I was in the outfield stands with my nine year old son on October 11, 2012, a blustery autumn night. That is when Jayson Werth treated me to the greatest sports moment that I had personally witnessed. I had been a Washington Nationals season ticket holder since their 2005 return to RFK stadium. I had followed the team since Cristian Guzman and Livan Hernandez were the team leaders and Frank Robinson guided a mix of youngsters and veterans to a 81-81 record in their first season. I had also suffered with the Nationals when they had lost more than 100 games.
That night in Game Four of the NL Division Series, Lance Lynn, the St. Louis Cardinals reliever, did his best to strike out Jayson Werth. He threw pitch after pitch, at speeds greater than 90 mph, trying to get the last strike. But Jayson Werth could handle the speed and kept fouling off one ball after another. Then, on the 13th pitch, Werth blasted the ball over the left field wall.
No one wanted to leave Nationals Park.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, for the next “10, 15, 20 minutes after his game-winning home run had clattered off the back wall of the visitors’ bullpen, nearly all of the 44,392 customers who witnessed it remained frozen in place at their seats.”
The smile on my son’s face seemed to be wider than ever. I will forever be grateful to Jayson Werth for providing that awesome moment for my son and I to share forever.
Unfortunately, Jayson Werth had a bad day today.
This man, who does great things on the baseball field, has a home and a family in Fairfax County faced a Judge of the Fairfax General District Court for Reckless Driving. Werth was represented by a very good attorney, a lawyer that I respect and has the respect of many judges in Fairfax County. Yet, despite the lawyers efforts, Werth was sentenced to serve 10 days in jail. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, misdemeanor jail time can be credited with good behavior time, so he would serve only 5 days of that sentence and then be released. Truly a bad day for our town’s baseball hero.
The crime he was accused of was Reckless Driving under Virginia Code Section 46.2-862. He was alleged to have been driving his sports car at 105 mph in a 55 mph zone on the I-495 beltway in Fairfax County. In Virginia, a person driving just 20 mph above the posted speed limit or at a speed of 81 mph or greater can be charged with this crime. The punishment can be up to 12 months in jail, a $2500.00 fine, and a 6 month loss of his privilege to drive in Virginia. What many people do not realize is that a person does not need to drive “recklessly” – switching lanes, tailgating, swerving, or squealing tires- to be charged with Reckless Driving under Virginia law. All that is required is speed.
Tonight, Jayson Werth is like many other people in Northern Virginia and Maryland. More than 2,000 people have come to my law firm for help with the criminal charge of Reckless Driving in Fairfax County. Many people don’t understand how the simple act of speeding could cause them to go to jail and create a permanent criminal conviction that will stay on their record forever and stay on their DMV record for 11 years. Their bewilderment is accentuated by the fact that most acts of speeding in surrounding states like Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, would only result in a high fine and may not even require a court appearance. But in Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County a reckless driving charge with speeds above 90 mph usually results in a jail sentence of 1 day in jail for each mph higher than 90. The law applies to everyone, including baseball heroes.
There is hope for Jayson Werth though. The Virginia court system allows for Jayson Werth to appeal his Reckless Driving conviction and jail sentence to a jury. That is because it would be a violation of the Constitution to send a person to jail without the opportunity to present their case before a jury of his or her peers. The trial is de novo, or brand new, and requires the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt a second time. The punishment also gets erased as well as the finding of guilt. In a new trial before a jury of men and women, Jayson Werth hopes to get a better result. The risk he faces is that the the jury, if they find his actions to be illegal and dangerous, can choose to punish him for as much as 12 months in jail, which is obviously longer than a 10 day jail sentence.
Our law firm has helped many people that have faced situations similar to Jayson Werth’s Reckless Driving charge. Even at speeds that are alleged to be above 100 mph there are sometimes valid defenses that can shed a great deal of doubt on the evidence presented by the Commonwealth Attorney. Police officers may not always follow correct procedure for calibrating their instruments or may not have used their LIDAR or radar device properly when assessing the speed of a car. The LIDAR and radar devices may not be calibrated and tested as required by law and the speed that is alleged can be wrong. That is why Reckless Driving cases in Virginia often need to be challenged before a judge, and if necessary, a jury.
I hope that Jayson Werth, as well as any other person who is charged with Reckless Driving in Fairfax, finds a jury that will understand that speeding does not always equate with recklessness and that the jury makes a finding that will allow him to go home to his family. I am confident that Mr. Werth has already learned, just like patience at home plate, patience on the highway can get himself and his many fans home safely.
Alex Gordon is a criminal defense attorney that has more than 15 years of experience representing people in Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County. He has been practicing law for more han 20 years and is member of the Florida, Georgia, and the Virginia State Bar. The Gordon Law Firm has helped more than 2000 people accused of Reckless Driving in Virginia.