Florida law distinguishes between traffic violations that are civil and can only result in a fine or possible driver’s license suspension and traffic violations that are criminal and can result in charges and even prison time. Sometimes, there is overlap. For instance, if a person gets a DUI, the DHSMV will get involved and often issue a license suspension, and there will also be a criminal case that can involve a separate license suspension as well as other penalties. Very poor driving can result in a careless driving traffic ticket which comes with a fine or a criminal charge of reckless driving which comes with criminal penalties and a possible automatic license suspension. If someone is injured or killed as a result of someone else’s negligent or bad driving, that could either be a civil traffic case or a criminal case, or both.
In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant committed a traffic violation that resulted in a crash. At the time, there was no fatality so he was given traffic citations which indicated no serious injury or death. Whether it was a mistake by the police officer or someone died later due to the crash and injuries, there was a fatality and the state later sought to charge the defendant with a traffic infraction involving death.
At the scene, the police officer did not have the defendant sign the citations. Florida law requires a signature by the defendant for any traffic infraction that requires a court appearance or any traffic violation that results in a criminal charge. In this case, the defendant did not appear in court because he was not given and did not sign any citation indicating a court date was required or there was a criminal charge related to the incident. The defendant had a criminal defense lawyer appear for him at a court date, but that was not the same as the defendant’s appearance so the requirement for a signature was not waived. At the court appearance, the state tried to upgrade the charge to reflect the fatality. However, the criminal defense attorney objected since there was no signature on the citations. The court agreed. Since there was no signature, there was no requirement for the defendant to appear in court. Since the defendant was not in court, the court did not have jurisdiction over the defendant to upgrade the charges against him in his absence. As a result, the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer was allowed to resolve the case with the civil traffic violation with no fatality at that court appearance and not face more serious charges.