Nothing raises your blood pressure faster than looking in the rear view mirror and seeing a police car, red lights flashing. Suddenly you realize that you are traveling well over the posted speed limit, and your life passes before your eyes. It may comfort you to know that in about half of the states, speeding is not classified as a crime, but an infraction. It can still add points to your driving record, however.
Decriminalizing Traffic Tickets
Many states do not treat ordinary traffic violations such as speeding as criminal offenses. States like California call traffic violations "civil infractions" or something similar. This means that a speeding ticket will not appear on your criminal record in these states. It does appear on your driving record, however. In states with the points system, you will accrue points for a speeding ticket.
Although it may please you to learn that speeding is not considered a crime in many states, understand that this may not be the case as a favor to drivers. Citizens charged with crimes have certain protections that they lose when they are charged with infractions. For example, the standard of proof of guilt in criminal cases is "beyond a reasonable doubt." However, in some infraction states, a judge can convict you if over 50 percent of the evidence shows you violated the law.
And note that speeding can be bumped up to a misdemeanor if certain conditions arise. For example, speeding may be a misdemeanor if your car injures or threats to injure another person or another person's property.
Speeding as a Misdemeanor
In other states, a speeding ticket is a misdemeanor and a crime. For example, most traffic tickets in Texas are for Class C misdemeanors. These are crimes punishable by a fine of up to $500. They are not punishable by jail time. You must please guilty or innocent to the crime. If you dispute guilt, you can go to trial.
In Texas, a trial for a traffic ticket is just like any other trial. You can choose a jury trial if you want. The State of Texas has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After the State has presented its case and you have presented yours, the jury then determines your guilt and your punishment. The range of punishment runs from the full fine plus court costs to a deferred disposition process. In deferred adjudication, the court places you on probation. If you complete your probation terms, the court will discharge and dismiss the offense against you without finding you guilty.
In many states, a simple speeding ticket is considered an infraction, not a crime. In the other states, speeding is considered a misdemeanor.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.