Articles Posted in Traffic Infractions

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.

In Florida, it is a crime for a person to drive a motor vehicle if his/her license is suspended and he/she knows it is suspended.  That last part is important because it is only a civil traffic infraction to drive with a suspended license in Florida if the driver is not aware of the license suspension.  In many cases, for first time violators, whether a person gets the civil citation or a criminal charge for driving with a suspended license will depend on how the officer who pulls the driver over feels.

If the state believes the driver knew he/she had a suspended license and drove anyway, the state will charge the driver with a crime.  Normally, it is a misdemeanor crime.  However, if a person has two or more prior convictions for driving with a suspended license, the state can charge the person with a third degree felony.  For the first or second violation, the penalties are usually minimal, especially if the defendant can obtain a good license while the case is pending.  Additionally, the state will often charge a person with the misdemeanor crime even if he/she has a few prior convictions because most prosecutors understand there are much more serious cases that should occupy their time.  However, once a person gets several of these convictions or once the person has been charged with a felony, jail time and/or future felony charges are a real possibility for subsequent violations.

A person’s driver’s license can be suspended for a few reasons, including a DUI, a marijuana possession conviction, unpaid tickets, too many points on the driving record, auto insurance issues and other reasons.  Judges often consider driving on a suspended license more or less serious, and more or less deserving of jail time, depending on the reason for the underlying suspension.  For instance, many judges in Florida will generally order jail time if a person is driving while his/her license is suspended due to a recent DUI conviction.  On the other hand, judges usually are not too concerned about suspensions due to unpaid tickets, especially if they are paid in a reasonable period of time.

In Florida, there are certain crimes that come with an automatic suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license. For instance, a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) conviction will always result in a driver’s license suspension of at least six months. Other crimes that come with driver’s license suspensions include possession of marijuana and racing if the defendant is convicted of one of those crimes.

Routine traffic offenses are not considered crimes in Florida. They are not normally handled in criminal court; they are handled in traffic court by a traffic court judge. The penalty for most traffic citations is a fine and possibly a driver improvement course. If a person gets a certain number of traffic tickets within a certain period of time, it can result in a driver’s license suspension.

While the penalty for most traffic tickets is a fine, the judge does have the authority to suspend a person’s driver’s license for a routine traffic violation like speeding or running a red light. A Florida statute gives the judge discretion to suspend a person’s driver’s license for a period of up to one year for certain traffic violations.

In Florida, it is a misdemeanor crime to drive a vehicle if your driver’s license has been suspended. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles can suspend your driver’s license for a variety of reasons – a DUI arrest, failing to pay traffic tickets, a possession of marijuana conviction and other reasons. If you get a few driving with a suspended license charges within a certain period of time, it can lead to habitual traffic offender status and a five year driver’s license revocation. This can become a real problem for someone who needs his/her vehicle for work, to take care of children and other necessities. Not only do multiple driving with a suspended license convictions result in longer driver’s license suspensions, if you get enough of these charges in a relatively short period of time, they can result in felony convictions and serious jail or prison time.

There is another basis for the state to suspend your driver’s license that has nothing to do with traffic laws or criminal charges. In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a man was ordered to pay alimony, or spousal support, as part of a divorce judgment. However, he allegedly lost his job and stopped making the alimony payments. The Florida Department of Revenue sent him a notice of intent to suspend his driver’s license and motor vehicle registration for failing to pay alimony. The man challenged the procedure by which his driver’s license and vehicle registration were suspended, but he lost. The state is allowed to suspend a person’s driver’s license and vehicle registration for failure to pay alimony. The individual would be allowed to petition the court for relief based on the loss of his job or income, but this is another method by which the state can suspend a person’s driver’s license.

It could certainly be argued that this is a counterproductive enforcement technique, particularly if a person lost his/her job or had some other financial emergency. Additionally, if a person can not drive and gets a criminal conviction for driving with a suspended license, it makes it difficult to get or keep a job. Without stable employment, it is difficult to pay alimony or child support. On the other hand, when people do not pay alimony or child support, the state does not have many options to enforce the support order, and doing nothing certainly will not help the person who needs the financial assistance.

One thing people in Florida do not always realize is that driving is considered a right, not a privilege. This does not mean that the DMV in Florida is going to withdraw drivers’ licenses for no reason, but it does mean that when the DMV does revoke a person’s driving privileges, that person may have much less recourse than in criminal cases where Constitutional rights are at issue.

For example, in DUI cases, the DMV will almost always suspend a person’s driver’s license based merely upon a DUI arrest. Of course, according to Constitutional law, a person is innocent until proven guilty and an arrest, by itself, is not proof of guilt. However, since driving is a privilege and the DMV operates under its own set of rules, they can suspend a driver’s license immediately upon a DUI arrest. The driver will have an opportunity to challenge the license suspension, but that process does not have anywhere near the safeguards and thoroughness that comes with a criminal case.

The DMV can also suspend your driver’s license if there is an indication that you are not medically fit to drive. All it takes to start this process is a report from someone that you are not medically fit to drive. This can be a doctor or anyone with any knowledge of your ability to drive. If someone makes such a report to the DMV, the DMV might open a file and send you a letter telling you to go see a doctor and get examined to see if the doctor thinks you should be driving. The doctor would then prepare a report that goes to the DMV. If the doctor concludes that you are not fit to drive, the DMV will likely suspend your license until you can prove, with the assistance of a doctor, that you are competent to drive.

In Florida, it is illegal to get into a traffic crash and then leave the scene without waiting for the police and providing identification and insurance information. For crashes that involve minor impacts, there must be some property damage or injury to trigger the requirement to remain at the scene. Therefore, if you slightly hit another vehicle and verify there was no damage or injuries, you are free to leave. However, if there is any property damage, or any injury, you are not free to leave.

If a person is in a crash that involves serious injury or death and leaves the scene, it is a serious felony crime in Florida. The main idea is that if a person causes a serious injury or death, the police want to be able to investigate that person to see if he/she is following the law. If a person leaves the scene without waiting for police, the state assumes the person is involved in criminal activity such as driving while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license or recklessly caused the crash.

However, there have been “accidents” with serious injuries or death that do not involve actual crashes. In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the passenger somehow exited the moving vehicle, hit the pavement and died. The driver, however, just kept driving. After the driver was found and charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving death, the criminal defense lawyer argued the case should be dismissed because there was actually no “crash”. The evidence showed that the vehicle never hit the passenger or anything else to cause the passenger to exit the vehicle. While this is a good argument, the court rejected it.

In some states, it is illegal to text while driving. In Florida, there is no law against it, but that will likely change soon. There are bills moving through the Florida legislature that would make it illegal to text and drive. If one of the bills becomes the law in Florida, it will not be a criminal offense to text and drive; it will merely be a civil traffic infraction that will result in a traffic ticket and a fine. Additionally as the proposed law appears now, it will be a secondary offense. The significance of this is that the police are not allowed to pull a driver over based solely on a secondary offense. If texting and driving becomes a secondary offense, the police cannot pull someone over and give them a ticket if they are just texting and driving. The police can only give a driver a ticket for texting and driving if he/she is able to pull him/her over for a primary offense such as speeding or running a red light.

This becomes critical in criminal cases as many criminal cases, such as DUI and possession of illegal drugs or guns, start with a simple traffic stop. In all of those cases, it is important that the criminal defense lawyer review the stop and make sure it was legal. If the initial traffic stop is not legal, the evidence obtained by the police officer after the stop cannot be used against the defendant if there is a subsequent arrest and criminal charge.

The Florida Highway Patrol has announced intentions to increase efforts to stop road rage incidents and aggressive driving. This should result in more traffic stops which should also lead to more arrests. Aggressive driving typically means following too closely, quick lane changes and speeding. Those actions typically just result in traffic citations that are punishable by a fine, or potentially a license suspension if a driver gets too many within a certain period of time. If the aggressive driving is dangerous enough, in the opinion of the officer, it can become reckless driving which is a misdemeanor crime punishable by jail time. Additionally, many arrests for more serious crimes begin with a seemingly harmless traffic stop. Driving with a suspended license, DUI, possession of various illegal drugs, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and carrying a concealed weapon are all crimes that are often detected by police after an unrelated traffic stop.

Everyone should be aware of their rights. If a police officer stops you for violating a traffic law, that is not a legal basis to search you or your vehicle. The police officer can always ask you if you will consent to a search and make it sound like a good idea for you to consent to a search. However, everyone should understand that a traffic stop plus a police officer’s hunch that you are involved in a crime do not equate to probable cause to search, and you have a right to refuse a request to search you or any of your property.

With oil speculators wreaking havoc with the oil markets and gas prices continuously increasing once again, we thought it might be helpful to post this article addressing rules for riding your bicycle in Florida. Yahoo! Sports cited Lasnetski Gihon Law in the article so we will return the favor and post their article on our blog.

Jacksonville, Florida ranks fifth in the United States for speed traps, according to a report from the National Motorists Association as reported in an article on How often a city’s or county’s police department gives tickets is often related to the city’s or county’s financial situation. As everyone knows, Jacksonville is struggling like many other places.

In any case, getting a traffic ticket can have several serious ramifications. Normally, a traffic ticket results in a low three figure fine and some points on a person’s driving record. That, in and of itself, is not very serious. However, if a person accumulates multiple tickets over a period of time, the DMV can suspend that person’s driver’s license. Additionally, the DMV will suspend a person’s driver’s license if the traffic fine is not paid. If a person gets caught driving with a suspended license, he/she can be arrested for a crime and face jail time. If a person gets convicted three times for driving with a suspended license, in addition to jail time, that person faces a five year license revocation. So, one traffic ticket is not a serious matter. However, multiple traffic tickets can result in much more serious problems.

Individual traffic stops can also lead to very serious trouble. Many drug possession, gun possession and DUI cases result from a seemingly harmless traffic stop. The police officer may initially intend to write a speeding ticket but then suspect the driver is impaired and initiate a DUI investigation. A police officer may suspect a vehicle occupant has illegal drugs or a concealed firearm in the vehicle and search the vehicle either by consent of the driver or another method. Many routine traffic stops result in serious criminal arrests after the police officer conducts an investigation and finds something illegal in the vehicle. It is important for anyone to understand that he/she has a Constitutional right to refuse any time a police officer asks for consent to search a vehicle or anything else belonging to that person.

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