Traffic Tickets: Surprise – Some Are Criminal
Many people associate traffic tickets with mere infractions that only come with civil penalties (i.e. fines). When receiving a traffic citation in Wellington, Boca Raton, or anywhere else in Palm Beach County, it is unlikely you were handcuffed, read your Miranda rights, or sent to jail. It is usually just a piece of paper, seemingly harmless. Assuming your traffic ticket is “just a ticket” is a big mistake.
Look closely at any citation you have ever received. Generally, three options are listed near the bottom of your citation: (1) “Infraction which does not require appearance in court.” (2) “Infraction. Court appearance required as indicated below.” (3) “CRIMINAL VIOLATION. COURT APPEARANCE REQUIRED AS INDICATED BELOW.” If your ticket checks off the box that says, “Criminal Violation,” you are probably facing a criminal charge.
Most people don’t know that a traffic ticket can be criminal in nature and can even be considered an “arrest” for purposes of initiating a criminal case in Palm Beach County. This is especially true for certain innocuous offenses, such as Driving Without a License, Expired Registration over 6 months, and Unregistered Motor Vehicle. It may come as a surprise to you that the aforementioned offenses carry a maximum penalty of 60 days in the Palm Beach County jail and a $500 fine.
So how do you know whether a ticket is considered a criminal traffic offense? One indicator, as previously mentioned, is the designation of your citation as a “Criminal Violation.” However, you should not take the language of the citation as gospel; in some cases, the wrong box is checked off. The better method for understanding the nature of your case is to look up the statute listed on your citation as the basis for your violation. Of course, the law as written is confusing, and that is where an experienced criminal traffic attorney in Palm Beach can really help. A defense attorney who handles criminal traffic cases is well-versed in the law and can either decipher the citation for you or, in many cases, will already know at a glance whether your case is criminal or civil.
While getting a lawyer for your Palm Beach County ticket is probably your best option for knowledge and protection, below is some information on some of the most common tickets:
Driving Without a License, §322.03(1) – This is a CRIMINAL VIOLATION. In particular, Driving Without a License or “No Valid DL” is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by sixty days in the Palm Beach County jail and/or a fine of up to $500.
Expired Registration, §320.07(3) – This one is tricky, as it can be criminal or civil depending on the facts and the subsection of the statute. If you are charged under §320.07(3)(a) or §320.07(3)(b), you are looking at a traffic infraction. These are for people who are accused of expired registration as a first offense and/or the expiration of the registration is under six months. If you are charged with §320.07(3)(c), this is a criminal offense (second degree misdemeanor) punishable by 60 days in jail and/or a fine of $500. Subsection (3)(c) of the expired registration statute contemplates an offender whose registration has been expired for over six months and this is the “second or subsequent offense.”
Expired Driver’s License – Similar to Expired Registration, driving with an expired license can be charged as a crime or as a noncriminal traffic infraction. If the allegation involves an expired license of 6 months or less, you have probably been charged with a noncriminal infraction under §322.065. On the other hand, if your driver’s license is alleged to have expired over 6 months prior to the traffic stop, your ticket is more than likely criminal under Florida Statute §322.03(5).
Driving While License Suspended, Revoked, Canceled or Disqualified, §322.34 – Again, this is one of those offenses that could go either way. If charged under Florida Statute §322.34(1), this means the police officer believed you did not know your license was suspended and therefore should only receive a civil traffic infraction. If charged under Florida Statute §322.34(2), law enforcement believed you knowingly operated a motor vehicle while your license was suspended, revoked, cancelled or disqualified. The latter is a criminal violation that can range from misdemeanor to felony depending on the number of times you have been charged with the same offense. A first-time knowing DWLS is a second degree misdemeanor. A second offense could be charged as a first degree misdemeanor, with maximum penalties of 1 year in the Palm Beach County jail and a fine of $1000. Lastly, a third or subsequent offense could be charged as a third degree felony, with maximum penalties of 5 years in prison and a fine of $5000.
Unregistered Motor Vehicle, §320.02 – Unregistered Motor Vehicle is considered a crime in Florida. It is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in the Palm Beach County jail and/or a $500 fine.
Careless Driving, §316.1925 – This is a noncriminal traffic infraction with the imposition of civil penalties.
Reckless Driving, §316.192 – Reckless driving (as opposed to careless driving) is a criminal offense. Depending on the alleged facts (accident, injuries, etc.), reckless driving can be a misdemeanor or felony.
No Motorcycle Endorsement, §322.03(4) – Criminal violation designated as a second degree misdemeanor punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
As you can see, the line between a criminal and traffic offense in Florida is a subtle one. To avoid the risk of misjudging your ticket, you should consult with an experienced criminal traffic attorney in your area. Note that even if your traffic ticket turns out to be noncriminal, you should not brush it off as a non-issue; even noncriminal infractions can have severe consequences, including hefty fines, points on your license, and ultimately a driver’s license suspension or revocation. The key to a better outcome is to know what you are accused with and fight your case with an armor of knowledge.
At Casanova Law, we can be the strongest of armors. Our criminal defense firm in Wellington, Florida boasts a leading attorney with years of criminal traffic experience. Attorney Lourdes Casanova is a former prosecutor for Palm Beach County who has litigated thousands of criminal traffic cases. Call Casanova Law today for a consultation on your traffic case. Whether your case is a noncriminal traffic infraction or a criminal citation, Casanova Law will fight for you. (561) 236-5340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.