Is a Traffic Ticket a Misdemeanor in California?

July 28, 2022 by Madison Ferguson in California  
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California Infractions and Misdemeanors

If you got a traffic ticket in California, don’t worry. Getting a moving violation is never easy, but you may proceed through the California traffic ticket procedure swiftly and easily – and keep points off your driving record. You may expect a few things when stopped for a California speeding ticket or traffic violation. The police will ask for your license, registration, and insurance first. If you can’t show these three, you may be in danger. All three are ticket-worthy transgressions. Therefore, have these documents with you before driving.

There are two types of California traffic tickets:

  • Infraction: This includes speeding and running red lights in California
  • Misdemeanors: Include driving without a license, driving drunk, and excessive speeding.

NOTE: An officer will provide you with a signed, dated copy of your traffic ticket. Note that all California tickets are a “Notice to Appear.” The ticket contains your citation number and court date. By signing the ticket, you agree to appear in court and pay your ticket fine by the court date. You’re not guilty if you sign a ticket.

Traffic Infractions vs. Misdemeanors

California Misdeameanors Chart

Regarding traffic violations, many tickets fall under the category of “infractions,” which means you cannot be jailed for having received one. A fine is the typical consequence of traffic infractions. There is no prison time or probation for infractions because they are considered petty offenses.

Failure to appear for your initial court hearing for a traffic infraction, the courts likely will not issue a warrant for your arrest. They may still hold onto your license, suspending your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driving privileges.

How to Tell the Difference

A misdemeanor ticket is indicated by the letter M circled next to the violation listed on the ticket. Misdemeanors are more serious criminal acts than infractions. Punishment for misdemeanors may include community service, probation, and monetary fines. If someone is to appear in court for a misdemeanor and does not, the court is likely to issue a warrant of arrest or bench warrant, changing your case status to an arrest warrant or bench warrant.

Types Of Misdemeanor Traffic Violations in California

California misdemeanor traffic offenses include:

Running from an officer: It’s a misdemeanor to willfully run from pursuing police in a motor vehicle or bicycle while driving. Conviction brings Up to 364 days in county prison, a $1,000 fine, suspension of your driver’s license for up to 6 months, and/or detention of your vehicle for up to 30 days.

Disability placard misuse: Misuse of a handicap placard is a misdemeanor under the following scenarios:

  • You lent a legitimate handicap placard to someone who wasn’t permitted to use or possess one.
  • You knowingly let someone who wasn’t eligible use one.
  • You used someone else’s or a revoked placard.
  • You drove someone else’s disability-placarded automobile and parked in a handicapped place.

If convicted, the court may impose a $1000 fine or a $1500 fine for each additional conviction, a six-month sentence in county jail, or an additional $100 to the issued fine.

Driving without a legal license: California Vehicle Code prohibits driving without a license. Your license must be valid for: Your state and vehicle type (car, motorbike, commercial truck, etc.). If charged with driving without a valid driver’s license, you face: Six months in prison, a $1,000 fine, and/or 30-day automobile impoundment.

The court must notify you on your first conviction that your vehicle may be forfeited if you drive without a valid license on a California roadway. This statute applies if you have a misdemeanor conviction for violating certain Vehicle Code sections.

Hit-and-run causing injury or death: It is criminal to leave an accident site without identifying oneself. The ramifications are far worse if someone is hurt or killed and you flee the scene.

Hit-and-runs causing injury or death are misdemeanors or felonies punishable by:

  • Three hundred sixty-four days imprisonment, a $10,000 fine, and/or a one-year license suspension as a misdemeanor.
  • Two, three, or even four years behind bars, a $10,000 fine, and/or a one-year license suspension as a felony.

Recklessness: Under the California Vehicle Code, reckless driving is “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Conviction brings:

  • A 90-day prison term and/or a $1,000 fine. On a first conviction, the court may suspend your driver’s license for 30 days, 60 days, and six months.

Defenses for Misdemeanor Traffic Violations

All traffic violations should be handled swiftly and properly to avoid license points, higher insurance rates, and suspension. Misdemeanor traffic violations may have more severe consequences than regular tickets. Ignoring a traffic violation can lead to jail time and a criminal record. Legal representation for a California minor traffic ticket might affect your court appearance.

When accused of a crime, you have legal protections, including:

  • You get a jury trial.
  • Court-appointed counsel is your right.
  • You’re innocent unless proven guilty.
  • The burden of proving guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt is wholly on the state.

Related Articles:

Misdemeanor Sentencing in California: Quick Guide
Can the Police Search Your Car Without Permission in California?

Legal Options

Legal options differ by instance; therefore, an expert criminal defense attorney can help you design a plan for your situation.

Need an Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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