What Is a Criminal Infraction?

Learn Why Minor Infractions Should be Taken Seriously

Police Car Stopping Driver
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What Is an Infraction?

Infractions are minor crimes, sometimes called petty crimes or summary offenses, punishable usually by a fine, rather than jail time. Typically, infractions are local crimes related to traffic, parking or noise violations, building code violations, and littering. Infractions are the least serious crime that is committed in the United States.

Infractions are crimes so minor that they can be prosecuted without the requirement of a jury trial, although some states allow the right to a jury trial for even minor traffic offenses. The court does not have to determine if the offender was at fault or intended to break the law, only if the defendant actually committed the prohibited behavior, such as not wearing a seat belt.

Most infractions are adjudicated without the accused even going to court. A court appearance can be avoided in most states by paying the fine noted on the citation issued at the time of the offense.

Examples of Traffic Infractions

Depending on the state, certain traffic infractions may be civil rather than criminal offenses. Traffic infractions generally include not wearing a seat belt, speeding, failing to stop at a red light, failing to yield, failing to signal when turning, overdue inspection stickers, and in some jurisdictions, violation of vehicle noise control ordinance.

More serious traffic violations that can result in jail time are not usually considered infractions. This can include driving under the influence, failure to carry a valid driver's license, reckless driving, hit and run, speeding in school zones, excessive speeding, and failure to present a driver's license to police when stopped.

Infractions Can Open the Door to Bigger Problems

Any criminal infraction should be taken seriously by the offender. Although criminal infractions are considered as minor crimes, it can quickly turn into a more serious crime.

For if for example, during a simple traffic stop, if a police officer notices something that opens up reasonable suspicion that a more serious crime is being committed, this could justify the police officer performing a search on the automobile and on the people in the automobile, including handbags and packages.

Even what most would consider as being the least serious of possible criminal infractions, such as jaywalking or littering, any infraction should be taken seriously. Sometimes the police may stop individuals on minor infractions as a way to provoke them into committing a more serious crime, such as resisting arrest if the offender protests too much, is uncooperative or attempts to create a scene.

Penalties For Infractions

Criminal infractions generally result in a fine, but other expenses could result particularly when it involves traffic infractions. Depending on the infraction and the number of times an individual has been charged with a related infraction, could result in an increase of automobile insurance and mandatory traffic school, with the expense being absorbed by the guilty party. Residual expenses such as loss of work or child care could also result if the fine is attendance to a mandatory diversionary program.

Not responding to or ignoring the penalty will usually result in higher fines and the possibility of community service or jail time.

When Should You Fight the Infraction?

Deciding on whether to fight a criminal infraction, like a traffic ticket, depends on how much it is going to cost in time and money. If it means a big increase in insurance rates, it could be worth it. Also, many times courts will simply dismiss minor infractions rather than use up court time to hear the case, but not always. Fighting a ticket can mean multiple trips to court.

If you have made up your mind to fight a ticket, do not pay the fine. Generally, when you pay the fine you admit to being guilty of the offense.

In many states, you can avoid the time spent in the courtroom by requesting a trial by mail. This requires that you send a letter stating the reasons you believe you are innocent. The police officer that that ticketed you is required to do the same. Because of the extensive amount of paperwork that police officers have to do, many times they will skip sending in the letter. If that happens, you will be found not guilty. 

If you are found guilty in a trial by mail, you can still request a court trial or see what other options are available.

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Montaldo, Charles. "What Is a Criminal Infraction?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-criminal-infraction-970854. Montaldo, Charles. (2023, April 5). What Is a Criminal Infraction? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-criminal-infraction-970854 Montaldo, Charles. "What Is a Criminal Infraction?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-criminal-infraction-970854 (accessed May 31, 2023).