Florida has adopted state-wide statutes to make traffic laws uniform throughout all the different counties. However, that doesn’t always mean that these laws are interpreted and enforced the same way in each county.
Since so many criminal traffic cases are handled at the county level, it is important to understand how judges in the county where the offense occurred are likely to apply the law to a set of circumstances.
While traffic violations may seem less important than other areas of criminal law, the penalties for these violations can be severe and have a tremendous impact on everyday life. If you have been charged with a moving violation, it is wise to consult with an experienced West Palm Beach traffic lawyer who can advise you of the best steps to take in your particular situation.
Types of Traffic Violations in West Palm Beach
Essentially, Florida law divides traffic violations into two types, criminal and civil. The civil offenses are considered less serious under the law and often involve assessment of a fine and possibly an assessment of points against the driver’s license or attendance of driving school.
Examples of civil violations, many of which are referred to as “moving violations,” include making illegal turns, violating speed limits, failing to obey traffic signals (stop signs, red lights), failure to use due care or following another vehicle too closely. Often, drivers receiving civil traffic citations will have their cases heard before a non-criminal magistrate. Criminal traffic violations can subject the offender to arrest and penalties imposed by a judge. Drivers charged with a criminal traffic offense are required to appear in court and face either misdemeanor or felony penalties, making hiring a West Palm Beach imperative.
Examples of Criminal Traffic Offenses
Some of the most common violations a traffic attorney in West Palm Beach can assist with include:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances
- Leaving the scene of an accident with damage or injuries
- Hit and Run
- Reckless driving
- Driving with knowledge that the license has been suspended
- No valid driver’s license
- Unlawfully attaching tag
- Expired tag (greater than six months)
But there are numerous other traffic offenses outlined in chapters 322 and 316 of the Florida Statutes that an attorney in West Palm Beach may be able to assist with. The statutes dealing with the operation of motor vehicles, issuance of driver’s licenses and related areas include many hundreds of requirements and regulations.
For instance, many people may not realize that it is a second-degree misdemeanor to knowingly allow their driver’s license to be used by another (See 322.32(2)). Anyone who does so could face up to 60 days in jail and a fine of $500.
Penalties for Driving Violations
The basic penalties for criminal traffic offenses are set forth in Sections 775.082 and 775.083 and of the Florida criminal code.
• For a second degree misdemeanor such as knowingly driving with a suspended license (first offense), the penalty includes up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Florida Statutes section 322.34.
• For a first degree misdemeanor such as reckless driving causing property damage, the penalty includes up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Florida Statutes section 316.192.
• For a third degree felony such as driving as a habitual traffic offender, the penalty includes up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000
• For a second degree felony such as DUI manslaughter, the penalty includes up to fifteen years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
In addition, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles may suspend or revoke the license of offenders. Other requirements may be imposed such as the performance of community service or the use of an ignition interlock device.
Understanding the Points System
The state uses a point system to penalize drivers who have committed a high number of moving violations. Each type of offense is assigned a different point value, and with each violation the points add up. For example, speeding tickets carry as little as 3 points, while leaving the scene of an accident can carry up to 6 points. Drivers who reach a certain point threshold could have their license suspended. The penalties are as follows:
- 12 points in 12 months is a 30-day suspension
- 18 points in 18 months is a 3-month suspension
- 24 points in 24 months is a one-year suspension
These points are only awarded at the time of a guilty plea or conviction. That means a driver that successfully fights back against their ticket will never have points added to their license.
Defenses to Traffic Charges
Many people accept a traffic ticket as an inevitability. They often pay the fine and move on with their life, dealing with the consequences for years. It is important to remember that a traffic offense is like any other criminal case. Not only do motorists have the right to fight back at trial, but there are defense strategies that an prove to be successful. A West Palm Beach attorney could review a traffic violation case and determine what defense strategy may work best given the circumstances.
Sometimes the police simply get the facts wrong. Officers are not infallible, and often times they write tickets for offenses that never occur. For example, an officer could fail to notice a driver signal before turning and write them a ticket.
That driver has the ability to fight back at trial, arguing that they did in fact signal before the turn. The reality is that proving the police made a mistake can be difficult, as the court will likely take the officer’s word for it.
That is where having the right attorney comes into play. Identifying evidence that backs up the driver’s story could be crucial in these cases. This could include video of the traffic stop or a statement from a witness.
Any violation of a driver’s constitutional rights could serve as a viable defense to a traffic ticket. Specifically, the police do not have the right to pull over a driver without a reasonable suspicion that a crime or traffic offense has taken place. If the police pull over a driver for no reason and learn the motorist did not have insurance, an attorney could push to dismiss the case on constitutional grounds.
While this defense can be a strong option, the reality is that most traffic tickets occur because an officer witnessed them happen. Witnessing a traffic violation—no matter how minor—is enough reasonable suspicion for the police to make a stop.
Not all law enforcement officers have the power to police every corner of the state. If an officer is outside of their jurisdiction, they do not have the legal right to issue a citation for a traffic violation. A local attorney might be able to secure a dismissal for a ticket written outside of the appropriate jurisdiction.
Cases of mistaken identity are common among moving violations, especially when they take place in heavy traffic. It is not unusual for an officer to witness a violation while traveling the opposite direction or while parked on overpasses or side streets.
In the time it takes to catch up to the driver, it is not unusual for an officer to lose visual contact. This can lead the police to pull over the wrong driver who happens to be in a similar vehicle. Showing the court that this ticket was a case of mistaken identity could be a viable defense.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Traffic Attorney Today
Traffic laws are complex and the consequences for convicted offenders can have a huge impact. A knowledgeable West Palm Beach traffic lawyer will know how the laws apply to the specific facts of your case and can provide advice and representation to bring about the best possible resolution in your case. Contact our office today.