Many people confuse a traffic citation with a promise to appear (PTA) for a
criminal traffic offense.
A traffic citation is a non-criminal (civil) violation of state or local traffic laws. These infractions are dealt with in our county courts and are heard by traffic magistrates, not judges. There is no right to a jury trial for a non-criminal traffic violation, only the right to a hearing before a magistrate. The State Attorney's Office does not prosecute non-criminal traffic violations. You do not have the right to have an attorney represent you during a non-criminal traffic violation hearing, however you may hire one if you like. If found guilty, you face only points on your driver's license, traffic school, and fines. You cannot be sentenced to probation or jail time for a non-criminal traffic violation.
Some examples of non-criminal traffic infractions are speeding, failure to maintain a single lane, running a red light, and failure to stop at a stop sign. Plain and simple, they are just your average run-of-the-mill traffic tickets.
Criminal traffic violations are crimes, and if you are issued a written promise to appear by the arresting office, you have just been arrested. Remember - you do not have to be put in handcuffs and taken to jail in order to be arrested. Florida law permits police officers to issue a written promise to appear in misdemeanor cases in lieu of physically arresting an accused person if the accused meets certain criteria.
Criminal traffic offenses, while misdemeanors, are still prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office and can subject the accused to up to one year in jail per charge. You have the right to a criminal defense attorney if you are facing jail time for a criminal traffic offense.
Unlike traffic infractions, criminal traffic offenses are crimes, therefore can leave you with a criminal record if you do not seal or expunge the arrest. Also, being convicted of a traffic infraction only means points will be assessed against your driver's license. Being convicted of a criminal traffic offense means that you will have a criminal conviction on your record for 75 years unless your plea is timely vacated, you are pardoned by the governor, or the conviction is overturned on appeal.
Some examples of criminal traffic offenses are: Driving While License Suspended (DWLS),
No Valid Driver's License (NVDL), Valid Driver's License Restriction (VDLR),
Leaving the Scene of an Accident (LSA), and
DUI, of course, is also a criminal traffic offense, however PTAs are never issued in DUI cases. You will always go to jail when arrested for DUI.
If you or a loved one are facing criminal traffic charges in Miami-Dade or Broward, call me.