Answer: yes, you can go to jail for texting and driving, even if the state does not yet have specific laws about texting and driving.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Can You Go To Jail For Texting and Driving? (Discussion)
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Texting and Driving Crimes
Many states have recently enacted laws that prohibit texting while driving, even if the driver is otherwise operating the vehicle safely.
These states include: Oregon, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New York, and more.
Other states are working towards adding texting and driving restrictions.
The penalties for driving and texting vary from state to state; some of the states make it a traffic ticket (like speeding) while others have raised it to the level of a misdemeanor (which is punishable by jailtime).
However, even if states do not have specific texting and driving laws, there are other ways that a driver could receive a traffic citation for texting and driving.
For example, most states have a “violation of the basic rule” citation.
This is a catch-all citation that can be issued when a driver is simply not operating a vehicle in a safe manner in the conditions, even if the driver is going the speed limit and is staying in the lanes.
Most states also have crimes for “careless driving” or “reckless driving.” There’s also “reckless endangerment” when a driver operates a vehicle in such a way that endangers others in the vehicle.
While the penalties vary, the version of “reckless” driving valid in most jurisdictions is punishable by jailtime.
In the end, even if there is no specific texting and driving law, or the texting and driving law in the state makes texting and driving a citation (and not a crime), a person could end up serving jail time for texting and driving under other offenses.
Will You Go To Jail For Texting and Driving?
While jail is a possibility in almost every misdemeanor and felony case, whether the defendant actually goes to jail is much more nuanced.
Offenders do not go to jail automatically for breaking the law every single time.
Instead, during sentencing process, many factors are considered, such as:
- how bad the crime was
- how badly anyone was hurt
- how much property was damaged
- whether self-defense was involved
- whether the offender is prepared to pay for damages
- whether this is a first offense
- the most recent previous criminal conviction, and how many previous convictions there are
- whether the offender is remorseful
- whether jail will cause the offender to lose his job or place in school
- whether the offender is prepared to enter substance abuse treatment
- the mental and physical health of the defendant
The judge will make the decision as to whether jail is appropriate in the circumstances, or whether the offender would be better suited to performing community service or other service under the eye of the jail, such as trash clean up/road crew.
The parties (prosecutor and defense) may even negotiate a sentence that seems appropriate and jointly recommend it to the court for consideration.
If an offender is before the court for a first offense of texting and driving, and did no other damage to the community, probation without an additional jail sentence for the offense is more likely.
If an offender is before the court for multiple offenses, did damage, put other vulnerable individuals in danger, and shows no remorse for his actions, a jail sentence is more likely.
However, it is impossible to say with any certainty whether an individual would go to jail for an offense without knowing the entire fact pattern of the case.
If you have been charged with crimes, or you are worried that you will be, conferring with an attorney early on is recommended.
Even if you don’t think you’ll need a lawyer or be able to afford a retained lawyer in your case, early consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your state could prevent you from making your case worse and give you guidance about what to do next.
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