Elements of Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle
To prove negligent operation of a motor vehicle, the Commonwealth must prove that the person driving a car did so in a way that a reasonable person would not, and by doing so potentially endangered the lives or safety of any person or of the public.
Negligent operation is a charge that covers a broad range of possible offending activity, and for that reason, carries a penalty that is severe enough to be appropriately applied in cases of severe endangerment. Unfortunately, that means that the penalty is also hanging over the head of anyone who is charged with the offense, even if the endangerment was only minor.
Relation to Operating Under the Influence Charges
Negligent operation charges almost universally accompany a charge of operating under the influence (OUI), because it is the negligent operation that first catches the attention of the police.
As complicated as OUI charges can be, the Negligent Operation charge only complicates the matter further because, even if there is some chance that the Commonwealth might not be able to prove the OUI, it is usually much easier for the Commonwealth to prove the charge of negligent operation.
An Accident Alone is Not Negligence
In other cases, a negligent operation charge will accompany a charge of leaving the scene of property damage, or the like. in such cases, where there is no direct observation of the way in which the car was driven, it is much more difficult for the Commonwealth to prove its case. Just proving that there was an accident is not enough -- it is not a crime to have an accident.
The bottom line is, the evidence required to prove this charge is minimal, and the potential penalty is severe. For that reason, if you are charged with negligent operation, contact me so I can help evaluate your case and the best potential strategies for resolving it.
Steps You Need to Take Immediately
Ordinarily, when someone is charged with a misdemeanor offense, not constituting a breach of the peace, and for which the person is not placed under arrest, that person is entitled to a hearing before a magistrate. A magistrate's hearing can be a crucial tool because it gives the defendant a chance to ask that the court exercise its discretion, and dismiss the case before it ever shows up on any public records.
There is, however, an exception to that rule in cases where the defendant receives a citation (ticket) for the offense. A ticket can list civil offenses (like speeding), criminal offenses (like negligent operation of a motor vehicle, or leaving the scene of property damage), or both. The back of the ticket explains, in very small print, how to request a hearing on the charges listed on the front.
If an officer has charged you with a criminal offense by handing you a citation, it is crucial that you mail the citation in immediately, as described on the back of the ticket, and request a hearing on all charges. Failure to do so in a timely manner could forever deprive you of very important rights.