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Defining Infractions, Misdemeanors & Felony Traffic Violations In The Context of Driving Records


Traffic violations are one classification of crimes that may affect the nature of any criminal records search. A traffic violation can be anything from a parking ticket to a DWI/DUI or speeding offense; and depending upon which of these has been committed, there are a number of respective punishments that can ensue. In most jurisdictions, there are three classifications of traffic offense: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. For the purposes of this article, we will be discussing the nature of these violations, examples of these driving offenses as well as their respective penalties and classifications to best acquaint you with the type of criminal records research knowledge related to these offenses.


A traffic infraction is most often deemed a minor traffic violation, such as speeding, seat belt violations, driving without liability insurance, running a red light or stop sign, failure to signal, as well as any mechanical traffic violations such as vehicle tail lights being out, etc. While these offenses are not nearly as serious as misdemeanor and felony traffic violations, they can still disrupt an otherwise safe community environment and cause traffic accidents as well as injuries and property damage. All of the previous examples of traffic infractions do impair the safe operation of the vehicle in question, and this is why they are offenses, punishable according to how the state in which they occur sees fit.

Traffic infractions or traffic tickets are most often regarded as what is called in legal terms, “strict liability offenses”, which means that criminal intent need not be proven to convict just that the person committed the act in question. The most common examples of strict liability offenses that offenders are punished for are: speeding, failure to yield to traffic or pedestrian, failure to use turning signals, operating a vehicle without proper head/tail lights, turning into the wrong lane, parking in a handicap spot, and expired parking meter offenses. Of all of these offenses, each one can be considered wither a moving or non-moving traffic violation. Moving traffic violations occur when the vehicle is in motion and can be anything from speeding to running a red light; whereas a non-moving violation occurs when the vehicle is parked and can be anything from parking in an illegal area, muffler noise, or parking where a meter has expired. Typically, moving offenses are considered more serious and punishable than non-moving violations, but each case can be evaluated by how much harm might come of its illegality.

With this in mind, it should be considered that any one of the previously mentioned examples of traffic violations could easily become a more serious charge of misdemeanor or felony, depending on the state in which the crime is processed, how much harm is caused, as well as how excessively the offense was put into action. For example, barely speeding over the speed limit in a jurisdiction would most likely be an infraction, while excessively speeding in that same area, could easily graduate to a misdemeanor or felony.

In 1981, the topic of minor traffic offenses was reviewed and determined to be separate from their misdemeanor and felony traffic violations, in that they offered no criminal activity with or without intent in their action. So, federal regulation now holds that all traffic offenses of this nature be non-criminal in how they are processed and regarded. This means no one has access to a person’s driving record without their consent.

Since most offense of this nature is considered minor traffic offenses, penalties for these incidents are typically handled quickly and with minimal impact. In fact, the purpose of the passing of the federal regulation just mentioned, was to expedite the processing of small offenses in exchange for more time and consideration for the more serious of crimes in court. If a person is stopped or cited for a minor offense of this nature, they typically will incur a written or verbal warning, a fine, or if egregious enough, a court date for processing of the offense. For minor offenses such as these, fines are most often applied, and incarceration never considered, as they are not of a criminal nature, as deemed by federal statute. Consequently, persons charged with minor traffic offenses are not afforded a lawyer or a trial by jury.

Those convicted of these offenses can be penalized by restricted driving privileges and inflated insurance rates. While it is not common for a person to lose their ability to drive as a consequence of a traffic infraction, their insurance rates are almost always affected by such an offense. In the latter of the two consequences, the offender once convicted, will lose points off of their driving record. While the driving record is only accessible to the driver, an insurance company will not offer coverage to an individual unless they have this information. Each state classifies the amount of traffic violations has by a points system taking off more points from their record for more serious offenses, and less points for less severe offenses. Depending on this score, a driver will necessarily be given a risk evaluation quote from their insurance company which means higher premiums for less points.

Misdemeanor Traffic Violation

While misdemeanor offenses are by legal definition less severe than felony offenses, these violations should not be overlooked, as they are still serious offenses that can cause public harm. In this category, we will examine the definition of this classification of crime as well as give pertinent examples of crimes in this classification.

  • Driving Without a License

A common type of misdemeanor traffic violation is driving without a driver’s license. In every state in this country, it is illegal to be operating a vehicle of any sort without proper driver licensing. This offense, while considered mild in nature, is actually quite a serious crime that carries with it like kind serious penalties. In the following article, we review what purpose a driver’s license serves, what reasons are common to not having a driver’s license, common penalties, as well as what legal variables may affect the sentencing of one of these offenders.

The purpose of a driver’s license is to ensure that all members of community and property are kept as safe as possible by only allowing drivers on the road who know how to properly operate a vehicle. This code of law is put into action by regulating through driving instruction and renewal who is able to operate a vehicle properly on the roads, in adherence to all traffic laws. From the legal age of driving which is 16 in all states, and 15 for a learner’s permit (though learner’s permits regulations vary by state), anyone who wishes to operate a vehicle legally, must know and adhere to all traffic laws, pass all tests necessary, and renew their license according to the renewal schedule of the state jurisdiction in which they live.

With this in mind, there are a variety of reasons why an operator of a vehicle may be charged with driving without a license. In all instances, it is unlawful and therefore, not acceptable; but typically, there is a specific reason why they do not have the proper driving documentation to operate any vehicle.

The most common are as follows:

  1. That they never applied for a driver’s license
  2. That they never updated their license after moving to another state
  3. That they had their driver’s license suspended or revoked due to prior traffic violation impropriety
  4. That they never renewed their driver’s license according to the renewal schedule in their state.

In some states, a driver of a vehicle with a current license can still have the same penalties inflicted upon them if they allow someone else who doesn’t have a current license to operate their vehicle.

One major consideration to add to the topic of driving without a license is the possibility that the incident has to do exclusively the presence of said driver’s proof of driving authorization, as opposed to the credibility of one. Just because a particular individual does not have a copy of driving authorization on hand at the time of the traffic stop, does not mean that they do not have a valid driver’s license at all. Most states will differentiate between whether a person has a valid driver’s license in their possession when stopped and whether they have a valid driver’s license at all. In most cases, someone who has a valid driver’s license but neglected to bring it with them, will only face a verbal or written warning and/or a small fine.

On the other hand, if a person does not have a valid license at all, they will be subject to the full process of the law and depending on what state they have been charged with driving without a license as well as the reason why they don’t have a license will determine how severe the punishment will be.

A good example of how states can vary in how they regard the processing and sentencing of this offense is as follows. In California, drivers without a valid license will be charged with the misdemeanor, have the car impounded for 30 days if not forfeited, and arrested for the charge. In Illinois, these offenders are charged with a misdemeanor and their driving privileges suspended and/or revoked. In the state of New York, an offender of this sort will be charged with a misdemeanor, a fine up to $500, and jail time up to 30 days. While other states fall outside this range of penalties as more severe or less severe, the standard penalty lies within this range.

With these standard penalties in mind, it is necessary to consider what variables could affect these standard range of penalties. First, the state jurisdiction in which the criminal is convicted will determine how severe the punishment will be for an offense of this kind. Second, if the offender is a repeat offender of operating a vehicle without a license, they will most probably incur a heavier sentence by the court. Third, depending on why a particular perpetrator of said crime committed the offense will help sway a court for more mild or serious punishment. When we refer to the reason, we mean under what circumstances the individual did not have a license in possession at the time of the incident. The most common of these as discussed previously are if their license was suspended/revoked, if they never had a license, if they did not renew their license, or if they let another driver who doesn’t have a license operate their vehicle. Each state has a different perspective on each of these characteristics of the offense, and therefore, offers different severities of penalty to the offenders.

Not only will these penalties ensue for anyone operating a vehicle without proof of a valid documentation for any of the above reasons, but moreover, an offender will also have a possible mark on their criminal record, higher insurance rates, extended periods of driving suspension or possible revocation, as well as higher fees to reapply for a new license. Moreover, a variety of educational classes and community services may also be added onto the sentencing, depending on strict the jurisdiction and court is in the hearing of the criminal driving case.

This is not to say that just because a misdemeanor traffic violation such as driving without a license-was committed, that it will necessarily be available to the public and private entities possibly searching for this information. In many cases, traffic violations, by nature, are restricted according to the state jurisdiction as well as the potential use of these criminal records. Moreover, many states consider misdemeanors offenses that should not be accessible to the public, as they are deemed less severe in comparison. As a complement to this, many records by nature of the crime or arrest are restricted from public view and/or expunged altogether. This is why a thorough investigation should always be done on the jurisdiction, the criminal case, the driving offender, as well as the specifics of the case in question; to get as much information that’s available for the most informed of entities.

  • Driving Without Insurance

Misdemeanor traffic violations can vary in the nature of the crime as well as the respective penalty for said crime. With this in mind, driving without insurance is one the most common forms of penalized traffic violations of this class, and depending on a number of situational and jurisdictional factors, can offer a range of penalties. For this discussion, we explain the purpose of car insurance, the difference between states that require insurance to drive and those that do not, as well as what the common penalties are for states which do consider driving without insurance a punishable crime.

Car insurance is a set amount of money paid your insurance carrier every month, quarter, or year that safeguards your vehicle and the vehicle of someone you may hit, in the event of an accident. There are a variety of different plans that people insure their vehicles and others with to this effect. There are plans that cover damage to the driver’s car, damage to another’s car, medical bills of passengers and drivers, as well as those of the other’s vehicle. All of these categories of coverage are given different terms, aptly replied to as collision insurance, liability insurance, etc. Having insurance for unforeseen traffic accidents can save thousands on just one accident, and this is the purpose for insurance: to know that you and your vehicle are covered in the event of an accident.

With this in mind, most states have passed laws ensuring that all drivers on the road be required to have a minimum of liability coverage if in an accident. This law is in effect to protect all drivers from not being paid their rightful retribution if they are a victim of a traffic crime, in which they were not at fault. Being charged of driving without insurance is most often differentiated from someone driving without this proof on hand in every state. Of course, the penalty for not having valid coverage will always be stricter than if the person just isn’t carrying it with them. This said, the defendant could quite easily be handed a heavy fine or sentencing for the latter.

There are still a handful of states that do not require drivers to have car liability coverage to operate their vehicles, but in lieu of this law, they do have what is called “financial responsibility” laws. Financial responsibility laws require that every driver on the road must show proof that if they are liable of an accident, that they have a means to pay retribution to the victim of the said accident. This can be proof of a home, job, cd’s, bonds, or any other documentation that shows that the person has assets or financial income to offer if the situation were to arise.

Penalties for driving without insurance in states that require it, can range from small fines to license suspension and the vehicle being seized on the spot. First timers of this offense are typically at the low end of this range, but some states will want to approach the offense more seriously.

Moreover, repeat offenders and defendants who may have a colorful crime history, will probably be given a stricter range of penalties, as they show an ongoing wanton disregard for the law and its protections.

With this in mind, many drivers on the road are still driving uninsured, and this poses a serious problem that affects not only the subject of the offense, but also that of their victim. The purpose of car coverage is to help the perpetrator of a traffic crime pay for his/her damages to his/her body and vehicle as well as that of the victim; otherwise the responsible party must pay retribution out of pocket-which can be thousands upon thousands of dollars and usually is. When someone who is not insured is responsible for an accident and cannot pay for the damage to the other party and their vehicle, court can follow for punishment; but still if the party does not have the money, the victim will not be reimbursed as simple as that. This is why the laws are in place in all states to at least show proof of financial responsibility, so as not to leave the victim of a traffic accident without the money to pay for the bills incurred.

  • DUI Misdemeanor

DUI is a term that most states adopt as the offense of said nature, whereas a handful of other states reserve the right to term the crime OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) or DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) instead of DUI. There are a handful of variables that can characterize a DUI as a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony DUI, and this can help shape the definition of this DUI crime classification. In this discussion on DUI, the class of DUI misdemeanor is discussed as a crime, DUI respective penalties, and how these DUI penalties can be affected by jurisdictional factors.

DUI as a misdemeanor, while less severe than a felony DUI charge, is still considered a serious offense in all states. At one time, state jurisdiction varied in regards to what a blood alcohol level had to be to be considered illegal due to the impairment it caused the operator of said vehicle. Now, every state lists illegal impairment or DUI, as having a blood alcohol level of .8 for persons over the age of 21, and most states have zero tolerance for any alcohol being in the system of a minor convicted of a DUI. This DUI violation is enacted by a legal term called “per se” that allows the offense to be chargeable even if the operator is not showing any signs of impairment in driving. This DUI law trouble shoots the different factors that may affect a person who is drinking-according to body weight, metabolism, and other factors that affect how each person becomes more or less intoxicated. The per se DUI law enacts a standard, in which there would otherwise not have been a way to establish grounds for a DUI misdemeanor charge.

Penalties for DUI misdemeanors range from jail time to fines to probation with community service and drug/alcohol counseling-or all of the above. Depending on which state a conviction occurs will greatly influence how severe a DUI punishment is rendered. While DUI penalties are most often less severe for DUI misdemeanors, there can be cause for a stricter penalty according to repeat DUI offenses. Most states have adopted a ruling that a repeat DUI offender is not penalized according to a felony charge until they have committed the DUI offense three times; but many states believe that first and second offenses should also be strictly enforced, with similar punishments as though typically given to felony offenders, such as prison time, heavier fines, and longer periods of license suspension. Moreover, a person with a high BAL at the time of arrest will probably get a more severe sentencing than someone with a lower BAL. Another potent reason for a strict sentence is if the offender was impaired and transporting a minor. Lastly, if the criminal in a misdemeanor DUI inflicted any harm to another individual or an individual’s property; it is more likely that they will face more severe punishment than if no harm had been done.

With all these factors in mind as regards what can happen to someone convicted of a DUI misdemeanor, next the relation to the individual’s criminal record should be examined. The person seeking information on a particular individual, once coming across a DUI charge, may have a certain judgment; however, the details of each crime should always be considered in connection with the criminal charge listed on anyone’s criminal record. Moreover, if you are seeking this criminal information, you should be aware that there is always a possibility that the person you are researching criminal activity on could, quite possibly, have gotten certain charges expunged or sealed from public view. For example, in some states, unless the person was convicted of the crime, the crime is not considered important enough to be entered into a criminal background history. Moreover, in some states, misdemeanor convictions are not considered information that should be available to the public. So, even in the case when you conduct a comprehensive search, it is quite possible you may never know everything.

  • DWI Misdemeanor

DWI is a common crime processed as misdemeanor in many cases. It stands for Driving While Intoxicated. While many people believe the term to be different from its other term, DUI or Driving Under the Influence, the term denotes the same offense; it just depends on how the state processing the crime prefers to refer to it. This said, there are two ways that a drunk driving charge can be classified in a criminal court: as a felony or as a misdemeanor. In this category, we examine what defining factors lead to the classification of DWI misdemeanor, what the protocol is for the arrest and charging of said crime, as well as what legal factors may affect various means of penalty for DWI misdemeanors.

How a DWI crime is charged is very significant as the short and long-term penalties for both classifications vary greatly in severity, as regards jail time, fines, and license suspensions. When it comes to classifying a DWI charge as a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony, there are some basic variables that go into the classification.

One of the most differentiating variables of this distinction is if the offense is a first-time offense or if the offender has had repeat offenses in their criminal record history. While most states use the “habitual violator” law to process DUI repeat criminals which is a three-time conviction and the third is automatically charged as a felony offense still other will prosecute a first or second time offender as a felony, depending on the specifics of the case and state approach to DWI.

Another vital way that courts separate misdemeanors from felonies in the area of driving while intoxicated offenses, is if the operator of said vehicle inflicted harm to another person or damage to property. So, for example, if the operator of the vehicle caused bodily harm to another individual or killed them, the charge would necessarily be a felony charge. Most states assume that this charge, vehicular homicide or manslaughter, need not require intent to be charged as a felony; while others make a distinction between intended vehicular murders and non-intentional ones, and charge the latter as misdemeanors.

The manner in which an offender of this crime is arrested and processed greatly affects the categorizing into a severe or less severe crime classification. DWI offenses used to be determined by blood alcohol levels as determined by each state, but recently, all states adopted a standard .8 blood alcohol level as grounds for arrest and charging of a DWI. Most states have a no tolerance law for offenders under the age of 21 caught with any amount of alcohol in their system.

The standard procedure for the arrest of a DWI by law enforcement is as follows: the driver is pulled over for swerving or abnormal operating of the vehicle or for another unrelated hazard such as having a taillight out. The officer may then notice that the driver is impaired and will ask them to perform a breathalyzer test and/or field sobriety tests, such as: reciting the alphabet backwards or walking a straight-line test difficult to complete if impaired by drugs or alcohol. Depending on how the defendant does with these tests will affect whether or not they are arrested and prosecuted. While these field sobriety tests are standard measures of whether or not a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol, a defendant found guilty can still benefit by the specific manner in how they conducted themselves during these tests.

A DWI of this class can be sentenced to a wide range of penalties, to include fines, jail time, probation, license suspension/revocation, and drug/alcohol education and counseling. While all DWI convictions of this class have standard punishment, such as drug/alcohol counseling and education and fines; there are a number of variables that can affect how severe a judgment may be. One of the first influences to affect an offense is what state the DWI was committed in. Some states view offenses of DWI heavily punishable after three convictions, while other states consider first time drunk driving crimes just as punishable. Moreover, there are heavier fines, stricter jail sentences, and longer suspensions of driver’s licenses depending on the amount of the blood alcohol level. In some cases, if a defendant of this crime has a low-level BAL or was easy to deal with at the time of the tests and arresting, a judge may go more leniently on the offender, and allow the charge to be plead down from a felony offense to this class of crime. Another factor to consider influential in a sentencing of this charge is whether or not the individual caused damage to property or damage to another person. The offense could still be rendered a less severe charge if harm was caused as a result of the person being impaired, but it will most likely be much heavier in terms of higher fines, longer probation, license suspension, and more sessions of education and community service.

As you can see, a driving while intoxicated charge of this category is not easily defined, as no crime really is criminal law, as there are so many different variables that affect and change the processing and sentencing of a particular offender. Each case is guided by federal law, individual state statute, and the specifics of the particular instance of driving while intoxicated and criminal history. This, consequently, extends to a person’s criminal record. If the person you are seeking criminal background information on has a charge of this kind, further research should always be done before judgment is made, as the crime could’ve been plead down from a felony charge, the defendant could’ve done well on his/her blood, urine, and breathalyzer tests, or the state in which they were prosecuted could be particularly heavy handed with criminal punishment. These and a number of other factors could be significant factors in the case listed on this individual’s criminal record, and this is why a closer look is always advised in any criminal record search.

  • Hit and Run Misdemeanor

One of the main types of misdemeanor traffic violations is hit and run misdemeanors. Depending on the nature and specifics of the hit and run offense, there are a variety of penalties that can ensue as a result of a hit and run. This, of course, is specific to the class of the hit and run crime, the state in which the crime is committed, as well as a variety of other extenuating factors particular to a specific hit and run case. In this category, what classifies as a hit and run misdemeanor, what differentiates this charge of hit and run from a felony one, as well as the standard range of penalties that might affect a perpetrator of hit and run offenses.

First of all, you may be wondering exactly what a hit and run crime is. A hit and run occurs when an individual operating a vehicle collides into a person or a piece of property and fails to stop to check for damages. Whether or not a lot of damage has resulted from the accident does not matter in the commission of a crime; the perpetrator must stop to get contact info and appraise the situation. More specifically, when an accident occurs, the criminal must stop their vehicle, report the accident to the police, and immediately exchange contact information and insurance with the other party. If the owner of the property involved in the accident is not around at the time of the accident, it is the duty of the perpetrating individual to make a reasonable effort to notify the owner and give contact information to them, i.e. through the use of a note detailing the situation, to avoid a hit and run charge.

With this in mind, we discuss what makes a hit and run misdemeanor vs. what makes this a hit and run a felony. In most states, the factors that characterize a felony offense are if the accident has caused a death or great bodily harm to another individual. A crime of a lesser charge, on the other hand, most often is characterized as causing harm or damage to another person’s property, such as a parked car; but also includes minor accidents that damage is not necessarily readily apparent through physical damage.

The penalties for these crimes can vary considerably depending upon both the state that hit and run has occurred in as well as what class of hit and run has been committed. While hit and run felonies can carry with them penalties of prison time, license revocation, and heavy fines; misdemeanor hit and runs hit and runs typically are less severe, and carry with them smaller fines, up to 6 months in jail, payment of restitution for property damaged, and license suspension.

A lesser charge punishment can, however, very quickly become more severe in punishment if the defendant was also guilty of any of the following in conjunction with the hit and run: alcohol/drug use, having a suspended license, not having insurance, reckless driving, or failure to cooperate with arresting police officer. Moreover, there are a variety of other possible factors specific to the hit and run that could also aggravate the charge, depending on the nature of the crime.

  • Reckless Driving

A common type of misdemeanor traffic violation is the charge of reckless driving. The charge denotes more than one type of driving violation, meaning any type of driving that puts the driver and/or the community in which they are operating a vehicle in danger. While which types of reckless driving actions have different penalties according to state jurisdiction, there are some standard perspectives on what constitutes reckless driving, and how it should be punished. In the following discussion, we take a closer look at the definition of said offense, what types of driving crimes constitute a violation under this misdemeanor offense, what common penalties ensue for an offender of this crime, as well as common defenses that limit these penalties.

The definition-while slightly different in terminology according to state jurisdiction-of reckless driving is when the operator of a vehicle shows a “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. While the definition may seem cut and dry as regards misdemeanor traffic violations, there has been much discussion as to the vagueness of the law definition, and is therefore, unconstitutional. This is where the precise differences between the wording of this law from state to state can make a huge impact on a defense in criminal court. In some states, depending on the language of said law, defendants can properly fight and win a case on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

There are a variety of specific offenses that can be considered reckless. While none of the below examples of driving recklessly is considered enough to be subject to a criminal charge alone, either excessive actions of them, and/or being convicted of more than one of these offenses is sufficient for a criminal conviction of reckless driving. The most potent examples of this traffic violation are: speeding, causing a traffic accident, driving while intoxicated, inattentive driving, driving without headlights, jamming on the brakes, and any act that disregards traffic laws in that state. While simply failing to stop at a stop sign or speeding 10 mph over the posted speed limit is not enough for a conviction of this crime, as noted previously, adding another example of impropriety to this offense, such as operating a vehicle intoxicated will most definitely warrant a solid foundation for a conviction.

One of the most common misnomers in any case of reckless driving is how it relates to DUI. Most people would assume that drunk operation of a vehicle is, by nature, a form of reckless driving; but in legal situations, the two should always be considered separately, as they are two different crimes. Though in a case of DUI, the manner in how they driver was impaired is discussed as regards operating a vehicle, a reckless driving case must be proven as regards how the vehicle was operated. While closely conjoined in theory, most states make a distinction between the two, to avoid the convicted or acquittal of one charge automatically leading to the conviction or acquittal of the other.

Another factor that could play a part in a charge of this kind is how speed was included in the offense. Mere speeding is not grounds for a charge of this kind, but if excessive speed is used, or other traffic violations involved; this could most certainly be reason for prosecution. Moreover, there are a number of other factors that could affect how fast a person should go, and these also can influence a court’s rendering of a particular defendant. These are what the time of day is in which the vehicle is being operated, visibility, presence of traffic and/or pedestrians, the width and surface of the road, and weather. In all of these situations, a driver should always be more cautious than if normal conditions were present. This said, many courts could consider these aggravating factors in the sentencing of the defendant and render a judgment that is more severe.

There are a number of penalties that could ensue for an offender of reckless driving. These punishments can range from mild to severe, according to the state in which they are processed, as well as the nature and specifics of the crime. The most common of penalties for this misdemeanor traffic violation are: suspension or revocation of driver’s license, heavy fine, jail sentence, revocation of parole, and/or deportation. Any and all of these penalties could be a result of some form of this charge.

Since this charge can be so vague in its definition according to the state in which a defendant is processed, there are a number of successful defenses to this crime, that can affect judgment positively for the defendant. First, if a defendant can prove a necessity to be operating a vehicle in the manner in which they were charged, the court might consider a lesser penalty or an acquittal. This defense is predicated on the belief that the driver was in an emergency situation, that this emergency “presented a threat to the driver or some third party”, and that the driver “did not create the emergency”. Second, if the defendant can prove that the law enforcement failed to identify them as the driver of the vehicle, many courts will side with the defendant. Third, the defendant might have a shot at a lesser charge or acquittal if they can prove that the area and environmental factors in which they were travelling has been the scene of a variety of accidents of the same manner, previous to his/her own.

All of these significant variables go into the charging, processing, and sentencing of a crime of this nature; and it is up to the defendant to properly evaluate his/her own case in order to defend the crime due to the vague nature of the state law. With this in mind, a charge of this kind will show up on a person’s criminal record, as it is a misdemeanor. Common belief is that all traffic records are not available to the public, but this is false, as it is just the traffic infractions that are not available without subject consent. Misdemeanors and felony traffic violations are most often, available for public search, and so a charge of this kind could easily be found if a comprehensive criminal records search is conducted.

While there are a number of variables that can and do affect a traffic offense from arrest to sentencing, most often traffic crimes of this classification follow due process of criminal law like any other type of crime. The person being charged is arrested, taken into custody, and given a bail amount until their trial date. Depending on the jurisdiction, traffic charges, criminal history of the defendant, as well as crime specifics; the defendant is given a traffic sentencing of fines, probation, and/or minimal jail time.


In the section below, we will evaluate felony traffic violations. More pointedly, we will discuss the three most central offenses categorized as these kinds of offenses, to best acquaint you with the type of criminal records information related to these crimes.

  • Hit and Run Felony

One of the most common occurring felony traffic violation offenses is the hit and run felony. What exactly is a crime of this kind, you may wonder? When it comes to these crimes-while classified differently according to the crime specifics and the jurisdiction it occurs in-the basic definition is the crime of one vehicle driver impacting another person or person’s property, and “running” from the scene of the incident without checking to make sure the person or property is unharmed, and has the contact information necessary, if harm incurs from the hit run felony. In this discussion, we review what should be done at the scene of an accident, and what common penalties are typical for criminals of this offense.

Closely tied-and usually grouped in with the hit run felony definition-to these crimes is the offense of “leaving the scene of a crime”, without simply denotes the “running” of the offense, meaning that the criminal has caused some sort of harm with their vehicle, and did not stop to evaluate or help the situation at hand. Most often, in a case of this offense, state courts agree that an offender of said crimes has a legal obligation to stop if they: caused injury to another person, caused damage to property, or caused a death. All accidents typically include or more of the above three victims of a hit run felony.

The obligation of these perpetrators, after such an accident, is to stop their vehicle, check on the persons or property involved, and exchange contact information with the other party of the accident. If, however, the owner of the property is not in the immediate vicinity at the time of the offense, the offender is still obligated to “make a reasonable effort” to contact the owner of the property for a description of the accident and possible restitution, so that the property can be restored to its original state. In regard to what makes an effort “reasonable”, the party should leave a notification at the scene of the crime, inquire within if a business or home is close, and take down the license number or any other qualifying information to identify themselves as the said cause of the accident. If, someone has been injured as a part of an accident, the driver is under legal obligation to call an ambulance, police, or fire services. Failing to do any of these legal actions will result in this felony charge.

When a criminal has committed the leaving the scene crime, the punishment is severe simply by the nature of this crime class. Penalties do vary from state to state in the matter of this crime, and the criminal can receive a heavy fine in one state or jail and fine penalties in another. The standard rule does typically apply to all crimes of this nature that when a human victim is involved, the punishment will be at the very least jail time. If the crime resulted in a death, most all states will rule this as a felonious second-degree crime-punishable as vehicular homicide or involuntary manslaughter.

  • Repeat DUI or Repeat DWI Offence

Felony traffic violations are very serious offenses in nature and can offer penalties of heavy fines and minimal jail time to life imprisonment-depending on the crime. When it comes to felony traffic violations, one of the most commonly charged offenses is repeat DUIs and DWIs. In the following category, we take a closer look at DUI/DWI crimes as well as the penalties afforded first time and repeat instances of these felony crimes.

To best understand the topic of multiple instances of DUI or DWI crimes, it is necessary to begin with a working knowledge of DUI and DWI. DUI stand for Driving Under the Influence and DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated. Both denote the consuming of alcohol or drugs prior to operating a vehicle, such that the operation of the vehicle is impaired in which the risk of injury or death to others is possible. Where the difference lies between these two terms is simply how the state jurisdiction handling the crime chooses to call crimes of this nature; so, in one state, the offender could be guilty of a one, while in another state, the same crime would be considered the other.

Driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated means different things to different states. Depending on the jurisdiction, the amount of perceived alcohol and/or drugs used to vary as regards classifying this crime, but now the legal limit is .8 in all states for adults. Moreover, anyone under the legal age of drinking is subject to a zero-tolerance law adopted by all states-requiring that no minor have any amount of alcohol in their system.

Penalties for driving under the influence are never standard-in accordance to the jurisdiction in which the crime is committed, however, it is typical that a defendant of a first-time drunk driving offense will incur a less severe penalty than an offender who has previous convictions. A first-time offender will probably be subject to at the very least a suspension of their driver’s license, if not revocation; drug/alcohol counseling and education, and a heavy fine. This is not to say that a first-time offender will not be given a more severe sentence, as many states have upped their sentencing for crimes of this nature.

Penalties for repeat DUI/DWI are considered, in most states, felonies; and have been subject to what is called “habitual violator” laws which rank multiple crime status as three times or more. Standard penalties for these offenders of DWI include: revocation of civil rights (owning a weapon, voting, etc.), high fines, extended suspension of driver’s license, and mandatory jail time. These are just the direct punishments, as intensive drug and alcohol counseling, rehabilitation, and education is almost always included in a repeat DUI/DWI conviction sentencing.

It is also quite possible that due to the nature of the offense and specific case, the defendant will have their license revoked forever. The penalties have not always been so severe, but with more incidents of drunk driving deaths in the past few decades, state legislatures have decided to institute stricter penalties to cut down on the incident of crime.

  • Vehicular Homicide

Vehicular homicide is one of the most significant charges of felony traffic violations, as it involves the murder of an individual while operating a vehicle. While state laws vary on how they approach this crime, most often this offense is punishable by the same class penalty even when intent was not a factor. In the following category, we examine the legal definition of vehicular homicide, what factors must be present for an offense of this nature to occur, common penalties, as well as variables that may affect the punishment of a vehicular homicide.

When it comes to vehicular homicide, all classes of said crime are considered felonies from all courts, no matter the jurisdiction. This is due to the simple reason that a murder was committed in the act of operating the said vehicle. With this in mind, there are in fact varying degrees of vehicular homicide within the criminal justice system, due to the fact that there are specifics within every incident of vehicular homicide that affects the criminal nature of the offense.

First degree vehicular homicide is the most serious of felony offenses of this class, and are typically categorized as such if the following factors are present in the commission of the crime: if the operator of the vehicle “failed to stop after a collision, drove recklessly, drove under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, met or overtook a school bus, failed to stop for, or otherwise was attempting to flee from a law enforcement officer, and/or had previously been declared a habitual violator”. There is some disparity between classifications of first and second degrees of this offense, but in all states a first-degree vehicular homicide is committed when an intent to kill was present. In some states, even if the murder occurred without intent or premeditation by accident the charge can still be a first-degree felony.

Second degree vehicular homicide (sometimes referred to as negligent homicide or vehicular manslaughter) is the next classification of this crime and denotes any vehicular murder that occurs as a result of the operation of a vehicle without the intent to kill. Most often these types of crimes occur as a result when another traffic violation is committed, such as running a red light and killing the traffic crossing your path, or failure to yield at a pedestrian crosswalk and killing the pedestrian. It should be noted that in many state jurisdictions, second degree offenses are considered misdemeanors, but still, in others, these same offenses can be considered punishable by felony means according to particular traffic laws.

There are a whole host of variables that may come into play in the charging, processing, and sentencing of a first or second-degree vehicle murder. One of the most influential factors in how a crime of this type may be termed and punished, depends upon what state the homicide was committed in. As noted earlier, each state is given liberties as to which offenses of this kind should be classified as felonies or misdemeanors and whether the crime should be punishable at the minimum or maximum of the federal statute. Another vital variable that can affect the sentencing of a crime of this nature is if the operator of the vehicle was intoxicated at the time of the murder. Some states will deem these crimes first degree while others consider this crime while intoxicated will consider them unintentional and second-degree offenses. Still other states vary their penalties of prison and/or fines according to how many times the defendant has been charged with a DWI, DUI, or OWI heavier according to repeat offenses and less severe for first time offenses.

The penalty for any class of this homicide crime is a bit more complicated than one punishment for a certain type of offense: first degree or second-degree felony traffic homicide crimes. This said, a felony conviction for a first-degree homicide in this category can land a defendant in jail for life. Conversely, the same defendant could have the homicide charge plead down to a lesser degree-such as a second-degree offense, characterized as a misdemeanor. Fines are almost always included with the jail term in a crime of this kind and can be quite steep in nature; as the restitution for a life taken should of course be high.

How the homicide crime is classified and affected by the variables as discussed above will directly and ultimately influence how a criminal record is characterized. Depending on whether the crime happened in one state or another, if the defendant was intoxicated, if the defendant had intent to kill with their vehicle, if the defendant was a pattern DUI offender, what the specifics of the particular case were, as well as how the court rendering a verdict feels about the nature of the crime; will all affect whether the person you are seeking criminal background on has serious or less severe criminal activity. This is why it is necessary that anyone seeking this type of information on a particular individual investigate all possible factors that could have affected the rendering of the charges and sentencing of the criminal in question.

DUI/DWIs, Hit and Run Felonies, and Vehicular Homicides are all very different felony traffic crimes that should be considered as such, but to add another pertinent variable to the mix; these offenses vary in how they are viewed, approached, and processed by each state governing them. Moreover, as is true of all crimes and offenses, each specific case should be viewed as its own as it is in a court of law, all of these factors should always be considered when learning information on the criminal justice system and sorts of crimes that comprise it, as criminal law is never just black and white penalty for crime. This extends not only for those evaluating crime in the courtroom, but also in a particular criminal records history.

Driving Records

There is a wide variety of crimes and offenses that a person may be able to locate on a particular individual; with some being available to the public, others be available only to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, and still others, not being available at all. It is according to a large handful of main variables that criminal records access is determined, to include: jurisdiction, nature of the crime, history of the criminal, due process of the law, and the underlying specifics of the particular case being charged. For the purposes of this discussion, we will examine much more closely, traffic violations and driving records; to understand how they are classified, which driving records are available to the public and which aren’t, why driving records might not be accessible, and how this relates to criminal records information.

Traffic violations are one of the main types of records affected by federal restriction of information. Traffic violations are categorized according to the severity of possible moving or driving and non-moving violations committed by driving motorists. These driving categorizations are: misdemeanors, felonies, and infractions. While misdemeanor and felony traffic and driving violations are considered criminal activity, subject to due process of the law and, in most cases, publicly available criminal histories; driving and non-driving infractions, on the other hand, are not accessible according to a federal statute passed in 1981 by the U.S. Legislature. This law announced that all minor driving and non-driving offenses listed in driving records, otherwise known as traffic infractions, will no longer be considered criminal activity, and therefore unavailable to the general public as a part of criminal records.

You may be wondering why these records of driving offenses became restricted all of a sudden: what exactly was the purpose of limiting these driving records from public view? The reason the federal government chose to enact this law on driving records was to expedite the processes of the criminal justice system, by taking any criminal court focus off minor driving offenses in exchange for more attention to the more serious of criminal driving and non-driving offenses. This would make the courts overburdened with cases to review less so, by having driving and non-driving infractions from driving records processed instead, in civil courts, if at all.

So, if you are seeking background information on a particular individual; what does this law mean to your search efforts? Basically, that unless you get the express and written consent from the subject of your search to have access to their driving record from the state DMV, you will never be privy to that information. While this may seem disheartening to anyone seeking a comprehensive review of an individual’s criminal history, it should not; as the offenses listed on a driving record that are not accessible, are minor offenses. Unless your purposes are specific to the driving industry, the types of driving and non-driving offenses denoted by the infraction category, to include: running a red light, parking in an unauthorized zone, minor speeding, and burnt out tail lights; are minor, and not typically evocative of the individual’s character.  This is not to say that these offenses should not be punishable by the law, and this is why, in fact, they are punished with fines and other minor penalties. The point being made here; however, is that the crimes probably most important to your criminal information search, will be available to you; while the other less significant offenses, might not.