In Virginia, traffic offenses have two categories: traffic infractions and crimes.
A traffic offense which is criminal in nature is either a misdemeanor or a felony.
A traffic infraction is a "violation of the public order" - it is not a crime.
Whether a crime or an infraction, there can be negative consequences associated with a conviction for committing a traffic offense.
Penalties associated with a traffic infraction typically involve a fine up to $250 (except for Running a Red Light and Improper Driving which carry fines of $350 and $500, respectively). The Virginia DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) assesses points for infractions which are recorded on a driver's DMV transcript. These points can also be assessed for traffic offenses that are crimes. The points are fixed; the judge cannot waive or reduce them. A person's point balance on their driving transcript can impact their insurance rates and premiums and can result in the DMV suspending their license for rapid point accumulation. Additionally, certain traffic related offenses require, upon conviction, the suspension of one's driver's license.
Common traffic offenses which are crimes include: Reckless Driving by Speed (20 mph over the speed limit or any speed in excess of 80 mph); Reckless Driving General; Racing; Eluding the Police (as a felony or misdemeanor); Hit and Run (as a felony or misdemeanor); Driving w/o a License; Failing to Update a License; Driving on Suspended; Driving on Revoked related to DUI (as a felony or misdemeanor). Each of these offense carries as a punishment the possibility of a jail sentence, the loss of the privilege to drive, and a fine of up to $2,500.
There are several goals one may seek to achieve in defending a traffic offense that has been charged by a police officer.
- First and foremost, to seek a resolution that does not involve any jail time;
- Second, to reduce or eliminate any period of license loss;
- Third, to minimize the monetary penalty that could be imposed; and
- Lastly, to reduce the number of points that will be assessed by the DMV.
These goals can be achieved through the plea bargaining process or by taking the matter to trial. Whether to engage in a plea bargain or to contest the matter and proceed to trial requires a full analysis of the facts of the case and an understanding of the applicable law.
(Note - not every traffic offense has as a potential penalty the possibility of jail, or the loss of your license. No traffic infraction carries even the possibility of jail and the court cannot suspend your license for an infraction; the DMV, however, can suspend your license for a traffic infraction conviction if you have accumulated excessive points on your record within a short period of time.)
These are all issues that an experienced traffic attorney can counsel you on in order to make the best decision for you. Contact us today if you have been charged with a traffic related offense in Fairfax County or elsewhere in Northern Virginia!