Most of us who drive a car or truck have received a traffic ticket at some point. One minute you’re on the highway going a few miles per hour over the limit, and the next you’re pulled over with a freshly issued fine.
Traffic tickets and minor violations are generally less serious than criminal charges. You can pay the fine and go about your life without much disruption. However, simply paying a traffic ticket can have collateral consequences that you may not be aware of. Most importantly, if you just pay a traffic ticket, you will be convicted of the offense. That offense then goes on your driving record. Depending on the offense, even one ticket may increase your insurance costs. When tickets add up, they can cause even more issues for drivers. These are just some of the many reasons why many Minnesotans choose to contest even minor traffic violations.
Identifying Minor and Major Traffic Violations
Before you determine how a traffic violation will be handled, you’ll have to determine whether it’s a “petty” offense or a criminal charge. The two are treated very differently. Examples of petty violations include:
- running a stop sign
- running a red light
- texting while driving, and
- an unsafe lane change.
These citations are handled in traffic court and are not considered a criminal case. However, if you were charged with a more serious offense, such as DUI, reckless driving, or vehicular homicide, your charges will be addressed in criminal court. These charges are much more serious. While a petty traffic violation generally only results in a fine, a criminal charge related to driving can result in a loss of driving privileges, a much more expensive fine, and possible jail time. Sometimes even a minor traffic violation can be turned into a criminal case, as we wrote about previously here: Traffic Ticket Enhancements.
Addressing Traffic Ticket Offenses in Minnesota
Most of us are familiar with some of the basic legal rights we’re afforded if we’ve been accused of a crime; high school social studies and courtroom TV dramas may be to thank for that. Unfortunately, traffic ticket defendants are not always afforded the same rights as those who have been charged with a serious crime.
For example, if you are accused of assault, you have a right to a trial by jury. Community members hear the facts of your case and ultimately decide whether you’re innocent or guilty. When it comes to traffic tickets, you won’t see a full jury box. In fact, in most instances, a bench trial is your only option if you want to contest your ticket. During a bench trial, a judge will single-handedly decide whether you’re guilty.
Another big difference between a major traffic crime and a petty violation is the right to a court-appointed counsel. If you’re charged in criminal court, you’re guaranteed an attorney. If you can’t afford your own, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you. Not so in traffic court. You’re free to hire a lawyer to help you contest your ticket, but you’re not entitled to court-appointed counsel. We’d advise consulting a MN ticket attorney before appearing before a judge.
When You’re Charged with a Vehicular Crime
Many of us are somewhat dismissive of traffic tickets and other traffic violations since they generally only come with a small fine. You may be able to get away with treating minor traffic violations with a cavalier attitude, but you should never treat a criminal charge this way. Even if your charge was related to driving, it is vastly different from a minor ticket. Charges such as DUI/DWI, reckless driving, failure to drive with due care, and vehicular manslaughter should always be treated very seriously. Contact a Minnesota criminal defense law firm immediately after you’re charged with a crime. If you go to trial, you’ll need an attorney by your side.
To get in touch with our Minnesota traffic violations lawyers and vehicular crime defense attorneys, call Sieben Edmunds Miller at (651) 994-6744. Our dedicated team will help you protect your rights, whether in traffic court or in criminal court.