What is the difference between a criminal charge and a traffic ticket?

The other day I got a phone call and the prospective client told me they had a traffic ticket they needed me to handle.  My first thought was, oh they must have gotten a speeding ticket, which is an infraction in the State of Idaho.  I don’t normally handle infractions, since they usually involve paying a $50-$100 fine, and nothing more.  Clients don’t normally hire me to handle such marginal cases.  But the client proceeded to tell me that they had been arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence.  I knew then that they had not simply gotten a “traffic ticket” or “infraction”, they had been charged with a misdemeanor criminal charge.

This wasn’t the first time I had someone call me and indicate that they had been charged with an infraction or traffic ticket, when in fact they and been charged with a criminal charge. This is a common and frequent mistake.  Most commonly made when someone gets a reckless driving, inattentive driving, or driving without privileges charge.  They go to the court to pay the ticket, and are told that they must see a judge first, that is when they usually realize they have a serious problem.

So what is the difference between a misdemeanor and an infraction?

According to Idaho Code 18-111 an infraction is a “civil public offense, not constituting a crime, which is punishable only by a penalty not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100) and for which no period of incarceration may be imposed.”  So in other words, an infraction carries no possibility of jail.

So any case that requires any possibility of a jail sentence is a misdemeanor (or of course possibly a felony).  You may think, well I don’t drink, I don’t get into fights, and I never steal anything, so I will never have to worry about jail.  Guess again.  I have represented not just a few clients for charges like dog at large, dog nuisance, fish and game violations, trespassing, and many other types of cases that most people would think would be charged as infractions when they are charged as misdemeanors and carry potential jail time.  Most of these clients have no criminal history, and never been inside a court room.  So do not think it cannot happen to you.

If you’ve received a “ticket” from a police officer lately, and you think it’s an infraction, an unless it’s a speeding ticket or something similar, you should call an attorney to make doubly sure that it’s not a misdemeanor criminal charge.  You can call our office at 208-571-0627 and we can help you figure it out.

 

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