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


The other day I got a phone call and the gentleman told me he had a traffic ticket he needed me to handle.  My first thought was, oh he must have gotten a speeding ticket, which is an infraction in the State of Idaho.  

Criminal Charge

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 this gentleman proceeded to tell me that he had been arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence.  That’s when I knew he had not simply gotten a “traffic ticket” or “infraction”. They had been charged with a misdemeanor criminal charge.

Common Mistake

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.  

Common Traffic Misdemeanors

The misunderstanding typically happens when someone gets a reckless driving, inattentive driving, or driving without privileges charge.  They were only c

on these charges, not arrested. They go to the court to pay the ticket. They are told that they must see a judge first, that is when they realize they have a serious problem.

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

Definition of 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.

Crime = Jail

Any case that carries a possible jail sentence is a crime.  Felonies and misdemeanors are both crimes.  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.

Minor Criminal Cases

I have represented clients for charges like ‘dog at large’, ‘dog nuisance’, ‘fish and game violations’, ‘trespassing’, and other types of cases that people think would be charged as infractions when they are in fact charged as misdemeanors and carry potential jail time.  Most of these clients have no criminal history and have never been inside a courtroom.  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, unless it’s a speeding ticket or something similar, 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.

Boise, Idaho Criminal Defense Attorney

Craig Atkinson is the lead attorney at Atkinson Law Office,
Boise DUI and Criminal Attorneys. It is located at 1087 W River St #290, Boise, ID 83702. You can call him anytime at 208.571.0627.

Ask Craig to review your case.

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