Infractions vs. Criminal Convictions
Not all traffic tickets are created equal. Traffic citations (i.e. tickets) can vary in seriousness from simple “fix-it” tickets for non-moving violations to criminal traffic violations for offenses such as driving under the influence or reckless driving. And, as you might assume, the consequences for traffic citations can vary quite a bit as well. For some citations, you will need to appear in traffic court, pay a fine, and potentially go to traffic school. In many cases, a simple traffic ticket will not result in the suspension of your license. For more serious criminal violations,
you will face action from both the DMV and the criminal court. You will need to appear in criminal court and defend yourself against criminal charges. The DMV can take action against your driving privilege on its accord or because of a court order.
The focus of this post will be on criminal traffic violations, which come with harsh consequences and are handled a little differently than non-criminal traffic violations. It's important to understand the difference between criminal and non-criminal traffic violations because the consequences can be much more serious.
Traffic Citations and the Criminal Court System
Most traffic violations result in infractions, which are what you would consider a traffic ticket. Infractions aren't considered true criminal convictions. Traffic infractions are handled in traffic court and typically result in a fine and driving points being added to your driving record. You might be able to avoid those driving points if you attend traffic school. Speeding, having a broken taillight, or failing to stop at a stop sign are examples of violations that would result in an infraction.
More serious driving offenses, however, can result in misdemeanor or even felony criminal charges. Criminal traffic violations are processed through the criminal court rather than traffic court. When you are facing criminal charges for a serious traffic violation, you will need to appear in criminal court instead of the traffic court and will face punishments like steep fines and incarceration if convicted. Points may still be assigned to your driving record, but you might not get the opportunity to attend traffic school to avoid those points.
Let's take a look at some of the most common criminal traffic violations in California.
- Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and/or Alcohol (DUI)
- Reckless Driving (this will be designated as wet reckless driving when alcohol is involved)
- Driving Without a Valid License or on a Suspended or Revoked License
- Evading an Officer
- Refusing to Present Your License to an Officer When Asked
- Street Racing (including speed contest or exhibition of speed)
- Driving the Wrong Way on a Divided Highway (typically a misdemeanor, this can be charged as a felony if you cause injury or death)
- Hit and Run (after damaging a vehicle or someone else's property or injuring or killing someone)
- Causing Bodily Injury With a Vehicle on a Suspended or Revoked License
- Throwing an Object at Another Vehicle or Vehicle Occupant
- Underage Possession of Alcohol in a Vehicle (unless the alcohol is in a full and sealed container and the minor is accompanied by a parent or other approved person)
- Possession of an Open Container of Alcohol (note: this is only charged as a misdemeanor criminal offense for a third or subsequent violation)
- Driving a Vehicle Without an Ignition Interlock Device (this applies to those who've been ordered by the court to do so because of a DUI conviction)
Many of these are punishable by a fine and/or incarceration. A few of these offenses can even be charged as felonies. Your license may also be suspended. Although the California Department of Motor Vehicles oversees the driving privileges of Californians, the criminal court can order the DMV to suspend your license if you are convicted of one of the above crimes. Sometimes the DMV will suspend your license as well, but these suspensions may run concurrently.
If you are facing charges for a driving crime, speak with an experienced California driving crime defense attorney about your case. Though the DMV can be involved when you commit one of these offenses, the reach of its authority is limited to your driving privilege. Because the above offenses are considered criminal offenses, the criminal court will be involved as well. Therefore, it is important to speak with a California criminal defense attorney with specialized experience handling driving crimes. A driving crime defense attorney can help you defend yourself against your criminal charges and, in many cases, handle any administrative actions taken by the DMV. No matter what, it is essential you take swift action to defend yourself against your charges.
If you are in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area and have questions about criminal traffic violations, call experienced driving crime defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you fight your charges and will defend your rights. Attorney Martens has over ten years of criminal defense experience and will fight hard for your rights. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.