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Engage in a Speed Contest
VC 23109 Crimes

The law on the crime of engaging in a speed contest is found at California vehicle code section 23109. In short, a person engages in a speed contest when he or she uses a motor vehicle to race against another vehicle, a clock, or other timing device.

VC 23109(a) Law: To prove the defendant is guilty of the crime of engaging in a speed contest the district attorney must prove all three of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant drove a motor vehicle on a highway

  • While driving, the defendant willfully engaged in a speed contest


motor vehicle includes a commercial vehicle, car, bus, motorcycle, or tractor.

The term highway describes any area publicly maintained road that is open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel, including streets, roads, dirt roads, and parking lots.

The term willfully simply means that the defendant did the act on purpose.

Note: A speed contest does not include an event in which the drivers measure the time required to cover a set route of more than twenty miles but where the vehicle does not exceed the speed limits.

VC 23109 with Injury: When the defendant engages in a speed contest, which leads to injury, the defendant may face more serious penalties, but the same underlying criminal charge (VC 23109(a)) applies. In some cases the injury may be severe or serious. In cases of severe or serious bodily injury associated with speed contest the district attorney may alleged a serious bodily injury enhancement (PC 12022.7), which greatly increases the penalties for engaging in a sped contest.

Serious Bodily Injury: A serious bodily injury enhancement means a serious impairment of physical condition. Examples include broken bones, organ damage other than the skin, wound requiring extensive suturing, disfigurement, and more.

VC 23109(a) Penalties

VC 23109(a): Engage in a speed contest without injury is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of engaging in a speed contest without injury, the defendant may face up to 90 days in the county jail.

VC 23109(a): Engage in a speed contest with injury is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of engaging in a speed contest with injury, the defendant may face up to 180 days in the county jail.

VC 23109(a): Engage in a speed contest with serious bodiy injury, or with any prior VC 23109 conviction, may be filed as a felony or as a misdemeanor (wobbler). If found guilty of felony speed contest charges with serious bodily injury, the defendant may face up to 3 years in jail. If found guilty of misdemeanor speed contest charges with serious bodily injury, the defendant may face up to 1 year in the county jail.

Probation sentence: A probation sentence is period of supervision instead of jail. A probation sentence might be available in any misdemeanor or felony VC 23109(a) case, but a probation sentence is not guaranteed.  Whether or not a probation sentence will be granted after a conviction for VC 23109(a) depends largely on the criminal history of the defendant and the facts of the case.


CIMT: VC 23109(a) is not considered a crime involving moral turpitude.


Three Strikes Law: Engaging in a speed contest is not considered a strike offense in California; however, engaging in a speed contest which leads to serious bodily injury could be considered a strike offense under California's Three Strikes Law.

If found guilty of engaging in a speed contest the defendant may suffer penalties above and beyond any possible jail. These penalties include: immigration consequences for non United States citizens, professional licensing suspension or revocation (for licensed professionals), driving license suspension or revocation, fines, probation terms, increased punishment for future violation of law, restitution (for any injury to persons or property), civil lawsuits, and more.

VC 23109(a) Defense

Common defenses to VC 23109(a) charges include: Insufficient evidence (defendant not racing but rather speeding along with other drivers), emergency or necessity, self defense (feeling a dangerous person) statute of limitations (one year in misdemeanor VC 23109(a) cases and three years in felony VC 23109(a) cases), lack of injury (injury must be more than non apparent, non medical treatment, type injury), police misconduct (aka suppression of evidence or coerced confessions), mistake of law, and more.

If you or a loved one is charged with the crime of engaging in a speed contest or VC 23109(a), contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Call today!


Related Crimes

  • VC 2800 Evading 

  • VC 22356 Speed in Excess of Posted Limit 

  • VC 22350 Driving at an Unsafe Speed 

  • VC 23109(a) Speed contest w/injury

  • VC 23109(d) Barricade highway to race 

  • VC 23109(f) Speed contest with prior 

  • VC 23109(b) Aid or abet a speed contest

Quick Legal Reference​

Crime: Engage in a Speed Contest

Code: VC 23109(a) (CalCrim No. 2201)

Wobbler: Yes. VC 23109(a) is a wobbler crime. This means that VC 23109(a) may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. Note: Felony charges of VC 23109(a) where the speed contest results in injury.


Incarceration:Felony VC 23109(a) jail sentence range: 16 months, 2 or 3 years (if probation not granted). Misdemeanor jail sentence up to 90 days.

Probation: Probation may be available in VC 23109(a) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

PC 1170(h)): Yes. Felony VC 23109(a) is subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any jail or prison sentence may be:

  • Split (half in-custody / half out-of-custody)

  • Suspended (possibly never served)

  • Served in county jail (not state prison)

  • Note: Some limitations may apply

Strike: VC 23109(a) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.


Firearms: Felony VC 23109(a) convictions prohibit a defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.

Bail: $25,000 (Felony) & $5,000 (Misdemeanor) (San Bernardino )

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