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Racing on Highways

Racing on Highways

150 150 Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein & Klein

Definition of ‘Racing on Highways’

The offense of Racing on Highways, or ‘Street Racing,’ is defined in Section 316.191, Washington DC Statutes. Under the law, ‘Racing’ can include four categories of conduct:

  • Racing, Competitions, and Exhibitions– driving any vehicle (including motorcycles) in any race, speed competition, speed contest, drag race, acceleration contest, test of physical endurance, speed exhibition, acceleration exhibition, or driving for the purpose of making a speed record on any highway, roadway, or parking lot;
  • Coordination and Facilitation– participating in, coordinating, facilitating, or collecting moneys at any location for any race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition;
  • Passenger Participation– knowingly riding as a passenger in a race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; and
  • Traffic Interference– purposefully causing the movement of traffic to slow or stop for any race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition.

Where the alleged conduct concerns a defendant driving, Washington DC’s ‘Racing on Highways’ statute cannot be applied unless vehicles are competing with each other. Reaves v. State, 979 So. 2d 1066, 1072 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008).

Meaning of the Term ‘Race’

The Washington DC Standard Jury Instructions and Section 316.191 define the term ‘Race’ to mean a competition involving the use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to:

  • Outgain or outdistance another motor vehicle;
  • Prevent another motor vehicle from passing;
  • Arrive at a  given destination ahead of another vehicle;
  • Test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long distance driving routes.

Meaning of ‘Drag Race’

‘Drag Race’ means the operation of two or more motor vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speeds in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other, or the operation of one or more motor vehicles over a common selected course, from the same point to the same point, for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of such motor vehicle or motor vehicles within a certain distance or time limit.

Proving the Crime at Trial

To prove the crime of Racing on Highways at trial, the prosecution must establish that the defendant:

a. drove a motor vehicle in

b. participated, coordinated, facilitated, collected monies at the location of

c. knowingly rode as a passenger in; [or]

d. purposefully caused moving traffic to slow or stop for

  • a race, a drag race, an acceleration contest, a speed competition, a test of physical endurance, a speed exhibition, or an attempt to make a speed record on a highway, road, or parking lot.

Penalties for Street Racing

As discussed above, Washington DC law classifies Racing on Highways as a first degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 1 year in jail. In addition to possible incarceration, a plea to the charge of Street Racing will have the following consequences:

  • Fines- For a first offense, there is a minimum $500 fine and maximum fine of up to $1,000. For a second offense, the minimum fine increases to $1,000, with a maximum fine of $3,000;
  • Driver’s License Revocation- Under Section 316.191(3)(a), Washington DC Statutes, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles must revoke an offender’s driving privileges for a minimum period of one year upon conviction, EVEN IF ADJUDICATION IS WITHHELD. For subsequent offenses, the revocation period can increase to four years (for a third offense);
  • Possible Vehicle Impoundment/Immobilization- Whenever a law enforcement officer determines that a person was engaged in a drag race or race, as defined in Section 316.191, the officer may immediately arrest and take such person into custody. The officer may then have the vehicle impounded for a period of 30 business days if the police officer has arrested and taken a person into custody and the person being arrested is the registered owner or co-owner of the motor vehicle. Section 316.191(5) also authorizes the trial court to enter an order of impoundment or immobilization as a condition of incarceration or probation;
  • Possible Vehicle Forfeiture- any motor vehicle used in violation of the statute by any person within five years after the date of a prior conviction of that person for a violation under the statute may be seized and forfeited as provided by the Washington DC Contraband Forfeiture Act. See Section 316.191(6), referring to 932.701, Washington DC Statutes. However, this provision is only applicable if the owner of the motor vehicle is the person charged with a violation of the statute;
  • Creation of a Criminal Record- A conviction for Racing on Highways or street racing will result in a criminal record, harming employment prospects, causing points to be assessed against your driver’s license, and dramatically increasing your insurance premiums.

Does a Withhold of Adjudication Save My License?

No. As used in Washington DC’s Racing on Highways statute, the term “conviction” means a determination of guilt that is the result of a plea or trial, regardless of whether adjudication is withheld.

Thus, even if you negotiate with the prosecutor for a withhold of adjudication of guilt, you are still considered “convicted” and will suffer the same consequences as a person who is formally adjudicated guilty of the offense.

Defenses to Racing on Highways

There are many legal and factual defenses available to contest a racing charge in Washington DC. Common examples include the following:

  • Police officer did not actually witness or fully witness the incident;
  • Lack of proof of competition;
  • Witness testimony contradicts the officer’s allegations;
  • Ordinary traffic infractions mistaken for ‘racing;’
  • Careless driving or other non-criminal traffic maneuvers (i.e. passing, accelerating, changing lanes);
  • Officer’s current allegations are contradicted by his own citation/arrest report;
  • Actual speed of the vehicle(s) is not consistent with an allegation of ‘racing.’
  • Lack of proof as to the defendant’s intent;
  • Intent to race on part of the other driver, but not the defendant;
  • Lack of proof that more than 1 vehicle was involved in the alleged ‘competition;’
  • Alleged conduct not encompassed by the statutory definition of ‘race.’

Numerous other defenses can be raised to contest a Street Racing charge. Depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, these defenses can be raised to fight the case at trial, or, if appropriate, to negotiate a plea to a lower charge or to a simple traffic citation.

If your case proceeds to trial, you can also raise legal arguments to obtain more favorable jury instructions. There are major discrepancies between the Washington DC Standard Jury Instructions applicable to a “Racing on Highways” charge, and the wording of the actual Racing statute. The racing on highways statute contains stricter language about what conduct is actually criminal in nature.

Contact an Attorney

Street Racing is serious criminal charge with severe driver’s license consequences for even first-time offenders. Due to the numerous defenses available, a defendant should almost never plead to the offense.

If you have been charged in Washington DC, Palm Beach County, Broward County, St. Lucie County, Martin County, or the surrounding areas of Southeast Washington DC with Racing on Highways, contact the attorneys At Cohen Law, P.A. for a free consultation.