Virginia Reckless Driving: See Some Evil, Hear Very Little Evil, Prove No Evil

An Officer arrives at the scene of an accident.  He sees that one car is stuck in the median.  He sees limited damage to the car.  He notices that it had been raining that day.  He asks the driver what happened.  The driver says that he “hit a patch of water and hydroplaned into the median.”  The officer asks him whether he had been drinking.  The driver says that he “had a few beers.”  The driver says nothing else.  The officer charges the driver with the crime of reckless driving.  The driver does not testify at all at trial per his privilege against self-incrimination.  So is this fact pattern sufficient to find the driver guilty of reckless driving?

The Virginia Court of Appeals held that it could not find sufficient evidence to convict the driver in Berger v. Commonewealth, Record No. 0445-12-4.  The court basically held that it had no idea what really happened despite the undeniable fact that someone drove his car into a median.  Indeed, it held:

“As in Bacon, the record here does not provide sufficient evidence to uphold appellant’s conviction.  While appellant admitted that ‘he had a few beers,’ the record does not include ‘evidence that [appellant’s] speech, muscular movement, general appearance, or behavior indicated that he was intoxicated or that he had been affected by the alcohol he had consumed prior to the accident.’  Id. at 768, 263 S.E.2d at 391.  Moreover, the only explanation for appellant’s accident offered at trial was his statement to Deputy Jacobs that he ‘hit a patch of water and hydroplaned into the median.’  While appellant’s explanation does not exclude the possibility that he operated his vehicle in a negligent manner, there is no evidence in the record that evinces reckless or negligent behavior on his part.  Thus, the evidence does not exclude “every reasonable hypothesis of innocence nor is it consistent only with the guilt of [appellant].’  Id. at 769, 263 S.E.2d at 392.  Accordingly, the judgment of the court below is reversed, and this conviction is dismissed.”