There are different classifications of traffic offenses, depending on their seriousness. Most traffic offenses are classified as minor infractions and result in a traffic ticket and/or a small fine. There are, however, some more serious traffic violations that are classified as misdemeanors and felonies.
Felony traffic offenses, also known as felony traffic violations, occur when a traffic offense results in injuries to an individual or destruction of property. The most common types of felony traffic offenses are DUI related, or related to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
What Types of Traffic Violations are Considered Felonies?
Felonies are serious traffic offenses that are generally considered to be the most serious crimes in any jurisdiction. Which traffic offenses are considered felonies varies by jurisdiction and state. However, most jurisdictions consider the following traffic violations as felonies:
- Vehicular homicide and/or manslaughter;
- Repeat and/or multiple DUI convictions;
- Other repeat offenses, including repeatedly driving without a license;
- Some types of reckless Driving, including racing and/or other violations that cause injury and/or property damage;
- Leaving an accident scene, also known as hit and run, especially if the accident involves a collision with another vehicle causing bodily injuries and/or property damage; and/or
- Fleeing from law enforcement.
In some states, a traffic offense may be categorized as “aggravated” or “gross” misdemeanors. This categorization means that, although the offense is a misdemeanor, it may result in harsher penalties similar to those of felonies.
Although an individual cannot receive a felony speeding ticket, a driver may be charged with a felony if their speeding leads to a significant injury and/or death of another. Driving over 100 miles per hour is likely to result in large fines and points on your driving record, if the state uses that system. Some states, including California and Oregon, have higher fines for 100 miles per hour violations and driver’s may face license suspension depending on the circumstances.
What are the Consequences of being Convicted of a Traffic Felony?
A felony is a crime that, if an individual is convicted, is punishable by a prison sentence of over one year. In general, traffic felonies usually include a monetary fine as well as a prison sentence. Fines can range from $500 to thousands of dollars depending on the circumstances and the jurisdiction.
A traffic felony may negatively impact a driver in many ways, including:
- Suspension and/or permanent loss of a driver’s license;
- Driver retraining and/or suspension;
- Adding points to a driver’s license history;
- Insurance premiums increase;
- A loss of citizen’s privileges, including voting and/or being allowed to teach in a professional setting;
- Towing and/or impounding of the car used in the commission the felony;
- Being prohibited from owning firearms;
- A permanent criminal record;
- If convicted of a DUI, an individual may be required to install a breathalyzer in their vehicle; and/or
- A life sentence in prison in jurisdictions with a “three strikes” felony rule.
It is important to note that some traffic crimes that are usually charged as misdemeanors may be increased to a felony charge, especially if the offense has been repeated more than once.
What Happens After You are Charged with a Felony Traffic Offense?
If an individual is criminally charged with a felony traffic offense, they will be read their Miranda rights. These rights state that any statements made by an individual during a custodial interrogation by law enforcement and/or a government agent may not be used against them unless they have been read their rights.
These rights must be invoked immediately upon being taken into custody and/or arrested. The Miranda rights warning reads:
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.
The exact wording of the rights may differ by jurisdiction, but includes all components.
After being arrested, a defendant is required to appear in court for an arraignment hearing. An arraignment hearing is a court hearing in which the defendant must appear in criminal court. They will be read the charges against them, advised of their rights, and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If an individual fails to appear for an arraignment, the judge may issue a warrant for their arrest and/or suspend their driving privileges.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, they have the right to a trial by judge or a trial by jury and to be represented by an attorney. If they cannot afford an attorney, the state will appoint one to represent them. If they are convicted, they may be sentenced to imprisonment as well as any of the following consequences:
- Ordered to pay fines;
- Ordered to pay court costs; and/or
- Have points added to their driving record.
Are There Any Defenses to Felony Traffic Charges?
Yes, there are defenses available to felony traffic charges. If an individual is not read their Miranda rights, any statements made during an interrogation will be inadmissible in court.
Additionally, the defendant may argue that there was a lack of probable cause for their arrest. Probable cause is the reasonable belief that an individual has committed a crime or will commit a crime. A law enforcement officer must have evidence to support an arrest, not simply a hunch or gut feeling that a crime has occurred.
Other defenses may include arguing that an individual did not commit the offense. A defendant may also argue that the law enforcement officer stopped their car for no legitimate reason.
Do Felony Traffic Offenses Go Away?
It may be possible to have some criminal convictions expunged from an individual’s record. Record expungement is a legal process in which an individual’s criminal record is treated as if it no longer exists. This may be helpful when applying for a job or housing.
The rules and requirements for expungement vary greatly from state to state. It is usually easier to expunge minor crimes and juvenile records. Some states, however, do permit felony expungements.
Generally, specific criteria must be met prior to petitioning the court for an expungement. Depending on the jurisdiction, these may include:
- Completion of a waiting period after the conviction, the length of which varies by state;
- Meeting the terms of a conviction, including serving jail time, completing probation, and/or the payment of fines and/or restitution;
- Evidence of no subsequent criminal charges or convictions; or
- Evidence of rehabilitation and contribution to society, which can be through employment, education, and/or volunteer work.
Once an individual meets their jurisdiction’s eligibility criteria, they can file a petition with the court for an expungement. Usually, this petition is filed in the same court where the criminal case occurred. Depending on the jurisdiction, an individual may have to attach information to the petition, such as a certified copy of their criminal record.
A traffic offense lawyer can help with this process and advise an individual what criteria need to be met in their state prior to filing the petition. A lawyer can also assist an individual with filing their expungement petition.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Felony Traffic Offense?
Yes, it is important to hire an experienced traffic ticket attorney for any driving offense. It is even more important if it involves felony charges. These charges are very serious and may result in life-long consequences if convicted. A lawyer will review your case, determine if any defenses are available to you, and represent you during court proceedings, if necessary.