Minor Traffic Violations Can Cause Criminal Charges in New York City
It may seem impossible, but a minor traffic violation can turn into criminal charges in New York City. Drivers can be handcuffed, arrested, and spend time in jail through lack of paying fines, failure to show up in court, or not being aware they have a warrant out of for their arrest. A minor infraction can turn into a misdemeanor charge and even a felony if the proper steps are not taken to resolve traffic citations.
What Is the Difference Between an Infraction and a Misdemeanor in New York?
Violations of traffic laws and regulations can be grouped into three major categories depending on the severity of the violation or crime. Felonies, of course, are the highest level of violation, but drivers in violation of traffic regulations that result in tickets or citations should be most concerned with infractions and misdemeanors. A New York City traffic attorney is the best representation for explaining the ramifications for ignoring traffic violations.
What is an Infraction?
An traffic infraction or violation is a minor offense under the law that typically does not require jail time. It is not considered a criminal offense. In general, a fine or penalty fee is imposed, the driver pays, and the matter is closed. The driver does not have to appear in court and simply can pay the fines and penalties online or via mail.
Points can be assigned to a driver’s license for infractions, which can then have bigger ramifications as time goes by--such as suspension or revocation of a license--but initial infractions themselves are not criminal charges. Criminal charges may result from a traffic infraction, but they are not the infraction. For example, a speeding ticket can be an infraction, but if the speeding led to death or injury, additional charges may be added at the misdemeanor or felony level.
What is a Misdemeanor in New York?
A misdemeanor is a more serious charge than an infraction or violation and represents an actual criminal charge. Where traffic violations typically only appear on your driving record, a misdemeanor appears on your criminal record and can be found through a simple request by law enforcement officials, particularly police officers who pull drivers over for traffic violations. If you have an outstanding warrant on your record, you may be arrested immediately.
Misdemeanors vary in severity and are further categorized as Class A for more serious offenses and Class B or uncategorized for lesser ones. A wide variety of punishments can be imposed, from fines and probation to community service or jail time. Driving with a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor.
How Does a Minor Infraction Traffic Ticket Lead to a Misdemeanor?
The most common traffic misdemeanor is driving with a suspended or revoked license. In 2017 alone, over half a million traffic convictions were for driving without a license. Drivers can find themselves being charged with this violation if they have outstanding traffic citations on their driving record.
If a driver fails to pay the fine for a traffic citation within the prescribed time, the driver’s license is automatically suspended. New York City is not required to inform driver’s their license has been suspended, although it does try to contact the driver. The system can fail a driver if, for instance, the wrong address for the driver is on file. As a result, drivers who may have forgotten about a ticket or never knew they had a court date might be driving without knowing their license is suspended. Not being aware of a license suspension is not a defense against the charge.
When drivers decide to contest a New York traffic citation, they receive an appearance date on which they must appear in court. If a driver fails to appear on the required date, a warrant in some jurisdictions for failure to appear will be issued, also known as a “bench warrant,” and the driver can be arrested and brought to court.
Once a driver’s license has been suspended, they are in violation of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law regulations if caught driving. During a routine traffic stop, a police officer will check the driver’s driving and criminal record, at which time any outstanding warrant and/or suspended license will be discovered. Driving with a suspended license then becomes a new charge in addition to the original traffic citation.
What are the Penalties for Driving with a Suspended License?
Depending on the circumstances, the penalties can be wide-ranging and severe. Fines and fees are automatically set between $200 and $500. Mandatory fees and other penalties may apply. Jail time can occur for various periods of time, ranging from waiting hours upon arrest to appear before a judge--including overnight--and jail time convictions for up to 180 days. After all fines and penalties are paid for the charges, more administrative fees are assessed for lifting the license suspension.
The domino effect can be financially and personally devastating for drivers. The initial immediate arrest disrupting work and family schedules, difficulties finding transportation while under suspension, or being unable to perform driving-related work obligations can have long-term effects. Misdemeanor convictions also can stay on a criminal record for years and have an impact on any future trouble with the law.
How Do I Fight A Misdemeanor Traffic Arrest in New York City?
If you find yourself the subject of a misdemeanor arrest, you should immediately contact a New York City traffic attorney. Local attorneys know the local laws, system, and challenges of the court system. Due to the often complex nature of misdemeanor laws related to traffic violations, a traffic attorney can be an invaluable resource to reduce the damage to your life and finances. They can help guide you to the best possible solutions when possible, including reducing fines, advocating for a temporary or conditional license, and even help clear or avoid charges and convictions from appearing on your criminal record in some circumstances.
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With our 60 years of combined experience working with the New York Legal System and Most NY Traffic Courts, our team of local traffic lawyers will defend your tickets saving you money and time. We will aggressively contest your violations and seek to reduce your sentence, lower fines, and avoid getting points in order to prevent suspension or revocation of your license as well as increased insurance premiums