The majority of traffic offenses are classified as minor infractions resulting in a traffic ticket or a small fine. In contrast, more serious traffic violations are classified as misdemeanors and some are considered felonies.
A felony traffic violation may occur if it results in an injury to a person or destruction of property or creates a threat of injury to a person or destruction of property. The most common type of felony traffic offenses are DUI-related charges (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs).
Felonies are typically considered to be the most serious crimes in any jurisdiction. The majority of states differ in what types of traffic offenses are considered felonies. However, most jurisdictions will consider the following violations to be felonies.
- Vehicular homicide or manslaughter
- Repeat or multiple DUI convictions
- Other repeat offenses such as repeatedly driving without a license
- Certain Types of Reckless Driving such as racing or other violations that cause injury or property damage
- Leaving the scene of an accident, also known as a hit and run, particularly if the accident involves collision with another vehicle involving bodily injuries and property damages
- Fleeing law enforcement
In some states, certain traffic offenses may be labeled as “aggravated” or “gross” misdemeanors. This means that, although these offenses are misdemeanors, they may result in harsher penalties that are similar to felony penalties.
A felony is defined as a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year. Typically, traffic felonies will usually include the addition of a monetary fine as well as a prison sentence. This fine can be anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars, depending on the severity of the case and jurisdiction.
Traffic felonies can also negatively impact a person in the following ways:
- Suspension or permanent loss of driver’s license
- Driver retraining requirements and suspensions
- Points added to a driver’s license history
- Increased insurance premiums
- Loss of citizen’s privileges such as voting or being allowed to teach in a professional setting
- Towing or impounding of the car used during the felony
- Prohibition on the ownership of firearms
- Permanent mark on one’s criminal record
- In cases of DUIs, a person may be required to install a breathalyzer in their vehicle
- Life sentence in prison in jurisdictions that have a “three strikes” felony rule
Also, some traffic crimes that start out as misdemeanors may be increased to felony charges, especially when the offense has been repeated several times.
After being issued a citation or ticket and criminally charged for a felony traffic offenses, you will be read your Miranda Rights by a police officer and required to appear in criminal court where the violation occurred for an arraignment. An arraignment is court procedure in which you will be required to appear for the charges to be read, advised of your rights, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.
If you fail to appear in criminal court, a judge may issue a warrant for your arrest and suspend your driving privileges. If you plead not guilty, then you have a right to a trial by a judge or jury and be represented by an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, the state will appoint an attorney to represent you. If you are convicted, you may be sentenced to imprisonment, ordered to pay fines, costs, and have points added to your driving record.
If you are charged with a felony traffic defense, you may plead a number of defenses to your arrest. If you are not read your Miranda Rights, then you may contend that any statements that you make to a police officer will be inadmissible in court.
In addition, you may present a defense that there was a lack of probable cause for the arrest, which is a reasonable belief than an individual will commit or has committed a crime. A police officer must have factual evidence to support an arrest and cannot simply have a gut feeling or a hunch that a crime has occurred.
If a police officer pulls you over without a legitimate reason, you may argue that there was no reason to believe that you were violating the law. Above all, it is possible to argue that you simply did not commit the offense.
Felony charges are very serious penalties and should never be taken lightly. If you are involved in a traffic offense, it is advisable to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Many lawyers specialize in traffic offenses and will be able to help you prepare your case. They will also be able to keep you informed of any changes to your state’s traffic regulations.