Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute
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This document tells you the following:
- What happens when you go to traffic court?
- When can a driver's license be taken away?
- How many points are given to different traffic violations in Georgia?
- What are felony traffic offenses?
GOING TO TRAFFIC COURT
Most traffic violations are misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. In Georgia, traffic misdemeanors may be handled by the county probate court, state court, magistrate court, juvenile court, or a municipal court.
Drivers younger than 16 have their cases heard in juvenile court. The driver's parents and/or any witnesses he or she wishes to call may be present. As in adult court, the police officer may give evidence. The driver (or his or her attorney) may cross-examine the witnesses. Penalties for a misdemeanor traffic offense for a juvenile may be a reprimand, suspension of driver's license, requirement to attend traffic school, and/or a fine. More serious traffic offenses are treated as delinquent acts, and the consequences can be significantly more serious.
Many people plead guilty to traffic offenses even if they think they are innocent because the courts will often accept the testimony of the arresting officer without proof to the contrary. Without witnesses, such proof may be impossible to obtain. Admissions of guilt become part of a person's driving record.
If a person pleads or is found guilty, the penalty depends on the offense. It also depends on whether or not the person has any past criminal or traffic violation record. The judge can require a fine or levy a jail sentence. In addition, depending on the offense, the Department of Public Safety (which regulates licenses) may suspend or revoke the person's license.
When can a driver's license be taken away?
A driver's license will be suspended when the driver:
is convicted of a homicide while operating a vehicle
fraudluently applies for or uses a driver's license
races on the highways
attempts to flee by car from a police officer
commits a "hit-and-run" or leaves the scene of an accident
fails to pay for gasoline on two or more occasions
fails to appear in traffic court at the appointed time and date for any offense other than a parking violation
refuses to take a blood, breath, or chemical test to determine if he/she is driving under the influence of alcohol (The license will be automatically suspended but will be returned if the driver is found not guilty.)
accumulates 15 or more points (see list below) in 24 months, unless the driver takes a driver training class and reduces the number of points
operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
is convicted of certain drug offenses even if the dirver wasn't under the influence of drugs while driving
fails to comply with a court order mandating that he or she pay child support
is convicted of driving without insurance
is under 21 and is convicted of reckless driving (in which case, his or her license will be revoked).
Some traffic court judges require guilty drivers to attend driver training classes, or they may require drug and alcohol abuse education classes. In some states, a driver does not have to appear in court if he or she pleads guilty. The driver can simply mail in the fine charged for the offense.
Every time a driver is convicted of violating traffic laws, he or she is assigned points. These points are recorded in that person's driving record. If a driver accumulates a total of 15 or more points during any 24-month period, his or her license will be suspended or revoked. The 1997 Georgia driver responsibility legislation set stiffer penalties for young drivers. Drivers under 21 may have their licenses suspended for any of the offenses that earn four or more points, and drivers under 18 may have their licenses suspended for accumulating 4 or more points during any 12-month period.
TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS AND POINTS IN GEORGIA
reckless driving-4 points
unlawful passing of a school bus-6 points
improper passing on a hill or curve-4 points
exceeding the speed limit by more than 14 miles per hour but less than 19 miles per hour-2 points
exceeding the speed limit by 19 or more miles per hour but less than 24 miles per hour-3 points
exceeding the speed limit by 24 or more miles per hour but less than 34 miles per hour-4 points
exceeding the speed limit by 34 or more miles per hour-6 points
failure to obey a traffic control device or traffic officer-3 points
all other moving violations-3 points
possessing an open container of alcoholic beverage while driving-2 points
Decisions of traffic courts can be appealed to the superior courts. Usually, however, the costs of appeal by far cancel out the possible advantages, especially where misdemeanor offenses are concerned.
Felony Traffic Offenses
The three most common traffic violations that can result in felony charges are vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, and habitual violator. These felonies are tried in a superior court in Georgia, as are all other felonies.
Vehicular homicide involves a situation in which a person is killed by an auto. The driver at fault may have been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving recklessly, or fleeing from police officers. This offense is usually a felony and in most cases carries a penalty of 2 to 10 years in prison.
Serious injury by vehicle also occurs when a driver injures another person while violating DUI or reckless driving laws. A serious injury would be loss of use of any part of the body, including brain damage. This violation of law is considered a felony and carries a penalty of 1 to 15 years in prison.
A number of acts can cause a driver to be classified as a habitual violator by the Department of Public Safety. A person is declared a habitual violator if he or she commits three offenses during a five-year period consisting of any combination of certain serious offenses or DUIs. A habitual violator may have his or her license revoked for five years. He or she can also receive one to five years in prison and/or a fine of not less than $1,000.
After being charged with a traffic violation, a driver must decide whether an attorney is needed to assist in the defense of the charge. Many persons attend traffic court on misdemeanor traffic offenses without having an attorney. However, very few attend court without an attorney when they are charged with felony traffic offenses.
* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase ator by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.