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The Difference Between a Civil Traffic Ticket/Citation and a Criminal Traffic Ticket/Citation

Civil Traffic Ticket

A traffic ticket is simply a form given to a motorist, or pedestrian, whom the officer has observed or believed has violated a civil traffic law such as running a stop light, speeding, making an illegal turn, crossing the street illegally, or committing a nonmoving offense like a parking meter violation.

Tickets are forms listing a number of violations that the officer merely checks off and advises the violator of the fine involved. It also informs you how to respond by mailing in the form and a check for the fine, paying the fine online, or by challenging the ticket and having to appear in court. A traffic ticket and a traffic citation are usually used interchangeably.

Civil traffic violations do not carry criminal penalties but can still result in points assessed against your driver’s license, which can lead to increased insurance premiums and eventual license suspension or revocation if you accumulate too many points. If you then drive knowing that your driver’s license is suspended it then becomes a criminal offense.

Civil Traffic Citation

Any driver who has committed a traffic infraction in Florida is given a citation, which is also a ticket but it usually directs the traffic violator, or alleged violator, to respond by appearing in court. Some citations may allow you to avoid a court appearance by paying the fine online or by mailing in a check.

The penalty for a civil traffic infraction is usually a fine and costs. Additionally, points may be assessed on your driving record. An infraction is a non-criminal charge.

Your options once you receive a civil traffic ticket consist of the following:

  • Pay the fine indicated on the ticket or imposed by the court.
  • Ask the court for an informal hearing where you can explain to the judge or magistrate what occurred. The officer can also explain his or her observations. No attorneys can be present.
  • Request a formal hearing where the prosecution must present evidence that you violated a traffic law. You may retain an attorney to represent you.
  • Attend traffic school.

For an infraction, assuming your driving record is in good standing, you can attend traffic school after paying the assessed fine. You have 30-days from the date of your ticket to complete an affidavit attached to the citation, notarize your signature, and return the form to the clerk’s office in the county where you received the citation.

Traffic school requires attending a 4-hour driver improvement course. You may only attend the course once over a 12-month period and no more than five times in a lifetime. You have 60 to 90 days to complete the course once you have indicated your intention to attend. Upon completion and submittal of a certificate of completion to the traffic division of the clerk’s office, you will not be assessed any points by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

If you pay the fine online or by check, you have admitted your guilt and cannot challenge it. If you want to contest your ticket or citation, do not pay the fine and promptly contact a traffic defense attorney for a consultation. If you risk a license suspension, an attorney may be able to mount a defense or mitigate the penalty so you can retain your license.

Criminal Traffic Ticket/Citation

Unlike a traffic infraction, a criminal traffic ticket alleges that you have committed a criminal traffic violation. This includes alcohol-related driving offenses such as a DUI, which is a misdemeanor for your first offense. Other examples include the following:

  • Reckless driving
  • Driving with a suspended license
  • Driving without a valid license
  • Hit and run
  • Being a HTO or habitual traffic offender
  • Vehicular homicide or manslaughter
  • Careless driving
  • Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Attempting to elude law enforcement

Most criminal traffic offenses are misdemeanors, but you can be charged with a felony. For example, if you are charged with a DUI that resulted in serious bodily injury or death or you are an HTO (habitual traffic offender), these offenses will likely be charged as felonies. Criminal offenses carry the possibility of a jail or prison sentence depending on whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. Other criminal consequences include suspension or revocation of your license, probation, community control, home confinement, fines, traffic classes and vehicle impoundment. Other non-criminal consequences include but are not limited to, loss of insurance, increased insurance premiums, loss of employment, and a permanent mark on your driving and criminal record.

When issued a ticket or citation and you have been charged with a traffic misdemeanor or felony, you will be required to appear in the district court where the violation occurred for an arraignment. This is an appearance where the charges are read, you are advised of your rights, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Failure to appear can lead to a warrant for your arrest and suspension of your driving privileges.

If you plead not guilty, then you have a right to a trial by judge or jury and be represented by an attorney. A conviction can result in fines, costs, points added to your driving record, and possible jail time in some circumstances.

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