Are Traffic Offenses Infractions or Misdemeanors?

People are cited for traffic offenses when they violate the California Vehicle Code. This could include reckless driving practices such as speeding and tailgating, failure to yield violations such as running a red light or not stopping for a pedestrian, and many other types of violations. A large majority of traffic offenses are infractions, but some can be charged as misdemeanors.

Infractions are not punishable by imprisonment, in contrast to misdemeanor and felony offenses. Typically, people cited for traffic infractions either pay a fine (which is like an admission of guilt) or they contest their violation which is sometimes successful in getting the infraction dismissed.

Misdemeanors can be punished by imprisonment, but in county or city jail only and for a period of time not to exceed one year. A majority of people convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced to up to six months in county jail with the possibility of a maximum $2,000 fine.

Traffic infractions and misdemeanors are explained in § 1.01 of the codes. In the state of California, common infraction traffic offenses are things like speeding and running stop signs while misdemeanor traffic offenses are things like DUI, driving without a license (or a revoked license) and driving under the influence of drugs.

Traffic infractions and misdemeanors are heard in California Superior Courts, traffic divisions. Some traffic offenses can even be charged as felonies if they are serious enough and are heard in criminal courts. An example of a felony traffic offense would be vehicular manslaughter.

With traffic offenses, it is also important to differentiate between moving and non-moving violations. Moving violations are significantly more serious than non-moving violations. Non-moving violations are less serious with generally smaller fines because they are not as dangerous. A car in motion is a greater threat to road traffic safety.

When a law enforcement officer decides to make a traffic stop, the driver of the vehicle being halted should immediately put on their right turn signal and pull over to a safe spot on the side of the road. It is important at this point to comply with the police officer, as non-compliance can make your violation more severe.

It is illegal for a peace officer to search your vehicle or detain you if you have not been lawfully arrested. For a lawful arrest, an officer needs probable cause. If you were stopped for a traffic violation and searched or detained without probable cause, then this could be a defense in your favor. For representation in all aspects of traffic offenses, contact an Orange County criminal defense lawyer at The Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry today.

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