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Civil vs. criminal traffic tickets in Arizona

In Arizona, not all traffic tickets are the same. If you are issued one, it is key to know whether you are dealing with a civil or criminal offense. This distinction is crucial as it determines the legal requirements you’d need to take and the penalties you could face.

Understanding the basics can help you assess your situation and strategize your approach.

Civil traffic tickets: Minor headaches

Civil traffic tickets typically stem from minor but still serious infractions, which are further broken down into moving and non-moving violations. Think of actions such as:

·         Running a red light

·         Tailgating

·         Making an illegal turn

·         Speeding

·         Driving without a seatbelt

Your traffic ticket should indicate what civil traffic laws you violated. Although these infractions may not lead to jail time, they can still lead to fines and add points to your driving record. Among the penalties you may receive are:

·         Attend a defensive driving course

·         Pay civil traffic fines up to $250, more if you have prior convictions

·         Appear in court on the arraignment date if you choose to contest

Mishandling your case may lead to further complications. For instance, pleading guilty during the arraignment hearing is not always the best move. Doing so forfeits your opportunity to fight the ticket and possibly lessen your charges.

Consulting with an attorney can help you understand what a guilty plea entails and what other options you might have.

Criminal traffic tickets: Higher stakes

Criminal traffic tickets are issued for more severe violations. These include:

·         Driving under the influence (DUI)

·         Speeding near a school, business or residential district past the legal threshold

·         Reckless endangerment

·         Vehicular manslaughter

·         Driving on a suspended license

These infractions carry stiffer penalties, meaning higher fines and possible incarceration. For example, criminal speeding can lead to up to 30 days in jail, up to $500 fines and three points on your driving record. Accruing more than 13 points in a year can lead to the suspension of your license and higher insurance rates.

Whether you’re facing a civil or criminal traffic ticket, seeking legal advice may be a smart move. An attorney who specializes in traffic law can guide you through the process, help you contest your ticket and look for opportunities to reduce or dismiss your charges. In some cases, it may be possible to downgrade a criminal traffic violation into a civil infraction.

Knowing the possible consequences of breaking traffic violations can act as a strong reminder to drive carefully on Arizona’s roads.