Traffic Violation or Criminal Charge: Is There a Difference?
You may not think that speeding or other traffic violations are a big deal. In other parts of the country these tickets may not mean much more than a fine. But in Georgia, a traffic violation can result in serious consequences to your bank account, your driver’s license, and even worse.
Georgia Law Says Traffic Violations are Criminal Charges
In many states, traffic violations are separate from criminal charges. They may only have financial consequences. Not in Georgia. Every moving violation -- from driving without insurance to drunk driving -- is at least a criminal misdemeanor. While most traffic violations only result in financial consequences, all misdemeanors can carry a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. They may also result in probation. Some more severe violations, such as vehicular homicide or habitual DUI charges, are even felonies. They carry even higher maximum penalties, including jail or prison time.
Add-On Surcharges Push Financial Cost of Traffic Violations Higher
In addition, every criminal conviction in Georgia comes with a number of mandatory add-on surcharges. These money sanctions attach to a conviction based on its type and the sentence imposed. They may relate to probation or incarceration, or be connected to the use of interlock devices after a DUI. Georgia’s add-on surcharges are some of the highest in the nation, often nearly doubling the amount you will have to pay for violating a traffic law. It is important to have a conversation with your Georgia criminal defense attorney ahead of time, so you know the total amount you may have to pay and can be prepared at the time of sentencing.
Pay-Only-Probation for Traffic Violations
In Georgia, if you are unable to pay the fines and fees imposed for a traffic violation at the time of sentencing, you may be placed on “pay only probation.” In these cases, the probation officer acts as a kind of collections agent, making sure your fees are paid over a period of up to three months. However, this kind of probation comes with supervision fees of its own, so defendants that use this time to pay their court costs often end up paying more unless those fines and fees are converted to community service instead.
Driver’s License Points for Common Georgia Traffic Violations
Unlike other kinds of criminal charges, traffic violations also come with the added consequence of points on your driver’s license. The points are assessed automatically at the time the ticket is paid or the conviction is entered. The points for common Georgia traffic violations are:
- Speeding between 14 - 19 miles per hour over the posted speed limit - 2 points
- Speeding between 19 - 24 miles per hour over the posted speed limit - 3 points
- Speeding between 24 - 34 miles per hour over the posted speed limit - 4 points
- Speeding more than 34 miles per hour over the posted speed limit - 6 points
- Reckless driving - 4 points
- Failure to follow a traffic control device or officer - 3 points
- Passing a school bus unlawfully - 6 points
- Passing on a hill or curve - 4 points
- Possession of an open container of alcohol while driving - 2 points
- All other moving violations - 3 points
These points stay on your license for two years. If at any point you accumulate 15 or more points during a 24-month period, your license will be suspended or revoked. For younger drivers ages 18-21, that number is just 4 points in a 12-month period.
License Suspensions Without Points
There are also specific traffic violations that will cause your license to be suspended automatically -- no matter how many points are on your license at the time:
- Vehicular homicide
- Fraudulent use of a driver’s license
- Highway races
- Fleeing a police officer by car
- Leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident
- Repeated failure to pay for gasoline
- Refusal of blood alcohol tests (blood, breath, or chemical) unless you are later found not guilty
- Drunk or drugged driving
- Driving without insurance
- Reckless driving under age 21
- Failing to appear at a traffic court hearing (other than for parking violations)
Once your license has been suspended or revoked it will cost you even more money to have it reinstated. Reinstatement fees are between $200 - 410 dollars. Super speeders -- who are convicted of driving more than 75 miles per hour on a two-lane road or 85 miles per hour on another road or highway -- also have to pay $250 in additional fees.
Avoiding Misdemeanor Traffic Convictions
If you have been stopped by the police and issued a traffic citation, you may feel like there is nothing you can do to avoid adding a misdemeanor traffic conviction to your record. However, there are defenses to many common traffic violations. Before sending in your payment, you may want to discuss these defenses with an experienced traffic offense attorney to see if it is worth putting up a defense.
Georgia also allows for drivers to enter a nolo contendere plea once every 5 years. This plea allows you to pay the fines without admitting guilt, avoiding a conviction and points on your license. Speak to your attorney to see if your criminal history and the traffic citation qualify for a nolo contendere plea. It could protect your record, and keep you on the road.
The criminal and DUI defense attorneys at The McCoy Law Firm, LLC have decades of experience representing drivers and criminal defendants in Georgia traffic courts. From their law firm in Cartersville, Georgia, they represent defendants facing misdemeanor and felony charges throughout northwest Georgia. If you have a court date scheduled, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.