Protecting Your Rights
The first thing you should find out when you are ticketed by the police is whether you are charged with a traffic infraction or a criminal offense. Criminal offenses go on both your criminal record and your driving record. Criminal charges stay on your criminal record forever and cannot be removed once you are convicted. Your criminal record will be part of a national FBI database, which can follow you from state to state and can be viewable online through private investigation and background search websites.
Traffic infractions appear only on your driving record, and they disappear after three to 11 years for Virginia drivers. Most states are members of the National Driver’s License Compact, and if your home state is a member of the compact, Virginia will notify your state if you are convicted of a traffic offense in Virginia. What is done with that information varies from state to state. Typically, a Virginia conviction will appear on your out-of-state record, but there will be no points attached. However, some states, such as Virginia, will assign points against drivers for certain out-of-state traffic convictions.
If you receive a traffic ticket, call Nichols & Green for a free consultation at (703) 215-1114.
There is a simple way to find out whether you have been charged with a criminal offense or a traffic infraction. Find your case file online (click here to learn how), and look at the box that says, “Case Type.” If it says “Misdemeanor” or “Felony,” then you are charged with a criminal offense. If it says “Infraction,” then you are charged with a traffic infraction.
If you cannot prepay your ticket online or if you are required to appear in court, then you are most likely charged with a criminal offense. If you are charged with a criminal offense, contact an attorney immediately.
Here is a list of common traffic violations that are also criminal charges:
- Reckless driving – by speed (20 mph over the limit or faster than 80 mph)
- Reckless driving – general
- Reckless driving – passing a school bus
- Reckless driving – failure to maintain proper control
- Reckless driving – faulty breaks
- Reckless driving – passing two abreast
- Driving on a suspended license
- Driving on a revoked license
- Driving without a license
- No auto insurance
- Failure to update your license
- Failure to get a Virginia license
- Driving under the influence
- Aggressive driving
- Driving with an open container of alcohol
License Suspension for VA Traffic Tickets
The traffic court judge and the Virginia DMV are able to suspend or restrict a person’s right to drive in certain circumstances. If you are charged with a criminal offense, there is a possibility that the court may take away your privilege to drive. If you are found guilty of two or more traffic violations within 12 months, there is a possibility that you may accrue too many demerit points on your driver’s license. In such a case, the DMV may take away or restrict your privilege to drive. Before you go to traffic court and before you prepay a fine, always make sure to know whether the court or the DMV may take away your license.
VA Traffic Tickets & Jail Time
Jail time is only possible for criminal charges. If a traffic court judge ever asks if you want to hire a lawyer, always say “YES.” Judges in Virginia ask this question when there is a chance that you could be going to jail. If a judge ever asks you if you want a lawyer, say “yes,” and get a traffic lawyer.
VA Traffic Ticket Fines, Court Costs, & Other Fees
(All of these dollar amounts change regularly and should not be used as exact figures. Their purpose is to estimate possible amounts.)
In Virginia, fines for noncriminal traffic infractions rarely exceed $250. Exceptions to this include traffic tickets issued in Highway Safety Corridors, where the maximum fine is $500, and Improper Driving, which carries a maximum fine of $500. Court costs, which are added to the fine, are typically around $62 if you appear in person and $97 if you are tried in your absence.
For most misdemeanor criminal traffic offenses, the maximum fine is $2500, with court costs around $82. Some criminal charges (such as DUI) have additional fees ($495+ for ASAP classes, $220 for a restricted license, $125/month ignition interlock fee or $100 DUI conviction fee, $10 for the Crime Victims’ Fund).
If your license is suspended, there will also be a $175 license reinstatement fee that you must pay to the DMV to get your license back at the end of the suspension. If you get a court-appointed attorney and are found guilty, you will also pay at least $120 per charge in attorney’s fees. If you appeal to the circuit court, there is $150 in extra court costs. If you have a jury trial, the costs run about $500 per day for the jury.
(All of these dollar amounts change regularly and should be used as estimates only.)
VA Traffic Ticket & Insurance Costs
If you are a good driver who pays a very low insurance premium, you should know how a conviction will affect your insurance before you prepay a traffic ticket in Virginia.
Each insurance company has its own point system for evaluating the risk of a given offense. This point system is not the same as Virginia’s DMV demerit point system. Since each insurance company, policy, and driver is unique, it is extremely difficult for anyone other than your own insurance provider to predict the effects of a traffic ticket on your insurance premiums. However, despite this difficultly, you should not ignore the insurance costs of a traffic ticket. The hike in an insurance premium can far exceed the fines, court cost, and attorney’s fees for some traffic offenses.
Even though it is very difficult to predict the effect of a ticket on your insurance, here are some generalities. The better your driving record and the lower your premium, the greater the chance your premium will significantly increase. If you have insurance through a preferred provider (an insurance company that specializes in covering only good drivers), a conviction is more likely to raise your insurance rates. If you are convicted of reckless driving, aggressive driving, speeding more than 20 mph over the limit, or DUI, your insurance rates will likely go up significantly.
When insurance rates are raised, they usually remain high for either three or five years. That means that if you get a speeding ticket for 75 mph in a 55-mph zone and your insurance goes up $500 a year, then you are looking at either $1500 or $2500 in extra insurance premiums over the next three or five years. That is a significant cost. Make sure you consider the effect on your insurance premium before you prepay a traffic ticket.
VA DMV Demerit Points System
When Virginia drivers receive their license, they start with zero points on their driving record. Each year, they get +1 point on their driving record until they have a maximum of +5 points.
Whenever a driver is convicted of a traffic offense or a traffic crime, they may receive demerit points. Each offense in Virginia carries zero, three, four, or six demerit points.
Six-Point VA Traffic Tickets
- Speeding more than 20 mph over the limit
- Reckless driving
- Driving on a suspended license
Four-Point VA Traffic Tickets
- Speeding 10-19 mph over the limit
- Failure to yield
- Unsafe passing
- Following too closely
- Failure to obey a traffic signal
Three-Point VA Traffic Tickets
- Improper driving
- Speeding one to nine mph over the limit
- Driving without lights
- Driving while using earphones
- Failure to obey a highway sign
Zero-Point VA Traffic Tickets
- No registration
- Excessive tinting
- Improper equipment
- Violation of various other local traffic codes or ordinances
Virginia drivers who want to increase their point balance can take a voluntary Virginia Driver Improvement course once every two years. If you have a pending traffic violation, consult an attorney before taking any classes.
Is a VA Traffic Ticket Going to Be on My Record?
If you have a Virginia driver’s license, your conviction will appear on your record approximately 15-30 days after your court date. The same offense will stay on your driving record for three to 11 years, depending on the offense. For example, a reckless driving conviction stays on your record for 11 years, speeding stays on for five years, and improper driving stays on your record for only three years.
Taking a driver improvement class will not remove an offense from your record. Driver improvement classes can only increase your point balance.
Effects of a VA Traffic Ticket on Out-of-State Drivers
Virginia cannot do anything to an out-of-state driver’s license or an out-of-state driver’s record. The laws of the state where you got your license will dictate what happens to your license and driving record. The worst thing the Virginia courts or Virginia DMV can do to out-of-state drivers is ban them from driving in Virginia.
Some states (such as Maryland) will note a Virginia traffic conviction on your driving record but will not assign points unless the conviction is for a very serious traffic offense (such as DUI). Other states (like Virginia) will give points for traffic tickets received out of state. Many states will only suspend your license for very serious out-of-state offenses (such as DUI and vehicular manslaughter), but there may be exceptions.
VA Traffic Tickets & Civil Liability
Any time a traffic ticket stems from an accident, there is the possibility that a conviction may result in a lawsuit. For instance, if you get into an accident and the police cite you for reckless driving and you are convicted, the other driver may use the conviction as evidence in a civil lawsuit against you, therefore making it easier and cheaper to win a lawsuit.
Even a minor traffic ticket can expose a driver to civil liability if the ticket implies that an accident was caused by the driver’s traffic infraction. This may be true even if the ticket is dismissed after the driver completes a driver improvement class. Many of the driver improvement programs offered by Virginia courts require the driver to plead guilty before the charge is dismissed. That admission of guilt may be used in a lawsuit even if the ticket is later dismissed and removed from your record.
Pleading “no contest” or nolo contendre will not protect a driver from civil liability in Virginia. By statute, a plea of “no contest” can be used the same as a guilty plea in Virginia.
If you are ticketed or charged with a crime after an accident, consult an attorney immediately and discuss the possibility of civil liability.
VA Traffic Tickets & Probation
If you are on probation, even a minor traffic ticket may be a violation of your probation under some circumstances, depending on the judge, jurisdiction, and offense.
There are two types of probation: Active and inactive. Active is when you have a probation officer (typically, this is only in the case of felony convictions). Inactive probation means you must “be of good behavior” (usually for one year after conviction). Inactive probation is common for misdemeanor convictions.
There are no probation officers for inactive probation. Instead, the court runs a background check on you one year or more after conviction to see whether you have had any convictions within the term of your probation. If there are any problems, the defendant is summoned before a judge who will then decide how to punish the probation violation (usually with jail time). Some judges believe traffic tickets violate the terms of inactive probation and other judges do not.
If you are on active probation and get a traffic ticket, contact your probation officer before prepaying the ticket to determine whether it may affect your probation. If you are on inactive probation, consult an attorney before prepaying a traffic ticket. If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor (including DUI and reckless driving) within the past year, there is a chance that you are on inactive probation.
To discuss the details of your case, contact us online or call (703) 215-1114 today.