As a practicing traffic defense attorney in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, there are several civil and criminal offenses that I see quite frequently. In terms of civil infractions, the most common thing I see is speeding. In terms of criminal infractions, I most commonly see DUIs and reckless driving.
Another infraction I see frequently is driving on a suspended license, which can be classified as a civil matter or a criminal matter depending on whether or not you knew your license was suspended at the time. If you can show you were unaware your license was suspended, it becomes a civil matter, but if you cannot, it becomes a more serious criminal matter.
Which Traffic Infractions Are Considered Civil And Which Are Considered Criminal In Pinellas County And Hillsborough County Traffic Courts?
Civil infractions tend to be more along the lines of speeding, running a stop sign, and basic accident infractions like careless driving. Criminal infractions are usually more serious, and include DUIs, knowingly driving on a suspended license, and reckless driving.
How Long Do I Have To Respond To A Traffic Ticket In Pinellas Or Hillsborough County?
In Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, civil and criminal traffic tickets have different deadlines by which you must respond.
With civil offenses, you have 30 days from the day the ticket is issued to respond. If you don’t respond within that time, it defaults, and becomes what is known as a D6. This essentially means that your license is suspended until you take care of the ticket. If you drive on a suspended D6 license, it will be assumed that you are doing so knowingly, and you may face criminal charges.
With criminal offenses, the court will usually schedule an arraignment. You will get notice in the mail of when the arraignment is scheduled, and in most cases, you will be expected to physically appear in court on that day. If you miss the arraignment without notice, you will have a warrant put out for your arrest. This could result in steeper penalties and fines, including jail time.
What Are The Consequences If I Simply Don’t Answer Or Pay My Ticket?
The potential consequences for ignoring a ticket vary, depending on whether the infraction was civil or criminal.
As mentioned above, if you don’t answer or pay your ticket for a civil infraction within 30 days, it defaults into a D6. This means your license and driving privileges will be suspended until you deal with it.
If you don’t do anything about a criminal infraction, including not showing up to your arraignment with no notice, there will be a warrant issued for your arrest. In my experience, the police tend to catch people with these sorts of warrants sooner rather than later.
It should be noted that with criminal infractions, simply paying your ticket may also cause potential consequences (though far less severe consequences than you would face if you didn’t pay the ticket in addition to ignoring your court summons.) Paying the ticket admits guilt, which can mean mandatory points on your license, as well as increased insurance rates. However, a good traffic defense attorney will know that there are ways to avoid these penalties in many cases.
One of the main legal tools an attorney can use in these matters is a Withhold of Adjudication, sometimes called “a withhold.” It involves special sentencing in which a judge withholds judgement (i.e., does not declare you guilty of a crime.) In withhold cases, the judge usually orders probation or other types of penalties, but does not actually convict the defendant of a criminal offense.
If an attorney successfully argues for a Withhold of Adjudication, the defendant gets to walk away with no points on their license. In addition, a Florida-specific statute states that if you get a withhold for a traffic offense, insurance companies cannot raise your premiums. The one exception to this rule is if a defendant was responsible for an accident, and their insurance had to pay out money to the other driver. In most other cases, however, a Withhold of Adjudication allows defendants to avoid license points and the accompanying raised insurance premiums.
What Is The Process Of Entering A Not Guilty Plea For Civil And Criminal Traffic Violations?
In a civil case, you go to the county clerk’s office and say you want to fight your ticket for a civil infraction. The clerk will enter a not guilty plea and help you set a date for a hearing. If you hire an attorney, they can do it all of this remotely through an online system called the E-Filing Portal. In that case, your attorney will enter the not guilty plea, the basic details of the case, and a request for a hearing into the portal. The process is automated through the clerk’s office, which will then assign you a hearing date.
In a criminal case, you usually enter a not guilty plea at arraignment. This is the phase in the process where the judge tells you what you are being charged with and asks how you plead. One problem with knowing how to plead at arraignment is that you often don’t have a full picture of the case yet. Arraignment comes before discovery (the phase where evidence is presented.) At that early point, neither you nor your attorney nor the judge knows much about the state’s evidence. It’s entirely possible that the evidence is weak, or that a good attorney can argue against it. If you plead guilty before finding out what the state’s evidence is, you throw away any chance you might otherwise have to get the charges reduced or dismissed. Therefore, it is usually advisable to plead not guilty rather than admitting to the violation at arraignment.
In civil court, you also don’t really know what the state has at the beginning of the process. Let’s say that your infraction was speeding. If you go to civil court on a speeding citation, the police officer who gave you the ticket has to present several parts of evidence. They have to present their logbook, which documents whether the entries on your case were calibrated before or after the shift. They also have to state under oath that they are certified to run whatever device they used to measure your speed, whether it was a radar or laser device or a pace clock. In addition, they have to testify that they made a visual observation as to what your speed was before they confirmed it with the device. This is a critical step that most people, including attorneys, frequently miss.
If the officer can confirm all of these things, it becomes somewhat harder to beat a speeding citation. However, in many cases, there are small loose ends, especially when it comes to the logbook. Though the logbook is usually presumed correct unless it faces a challenge in court, it is relatively easy to raise a challenge against it.
An attorney can also argue about the severity of the infraction through the facts of the case, and negotiate for a less severe charge. For example, let’s say that you were going 75 MPH in a 45 MPH zone, so you get a ticket for being 30 MPH over the speed limit. The exact speed is important here, as the higher above the speed limit you were going, the more severe the infraction, and the steeper the potential fines and penalties. An attorney can negotiate with the state, offering to admit to the violation if they agree to adjust the speed down.
Sometimes the state will indeed agree to those terms, which can significantly reduce the seriousness of the infraction. In the case of the example above, even if they drop the clocked rate by 1 MPH, the infraction becomes “29-over” rather than “30-over,” which recategorizes it. Rather than facing fines of over $500, you now have a fine of around $281, and a charge that looks less severe on your record.
In the end, a lot of the work that attorneys do during traffic cases is that sort of negotiation. This is the most effective advantage you can give yourself when facing a traffic infraction, since skillful and knowledgeable negotiation can significantly reduce or even eliminate your charges.
As another example, let’s say you are a CDL (commercial) driver charged with dropping an unsecured load. In Florida, this is a mandatory court offense, meaning you are required to show up in court to handle it rather than being able to simply pay a ticket. As a commercial driver, you really don’t want those charges on your license or your record. If you hire an attorney, they can negotiate with the ticketing officer and see if maybe they’ll amend to a littering charge. Since it does not directly implicate you professionally, a littering charge will look much better on your CDL license/record down the road than an unsecured load charge.
It should be noted that commercial drivers face unique issues when it comes to this process. Judges sometimes get upset about attempts to negotiate charges down, especially if it’s for professional reasons. There is a technical federal law that states that you can’t mask or obscure CDL tickets, which is stressed by some judges more than others. With some judges, it becomes a complex separation of powers issue that we will not fully address here for the sake of brevity.
Suffice it to say, a good attorney will be able to navigate a judge’s concerns about obscuring a CDL ticket while also getting the best results for their client. In the end, if it is at all possible, you do want to avoid certain events winding up on your license/record, and attorneys can help with that.
For more information on Traffic Violations Cases in Florida, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (727) 478-4222 today.