Most traffic violations in California are infractions, meaning they are not criminal offenses. Only fines and license suspensions can result from infractions. Multiple violations can enhance an infraction to a criminal charge, however, and you could face possible incarceration, prolonged suspension of your driving privileges, and be forced to pay substantial insurance premiums.
Types of Violations
Numerous traffic violations in California include both moving and non-moving offenses:
- Running a red light or stop sign
- Driving without insurance
- Illegal U-turns
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Reckless driving
- Seat belt/child restraint violations
- Hit and Run
- Driving with a suspended license
- Expired registration
- Intoxicated driving offenses
- Cell phone use
These offenses can carry consequential penalties such as increased insurance premiums, confiscation of your vehicle, and installation of ignition interlock devices for convicted drunk drivers.
When you are charged under California's DUI laws, you face both administrative and criminal proceedings. After the arresting officer gives you a temporary license following your arrest, you have 10 days to request a DMV hearing or your license will be suspended. At this civil hearing, you and your attorney may present defenses to your traffic stop, your arrest or the test procedure, and you may cross-examine the arresting officer or anyone else involved.
You also face criminal charges for a DUI, which are usually misdemeanors. Generally, you face charges if you have a blood alcohol content of at least 0.08 percent, which is the legal limit, and for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can be charged with a felony if this is your fourth offense within 10 years, or if you caused an accident resulting in a serious injury or fatality. Following your arrest, you will be arraigned. You may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty at this time. Your arraignment is followed by a pretrial conference within the next 30 to 60 days. Most cases are resolved at the time of the pretrial conference with a negotiated plea. If this does not occur, a jury or court trial will be scheduled.
Law enforcement officers may stop your vehicle if the officer has probable cause to believe you violated a traffic law or committed a crime. If the officer observes a vehicle malfunction or illegal modification, you may be stopped. If you are weaving in your lane, speeding, driving too slowly, or sleeping in your car at the side of the road, an officer has the right to stop you or make inquiries.
It is not uncommon for counties to conduct roadside sobriety checkpoints. The county agencies involved must give prior notice to motorists of the location of the checkpoints and follow other protocol to survive legal challenges.
Consequences of Violations
Most minor violations only warrant a warning by an officer, but you can face fines, license suspension, confiscation of your vehicle, traffic court, and points on your record if you receive a ticket. The California DMV assigns one to two points for violations based on their severity. The DMV may suspend your license if you accumulate four points or more within a 12-month period.
Challenging Your Ticket
Unless you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony traffic violation, you are not entitled to a jury trial if you contest your ticket or citation. If you do challenge your ticket, you will have to go to traffic court and offer a reasonable explanation or deny having committed the infraction before a judge in open court.
Consult a Traffic Law Attorney
Traffic laws change frequently and are subject to challenge and interpretation in many cases. Speak with a traffic law attorney or criminal defense lawyer to assess your legal options if you are charged with a violation.