While no longer known for his speed on the basepaths, the Washington Nationals’ Jason Werth can at least drive fast around the Capital Beltway. Very fast, according to the Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. Werth was convicted of reckless driving in the Fairfax County General District Court recently, and sentenced to 10 days in jail. Unlike in baseball, however, the Virginia court system allows for a do-over, which may keep our beloved right fielder from spending a single night in jail. No, Jason Werth is not getting any special treatment because he is a professional ball player, and arguably the clubhouse leader of the home team. He simply is taking advantage of his right under Virginia law.
Reckless driving in Virginia is more than a traffic offense. It is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a $1500 fine. There are two types of reckless driving in Virginia: general reckless, requiring a reckless disregard for the safety of others, and reckless by speed. Jason Werth was charged with the latter. A person is guilty of reckless driving by speed if they exceed 80 miles per hour, or if they drive 20 mph or more over the posted speed limit. At trial, the Virginia state trooper who cited Werth testified that he paced him at 105 mph on the Fairfax portion of the beltway. Apparently the speed limit on that part of the beltway was only 55 mph, which means Werth was comfortably in violation of Virginia reckless driving law.
At trial, Werth’s Fairfax reckless driving lawyer put his client on the stand. During cross-examination, Werth apparently testified that he didn’t believe he was going 105, but conceded that he probably hit at least 90. Werth’s decision to testify is puzzling since, even if the judge credited his claim, she would still have to find him guilty at that speed. And that’s what she did.
Despite finding him guilty, the Fairfax judge in his case certainly was not required to sentence Werth to jail time. There was no claim that Werth was driving in heavy traffic or that anyone was endangered by his (probably excessive) speed. But Northern Virginia judges takes reckless driving very seriously, and often impose jail time speeds over 90 miles per hour. Werth’s judge was no exception. In addition to imposing jail time, the judge also suspended Werth’s driver’s license for six months.
But that’s only part of the story, because as indicated above, Werth and his lawyer have taken advantage of his right to appeal afforded him under Virginia law. Rather than make the short walk from the Fairfax courthouse to the detention center, Werth’s lawyer immediately noted his appeal. So instead, Werth presumably walked to his car and slept in his own bed.
So what happens next? Werth’s case will be transferred from the Fairfax County District Court to the Circuit Court where he is entitled to a jury trial on his reckless driving charge. This is a brand new trial, and the judge’s finding of guilt and the sentence she imposed is completely erased, as if it never happened. It’s a beautiful thing. A true do-over.
You may wonder why Werth would bother to appeal his case even though he essentially admitted his guilt at trial. It is also unlikely that a jury will find him not guilty of the offense. Nevertheless, what Werth’s criminal defense lawyer obviously knows is that in Virginia Circuit Court cases, the sentencing is done by the jury, not by the presiding judge. And what he probably also knows is that Fairfax jury members are reluctant to impose jail sentences for non-DUI driving offenses. Therefore, even assuming that the prosecutor doesn’t offer our fast-driving slugger a no-jail plea deal prior to trial, there is a good chance that Werth escapes jail even if convicted. That’s good, because Spring Training is just around the corner. . .
You don’t have to be a major league baseball player to take advantage of what is offered by Virginia law. It just helps to have an experienced reckless driver lawyer who has practiced in Northern Virginia.