Definition of Racing on Highways
The offense of Racing on Highways, or “Street Racing” is defined in Section 316.191 of the Florida Statutes. The Florida statute provides that a person may not:
- Drive any motor vehicle, including any motorcycle, in any race, speed competition or contest, drag race or acceleration contest, test of physical endurance, or exhibition of speed or acceleration or for the purpose of making a speed record on any highway, roadway, or parking lot; or
- In any manner participate in, coordinate, facilitate, or collect moneys at any location for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; or
- Knowingly ride as a passenger in any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition; or
- Purposefully cause the movement of traffic to slow or stop for any such race, competition, contest, test, or exhibition.
Florida law defines the term “Race” means the use of one or more motor vehicles in competition, arising from a challenge to demonstrate superiority of a motor vehicle or driver and the acceptance or competitive response to that challenge, either through a prior arrangement or in immediate response, in which the competitor attempts to outgain or outdistance another motor vehicle, to prevent another motor vehicle from passing, to arrive at a given destination ahead of another motor vehicle or motor vehicles, or to test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long-distance driving routes.
“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.
“Spectator” means any person who is knowingly present at and views a drag race, when such presence is the result of an affirmative choice to attend or participate in the race. For purposes of determining whether or not an individual is a spectator, finders of fact shall consider the relationship between the racer and the individual, evidence of gambling or betting on the outcome of the race, and any other factor that would tend to show knowing attendance or participation.
A race may be prearranged or may occur through a competitive response to conduct on the part of one or more drivers which, under the totality of the circumstances, can reasonably be interpreted as a challenge to race.
Penalties for Street Racing
As discussed above, Florida law classifies Racing on Highways as a first degree misdemeanor, which carries a potential jail penalty of up to one year. In addition to possible incarceration, a plea to the charge of Street Racing carries the following penalties:
- 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), Florida 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 Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. See Section 316.191(6), referring to 932.701, Florida 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 Florida’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 charge of racing on highways or street racing in Florida. These defenses may include the following:
- the police officer didn’t actually witness or fully witness the alleged incident;
- video footage contradicts the officer’s allegations;
- the prosecution is unable to adequately prove that a challenge took place, or that there was a competitive response or acceptance of the challenge;
- witness testimony contradicts the officer’s allegations;
- the accused merely engaged in routine traffic maneuvers (i.e. passing, accelerating, changing lanes);
- the officer’s current allegations are contradicted by his own citation/arrest report;
- the actual speed of the vehicle(s) is not consistent with an allegation of “racing.”
Numerous other defenses can be raised to contest a Street Racing charge in Florida. Depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, these defenses can be raised to fight the charge at trial, or, if appropriate, to negotiate a plea to a lower charge or to 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 Florida 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. In other words, the state has to prove more under the wording of the actual law than under the wording of the jury instructions. An experienced Jacksonville racing on highways attorney and criminal defense lawyer can recognize these discrepancies and argue for the inclusion of statutory language that will make the charge more difficult for the State to prove.
You should almost never plead to a charge of Racing on Highways or Street Racing in Florida. If you have been charged in Jacksonville, Duval County, Clay County, St. Johns County, Nassau County, or the surrounding areas of Northeast Florida, contact our Jacksonville Criminal Attorney for a free consultation.