Criminal vs. Civil Traffic Tickets and Violations: What's the Difference?
Are traffic violations criminal or civil? It’s a valid question if you have received a traffic ticket. The answer, as with many legal questions, depends on the situation. In some cases, it’s both, and you get a criminal civil ticket. Generally speaking, your traffic ticket (civil or criminal) depends on the seriousness of the incident.
What Is a Civil Traffic Violation?
A civil traffic violation in AZ occurs when an individual violates one of the many traffic rules that are categorized as civil infractions. In most cases, the answer to the question, “what is a civil violation?” includes unlawful acts that do not rise to the level of criminality but merit some type of punishment. As such, the punishments doled out for civil traffic violations are typically not as harsh as those required for criminal traffic violations.
Some of the most common civil traffic violations in AZ include:
- Driving too slowly
- Failure to stop for red lights or stop signs
- Driving or riding in a car without a seatbelt
- Expired tags
- Illegal parking
- Failure to yield
- Failure to signal
As you can see, civil traffic violations in AZ can be moving and nonmoving violations. However, the majority of civil traffic tickets that pose significant problems for motorists are moving violations.
Civil Traffic Ticket Penalties
Reviewing the list of the various civil traffic violations in Arizona shows you that although unlawful, civil violations are not the most serious offenses that are possible. As such, the typical civil traffic ticket cost to most individuals is not unduly harsh, although multiple offenses of the same civil infraction could lead to harsher punishments, including elevated fines and negative action taken against offenders’ driver’s licenses.
Generally speaking, though, the main consequences individuals face for civil traffic violations include:
- Defensive driving course, which can lead to a dismissal of the charge altogether.
- A fine, which will typically run less than $250 if paid on time.
- Going to court for an arraignment and potentially going to trial.
Does a civil traffic violation go on your record? The answer is yes. Each moving violation you receive will be assessed as points against your license. If your license accumulates too many points, it may be suspended. However, some cases are eligible for defensive driving school. Completion of such a course can lead to a dismissal of the traffic ticket.
In order to qualify for defensive driving school, you must not have been in an accident that caused serious injury. If you are a commercial driver, then you may qualify for the course if you weren't driving your vehicle for commercial purposes at the time of the ticket.
What Is a Criminal Traffic Violation?
Getting a criminal traffic ticket means that you are facing a misdemeanor or felony charge. The consequences of being convicted include jail or prison time and hefty fines.
If you are charged with a criminal traffic violation in the State of Arizona, you will be facing one or more of the following charges:
- Misdemeanor or felony DUI
- Driving without insurance
- Speeding while in a school zone
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Reckless endangerment
Although many forego the service of a lawyer for civil traffic tickets, which is not recommended, you should always consult with an attorney after being charged with a criminal traffic violation to avoid the consequences of traffic violation convictions.
Criminal Traffic Ticket Penalties
The State of Arizona is known for its tough stance against people charged with a criminal traffic offense. Criminal traffic ticket consequences are largely determined by their level of classification.
Misdemeanors, which are broken down into three categories, are punished less severely than felonies.
Although most criminal traffic citations are classified as misdemeanors, some of them are classified as felonies, such as vehicular manslaughter and aggravated DUI. The heightened severity of felonies compared to misdemeanors means their penalties can include significant prison time for the offender, especially when more than one offense was committed. For example, being convicted of aggravated DUI that resulted in vehicular manslaughter will require the offender to spend substantial time behind bars.
Where Are Criminal Traffic Violations Prosecuted?
When you get a criminal traffic ticket in Arizona, your case will be different than one for a civil traffic ticket. Depending on the level of crime you are charged with — misdemeanor or felony — you will be required to appear in front of one of a few different courts. If your criminal traffic violation is serious enough, you may be required to post a significant bond for your release until your case is terminated.
Misdemeanor traffic citations, like racing and exhibition of speed, are handled by municipal and justice courts. Whereas felony charges, such as aggravated DUI, are handled exclusively by the Arizona Superior Courts.
How to Fight a Traffic Ticket in Arizona
Whether criminal or civil, the issuance of a traffic ticket is only the first step in proving you are guilty of a violation or a crime. After you have been cited or charged, a traffic ticket attorney may be able to get your charges reduced or entirely thrown out, which in turn could lead to a no traffic ticket criminal record. For workers in transportation, no traffic violation convictions mean better employability.
The first step to fighting a civil traffic ticket is to request a contested hearing, during which you and the officer will present your version of the events. Being successful at this hearing requires you to arrive prepared with evidence, knowledge of law and procedure, and a strong presentation.
Fortunately, you can have a skilled traffic ticket lawyer fight on your behalf. Their experience and skill mean you likely have a better chance at winning your case than you would if you were defending yourself.
If you are facing a criminal violation, then you require the services of a criminal defense lawyer. Too much is on the line for you to try to represent yourself. Significant jail or prison time is on the table as well as damage to your driving record and employment opportunities. Once you have been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, your next action should be to contact an attorney.
Fighting Traffic Tickets
Whether you get a criminal or civil ticket, you may be able to fight the charge and sidestep the negative consequences tickets bring, including points on your record, jail time, and loss of your license.
As the clock ticks after an arrest, the prosecution and police will be working to close out your case with a conviction. You deserve to have an advocate fighting for you from the moment you are charged and throughout your proceedings.
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