When A Traffic Violation Becomes A Felony
Traffic violations are generally divided into two categories: parking violations and moving violations. Moving violations are the more serious of the two, carry stiffer penalties, and occur while the vehicle is in motion.
Among moving traffic violations, speeding is the most common. If the driver’s manner of speeding is also posing a threat to the lives of pedestrians or other traffic, he or she might also be charged with reckless endangerment or DUI- driving under the influence.
Traffic violations differ from state to state. The list below offers some of the most common infractions and misdemeanors:
- Parking illegally, e.g. in a red zone, taxi or bus zone, temporary zone, or in a disabled parking spot without a disabled sticker on your vehicle.
- Running a red light.
- Making an illegal turn by turning against a light or against a posted sign.
- Failing to stop completely at a stop sign before proceeding through.
- Taking the right-of-way when it belonged to another driver.
- Changing lanes without using the turn indicator.
- Using the diamond or carpool lane without sufficient passengers.
- Driving a vehicle without properly functioning turn signals and brake lights.
- Driving at night without headlights.
- Transporting an oversized load in an unsafe manner.
- Hitting another vehicle, be it parked or moving.
Misdemeanor & Felony Traffic Offenses
Most traffic tickets are issued for traffic offenses called “infractions” — including tickets for mechanical violations and most non-dangerous moving violations. Infractions do not usually carry the same stigma and penalties as serious criminal offenses. But certain traffic-related offenses are categorized as “misdemeanors” or even “felonies”, and can result in more significant fines, loss of driving privileges, or even imprisonment.
Generally speaking in most states, a traffic violation becomes a misdemeanor or felony if it:
- Causes injury to a person or destruction of property, or
- Creates a real threat of injury to a person or destruction of property.
- Going through a red light may be a misdemeanor in one state, for instance, but it becomes a felony if the driver maliciously hits another vehicle in the intersection and an occupant of that vehicle dies. In addition, some traffic offenses are defined as misdemeanors or felonies from the outset, such as driving with a revoked license, leaving the scene of an accident, or reckless driving.
The criminal justice system would quickly be overwhelmed if every minor breach of the law required a full criminal trial. Therefore, less egregious traffic violations are often treated as misdemeanors (although many minor traffic offenses are considered even less severe “infractions”). Misdemeanors are less serious crimes, generally punishable by a fine or incarceration in the county jail for less than one year. Although precise classifications vary on a state-by-state basis, common examples of traffic misdemeanors include:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs,
- Failing to stop at the scene of an accident,
- Driving without a valid driver’s license,
- Driving without insurance, and
- Reckless driving.
Felonies are typically the most serious crimes in any system of criminal law, and felony traffic offenses are no exception. A standard definition of a felony is any crime punishable by more than one year in prison or by death. This means that a crime that has a sentence of only a fine or confinement in the local jail for a short period of time is not a felony. Often the offense itself is not labeled as a felony, but the punishment tells the public that the offense is a felony. On the other hand, state codes may label a crime a “gross” or “aggravated” misdemeanor but provide for a sentence of more than one year in the state penitentiary system, thereby ensuring that the so-called misdemeanor is treated as a felony in many respects. Examples of felony traffic offenses include repeat DUI/DWI convictions, certain “hit and run” offenses, and vehicular homicide. Source
Consult with a criminal defense attorney with significant experience in traffic ticket matters and detailed knowledge of the technicalities of having a fine dismissed or reduced.
West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
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