Many traffic tickets are actually civil infractions, not criminal misdemeanors. However, they are not civil cases in that they can only be initiated by the prosecuting attorney, not a private party. They are not criminal cases in that there is no incarceration (unless you violate the judge’s orders), and the charged person is referred to as a “Respondent,” not the “Defendant.”
Civil Infractions are punishable by fines and costs. Common examples are speeding, operating without a seatbelt, failure to stop, and illegal passing. Note: Civil infractions are not always traffic tickets. They can also be issued for code violations. Common examples are violations of a housing building or zoning code, and include such things as blight and illegal burning violations.
Civil Infractions begin with the issuance of a ticket. The ticket must either be paid, or a plea of “not responsible” entered, in the allotted time or a default judgment will be taken against you.
A default judgment is a finding of responsibility for the violation because you did not appear to contest it, and an order of fines and costs is entered automatically by the Court. You must pay it or you could face a warrant for your arrest.
If you enter a plea of “not responsible,” the matter will proceed to a pretrial conference and then a formal hearing. The pretrial conference is where your attorney and the prosecutor will meet before a judge or Court referee. If there is to be a resolution without trial, it will usually occur at this point. A formal hearing is a “mini-trial” before the judge without a jury in which the prosecution has to prove you responsible by a very low burden of proof called a preponderance of the evidence (a finding that the evidence supports the ticket by more than 50%). If you are found responsible by trial, the Court will enter a sentence of fines and costs against you, and the Secretary of State will be notified of your conviction and the appropriate number of points for the ticket will be entered on your driving record.
Some traffic tickets, such as drunk driving and driving while license is suspended, remain criminal misdemeanors, punishable not only by Court fines and costs, but also by jail time.
If you have a traffic ticket and would like our legal assistance, please contact us at your earliest possible convenience, because time is a critical issue with tickets.