either
accepting or denying the officer's allegations.
Ultimately, the strategy you choose in defending against the ticket or
in negotiating the plea bargain is best determined in association with
legal counsel. Given the nature of this offense, I do urge you to
consult with an attorney who handles traffic offenses in the court
where this charge has been filed.
Again, good luck.