Law & Legal & Attorney Traffic Law

Michigan Traffic Citation Vs. Civil Infraction

    Origins of Difference Between Civil Infraction and Traffic Citation

    • The confusion mostly stems from the state's move to streamline the process of addressing a steady influx of essentially criminal cases stemming from routine traffic violations, such as moderate speeding. In an effort to make the process more efficient, minor traffic offenses were first initially decriminalized in 1979, with more continuing over the ensuing decades. Decriminalization of traffic violations changed the legal rights of defendants in traffic citation cases. The decriminalized traffic citation cases were treated as civil, rather than criminal matters. Fortunately, for drivers and administrative officials, the process of issuing tickets, citations, and addressing penalties associated with these matters has become streamlined over the years, thus, making the differences between a traffic citation and civil infraction ticket virtually indistinguishable to the average driver issued either.

    Civil Infractions

    • Since 1979, certain traffic violations were decriminalized in the state of Michigan, which then became what is known as civil infractions. According to the Michigan compiled laws, civil infractions represent moderate traffic offenses with potential penalties, including fines, administrative fees and administrative penalties, such as points on a driving record. Save for instances of civil contempt, no civil infraction citation stemming from a traffic violation presents the potential for incarceration. As noted by the State of Michigan Civil Infraction Traffic Manual, drivers facing civil traffic infractions lost several procedural protections afforded to defendants in criminal cases, such as jury trial, no right to counsel and conviction based on a preponderance of the evidence.

    Common Types of Civil Infractions in the State of Michigan

    • Depending on the jurisdiction and local ordinances, the following offenses are routinely processed as merely a civil infraction, rather than a full traffic violation. These include: parking violations, vehicle equipment violations, certain routine speeding violations, minor moving violations, insurance violations, child restraint violations, seat belt violations, and some basic failure to stop violations, according to the State of Michigan Civil Infraction Traffic Manual.

    Traffic Citations, Non-Civil Infractions

    • In contrast with traffic civil infractions, traffic citations issued by a law enforcement officer, which carry the potential of criminal penalties adhere to a different legal standard. For drivers, dealing with traffic citations, both civil and non-civil, requires simply paying fines and avoiding further penalties. The legal standards for defending criminalized traffic offenses, however, are vastly different. Notable differences include defendant's right to jury trial, right to counsel and the standard of evidence required for conviction, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. It is important to note that all non-decriminalized traffic offenses are prosecuted as misdemeanors or felonies. If a driver wishes to contest the citation, an understanding of these differences is important.

    Common Types of Traffic Citations in the State of Michigan

    • Virtually any traffic violation not explicitly mentioned as a civil infraction by either the Michigan compiled laws or some other statute or local ordinance, is deemed a criminally punishable traffic offense. In cases of severe offenses, such as manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, evading law enforcement, and other like offenses, a defendant is typically arrested and processed formally through a police station. However, other offenses, which do not warrant booking, but are still criminal in nature, exist. These may include speeding offenses in conjunction with another traffic violation, reckless driving, failure to yield to certain emergency vehicles, and a litany of other offenses, as noted in the Michigan Driver's Manual.

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