In New Jersey, reckless driving is punished under Title 39. It is not classified as a criminal offense, which is codified under Title 2C of the New Jersey Code. 39:4-96 reads, in part:
A person who drives a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property, shall be guilty of reckless driving….
Since immigration law is federal, how a state classifies a particular offense is not necessarily dispositive. It would be a mistake to think that just because an offense is termed or punished as a misdemeanor, a foreign born resident is insulated from potential immigration consequences. For cases in New Jersey Municipal Court, non-US citizens have to be particularly concerned whether the crime they are charged with is a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”). According to case law, a CIMT is ordinarily a crime that “inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general.” Generally speaking, it is also something that must be committed willfully or purposefully.
Given the mental state required in order to commit this offense, there is a strong argument that reckless driving is probably not a CIMT. Historically, the Board of Immigration Appeals has focused more on intentional conduct as the necessary mental state. However, on the other hand, this is not to say that recklessness can never constitute a CIMT. The Board’s analysis seems to depend on the harm or threat of harm implicated by the conduct. The more serious the harm, the less culpability may be required for a statute to constitute a CIMT, even if recklessness is the only men’s rea. In fact, the BIA has found certain statutes in other states involving reckless conduct to be CIMT’s.
In many cases, reckless driving is often charged as a companion offense to a more serious charge, such as Driving While Intoxicated, which may have immigration consequences for foreign nationals. In light of the potential immigration impact the charge may pose, either in and of itself or as a companion ticket, foreign nationals would be wise to explore the potential ramifications with an immigration attorney.