Lack of Specificity

In my experience defending reckless driving charges in Illinois, the issue that is most often and most effectively raised by the defense is a lack of specificity on the account of the charge.

The language of the statute, as the state legislature has chosen to codify it in the vehicle code, is somewhat vague. They say you are committing reckless driving if you are willfully or wantonly disregarding the safety of persons or property or if you knowingly drive a vehicle to use an incline in a roadway to become airborne.

Both of these, whether you’re charged under the first or the second, require the state to prove an intent and knowledge on the behalf of the driver. That is somewhat difficult to prove. The lack of specificity in the charges (say, the ticket just says “negligent driving”) allows attorneys like myself to motion for what is called the Bill of Particulars.

Motioning for a Bill of Particulars

A Bill of Particulars requires the state, either orally or in writing depending on the judge, what exactly they are alleging the driver to have done that constitutes reckless driving: Swerving lanes, high rate of speed, being negligent in other ways, etc.

The state has to list out this Bill of Particulars for exactly why a driver was charged with reckless driving. The judge has to determine that those particulars constitute probable cause for the driver to be charged with reckless driving.

Agreeing to Lesser Charges

Oftentimes, the best defense to a reckless driving charge is to force the state to prove the specificity of why the charge should be reckless driving and not something like negligent driving, which is a petty offense, not a criminal offense. As such, it doesn’t carry any jail time. Rather it carries a $500 fine instead of the possibility of up to a year in jail.

Another alternative to reckless driving to write it as an aggravated speeding charge, which while also technically jailable, is viewed in a much different light by the court system in Illinois due to the heavy amount of traffic and vehicle travel involved in the Chicago area.

Speeding charges in general are not viewed as being as morally reprehensible or grave as something like reckless driving, which a lot of people associate with very, very dangerous driving. On the other hand, pretty much everybody understands and empathizes with a vehicle going quickly down a highway because it happens every day in Chicago.

Summing it Up

The best defenses to reckless driving charges in Illinois come from forcing the state to show their hand. If they cannot adequately do so, there is the possibility of having the charge dismissed for lack of probable cause. The downside is the state is always willing or able to amend a reckless driving charge to something that they would have an easier time proving like negligent driving charges or speeding ticket charges.