The first thing to know about a civil infraction: there is no jail time associated with it.
Infractions are violations of state or municipal civil law. People who commit civil infractions, the lowest form of crime in the United States, will receive fines as punishment. Certain infractions aren't even considered crimes.
Examples of civil infractions:
- Speeding ticket
- Running a stop sign
- Not wearing a seat belt
- Not abiding by land use rules (like on campgrounds)
- Building code violations
- Disturbing the peace
There is also what is known as a traffic misdemeanor. These are considered crimes and typically carry points which will be added to your driving record or can include suspension or revocation of your driver's license. For example, driving with invalid license plates or driving an uninsured vehicle is considered a traffic misdemeanor.
For law enforcement to show proof of infractions is simpler than proving other, higher-level crimes. Whereas with felonies, the defendant has the right to receive a jury trial and proof of the crime needs to be shown "beyond a reasonable doubt." The standard for infractions is much lower and must show sufficient "preponderance of the evidence." This is much easier for the state to accomplish.
If you receive a ticket as part of the civil infraction, read both sides. The ticket will explain the rights of the accused and how and where to deal with the ticket (usually a local appearance in relation to where the infraction occurred).
There are four ways to respond to an infraction:
- Admit guilt and pay the fine.
- Provide an explanation and pay the fine.
- Request an informal hearing, which would consist of you, the magistrate and the officer, but no attorneys.
- Hire a lawyer and request court hearing to dispute the ticket.
Failure to respond by the infraction deadline will lead to a default judgment. This could add points to your driver's license or even lead to license suspension or revocation. Also, not showing up could lead to a warrant for your arrest.
In addition, a large amount of unpaid civil infractions can lead to a misdemeanor and possibly jail time.
The prevailing thought with infractions is to take care of them promptly. Not doing so can only create a larger problem.