Traffic tickets are usually “strict liability” offenses under the law, requiring no proof of criminal intent on the part of the defendant before he is found guilty of the offense. The state need only show that the defendant actually performed the illegal act, such as: speeding; failing to yield right-of-way; unauthorized parking in a handicapped space; or turning without using turn signals.
Infraction, Misdemeanor, or Felony
Usually, traffic tickets are considered minor infractions of the law and are dealt with as minor offenses, without being classified as a misdemeanor or felony. A traffic violation, however, can become a misdemeanor or even a felony if it causes injury to a person or property, or is even a real and significant threat of injury to either a person or property.
Traffic violations can involve serious felony charges when extreme risk is involved. Some traffic offenses are expressly defined as felonies by statute, such as leaving the scene of an accident (hit-and-run). In addition to hit-and-run offenses, statutorily defined felony traffic offenses often include repeated drunk driving convictions, as well as vehicular homicide.
Any time a traffic law is violated while the car is in motion, a moving violation has occurred. Moving violations are considered more serious under the law, and result in higher monetary fines, if not more severe punishment. Speeding, running a red light, and drunk driving are all moving violations. Contrarily, unauthorized parking in a handicapped space and parking in front of an unpaid parking meter are not moving violations, and have correspondingly smaller punishments, usually involving monetary fines under $100.
Punishment for Traffic Violations
Every state has a system which assigns points to different kinds of traffic offenses. The more serious offenses have more points assigned to them. For example, reckless driving and fleeing an officer would both rank with the highest point levels, while driving 5 miles over the speed limit would rank at one of the lowest levels.
Moving traffic violations remain on driving records for many years, depending on the state statute. Points add up. If the driver totals a certain number of points within a certain time frame, his license will be suspended or even revoked.
Since insurance companies have access to state driving records, the driver will also face increased insurance premiums, or even the cancellation of his car insurance policy, according to the number of points assessed against his license.
What if the driver with the suspended or revoked license decides to drive a car? If he’s caught driving without a valid license, he risks not only monetary fines but possible imprisonment for doing so.
Defending Against Traffic Tickets
Many attorneys specialize in defending drivers who have been ticketed for traffic violations. These attorneys are adept at challenging the evidence presented by the government and will study every detail of the particular circumstance.
These traffic ticket specialists know to question the officer’s view at the time of the incident, photographing the scene at the same time of day and in the same weather conditions to demonstrate obstructions of view, or nefarious road conditions.
These attorneys will also know to challenge the use of radar, laser or VASCAR in establishing the speed of the vehicle; they have the experience to discern whether or not all the necessary information has been included on the ticket, and they are well aware that in a surprising number of instances, the policeman who issued the ticket will simply fail to show at the hearing.
In 2006, there were approximately 6 million car accidents reported to the police, with over 10.5 million people injured in these crashes. These numbers are significantly lower than the 1996 statistics, with the current national 81% seatbelt-use rate and the reduction in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents being credited with the declining crash numbers.