A traffic offense, or traffic violation, occurs when a driver violates a state’s motor vehicle laws or regulations. In some instances, a traffic offense or violation (such as a moving violation) is regarded as an infraction. An infraction is not a crime (felony or misdemeanor). More serious traffic offenses or violations are punishable as misdemeanors.
A misdemeanor is a criminal act that carries a punishment of up to a year in jail, and/or a fine. Traffic offenses are classified as misdemeanors when the offense results in injury to people or property, or when the offense does not result in such injury but constitutes a “near-miss.” Individuals have the right to challenge being charged with a misdemeanor traffic offense.
An individual challenges a traffic offense by appearing in court and making a defense against the charge. If the defense is unsuccessful, the individual will be convicted of the misdemeanor traffic offense. Misdemeanor traffic offenses are penalized based on several factors, including the severity of damage to property or people, and whether the convicted individual has a prior record of traffic convictions.
How are Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses Classified?
A traffic charge or citation is something issued by law enforcement. A traffic charge or citation is issued for a minor violation of traffic laws. Traffic charges are issued for minor acts such as not properly parallel parking, or failing to insert coins into a traffic meter. These infractions of the law are known as simple traffic violations. The violations are considered simple because they do no result in injury to property or people.
When an individual is cited, the individual is given a traffic ticket. The traffic ticket states the amount of money that must be paid for committing the infraction. Payment of the fine is all that is required. The citation generally does not go on a person’s criminal record. An example of a citation is a speeding ticket. Speeding tickets generally do not go on a person’s criminal record. This is so, unless the speeding is significantly above the speed limit.
Many states punish excessive speeding (11 or more miles per hour over the speed limit) as misdemeanors. Misdemeanors go on one’s criminal record.
Traffic offenses that are more serious in nature are categorized as either misdemeanor traffic offenses or felony traffic offenses. An example of a misdemeanor traffic offense is a collision with another vehicle due to a specific violation. An example of a felony traffic offense is a drunken driving episode that results in the death of another person. Conviction for these offenses, or traffic convictions, are punished as any other crime would be.
Punishments include jail time, fines, restitution (reimbursement) to a victim for loss of property, and potential suspension of revocation of one’s license. Criminal traffic offenses become part of one’s criminal record.
Both minor infractions and criminal traffic offenses can go one one’s driving record. Most states use a points-based system as a way of removing someone’s driving privileges. Under these systems, different infractions and offenses have a point value. When the infraction or offense is committed, “points” are assessed on a person’s license. If an individual accumulates a certain number of points, a license can be suspended or revoked.
Once an individual accumulates points, the points come off the license in one of two ways. One way is through the passage of time. State laws require that certain points be removed from the driving record after a period of time, such as six months or a year. Individuals may also attend driver education courses, at the completion of which points may be reduced or eliminated.
What Types of Actions are Considered Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses?
Examples of misdemeanor traffic offenses include:
- Driving recklessly. Reckless driving occurs when someone operates a vehicle in such a manner as to show a flagrant disregard for the safety of others and their property. A reckless driver is one who drives knowing that their driving behavior carries a high risk of injuring someone or damaging something. The person nonetheless continues driving recklessly.
Misdemeanor examples also include:
- Driving while intoxicated by alcohol.
- Driving while under the influence of prescription drugs.
- Driving while under the influence of illegal narcotics.
- Damaging another vehicle or injuring a person and then leaving before the police arrive (“hit and run”).
- Driving with a suspended license, revoked license, or no license.
- Driving without title or registration to a vehicle.
- Driving without having auto insurance.
In most states, speeding tickets that are from one to ten miles above the speed limit are minor traffic offenses punishable by a citation. Speeding at a rate that is 11 miles per hour above the speed limit or more can be punished as a misdemeanor.
What are Some Common Penalties for Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses?
Speeding convictions carry different punishments, depending on the severity of the speeding and the state in which the speeding is committed.
For example, in New York, the speeding laws are relatively strict. A speeding conviction is punished as follows:
- Speeding of one to ten miles per hour (mph) over the speed limit carries a penalty of anywhere in between $45 to $150, three driver penalty points, and possible jail time of up to fifteen days.
- Speeding of over ten and less than 30 mph above the speed limit carries a fine of $90 to $300, and possible jail time of up to 30 days. Speeding 11-20 miles over the limit results in assessment of 4 points. Speeding 21-30 mph above the speed limit results in assessment of six points
- Speeding of more than 30 mph over the speed limit carries a fine of anywhere from $180 to $600, and possible jail time of up to 30 days. Speeding of 31-40 mph over the limit results in assessment of eight points. Speeding of over 40 mph over the limit results in assessment of 11 points.
The above fines, points,, and jail time are for first convictions. Second convictions carry greater penalties in terms of fines, jail time, and points. Most states penalizes second offenses more harshly than first offenses. Traffic offense lawyers are familiar with state motor vehicle laws and penalties for their violation.
As such, traffic offense lawyers can assist individuals with sentencing. An individual, with the aid of a traffic offense lawyer, can negotiate a plea bargain with a prosecutor. This is the case in whatever jurisdiction plea bargaining is allowed. Plea bargaining is not allowed in all jurisdictions. The city of New York, for example, does not allow plea bargaining. Plea bargaining can result in lesser fines, a lower point assessment, and jail time.
Are there Any Criminal Defenses for Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses?
An individual charged with a misdemeanor traffic offense can raise defenses to the crime. One common defense is the defense of necessity. With this defense, the person who is charged argues that the circumstances necessitated the violation of the law. For example, if a person in the driver’s vehicle requires immediate emergency medical attention (e.g., is pregnant, or has sustained a life-threatening injury), the driver can claim the speeding was committed out of necessity.
Another commonly asserted defense is the defense of coercion (sometimes called “duress”). Someone charged with speeding can raise this defense by showing that the speeding was necessary for the person to avoid bodily harm. Imagine a scenario where a bank robber steals cash from a bank. The robber carries a gun and demands that you allow him entry into your vehicle. Once the robber is inside, the robber demands that you drive at an excessive rate of speed, threatening you with severe injury or death if you do not comply. In such circumstances, you can raise the defense of coercion.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Misdemeanor Traffic Charge?
If you have been charged with a misdemeanor traffic charge, you should contact a criminal lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney near you can review the facts of your case, explain your rights and options, and represent you at plea hearings and at trial.